A Practical Impact, Period.
Wednesday, 7th November 2018 at 8:51 am
Tampons and pads make getting your period a whole lot easier. But a lot of them aren’t that great for the environment, or accessible to everyone. Rozalyn Campbell, founder of Tsuno, is trying to change that however, writes Maggie Coggan in this month’s Spotlight on Social Enterprise.
Campbell was first introduced to a more sustainable alternative to pads and tampons in 2012, when she got her period at a friend’s place in Finland.
“I called out to her, asking for a pad or a tampon, and she said she only used a reusable menstrual cup, which I had never heard of,” Campbell says.
While the cup didn’t quite work for her, when Campbell came back to Australia, where she was studying industrial design, things started to fall into place.
“I was learning about the environmental impact of everyday product design at university, and my teacher also brought in the founder of One Girl, when I really started to become inspired,” she says.
It was One Girl’s Launch Pad program, which supplies sanitary supplies to girls who miss at least a week of school every month due to having nothing to manage their periods, which particularly resonated with Campbell.
“The thought that people were having their periods, and then missing out on school because they had nothing to manage it struck a chord with me, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” she says.
“They were also using biodegradable materials for their pads, because of a waste problem in Sierra Leone, so that made me wonder if Australia had anything like that, and we didn’t, everything was plastic.”
While she didn’t have the means to make a completely re-usable product, she did believe she could create something that was already accepted by the mainstream market – but environmentally friendly.
Campbell had also become an ambassador for One Girl, and was learning about women’s empowerment, and how she could make a difference through business.
“It was on a road trip to Queensland, and I really wasn’t sure if I was happy with where I was heading career wise, so I thought that maybe I could start a social enterprise that helps raise money for charity, but also provides a product that women need,” she says.
And so, Tsuno was born.
“I found a manufacturer in China who were making sustainable bamboo sanitary pads, and pretended to be a real business, and wrote to them asking what the minimum order quantity was, which was $US40,000 ($A55,400).
Inspired by Who Gives a Crap’s successful crowdfunding campaign, Campbell thought she’d give it a go as well.
“I had no money, I couldn’t get a bank loan, and I didn’t want to ask my parents. I also felt like crowdfunding was the most sensible way to test if the idea had legs,” she says.
The campaign was a success, and by the end of 2014, the first batch of pads had arrived – made from sustainable bamboo fibres, and packaged in boxes covered in the work of local artists.
Due to Tsuno’s size and budget, changes and the business’s impact have had to be gradual, but Campbell is always working towards making improvements.
This includes expanding to tampons made out of organic cotton and changing the sticky lining of the pads to a biodegradable cornstarch plastic, a practice which has now been picked up by companies in India and Scotland.
While one of her main motivations for starting Tsuno, Campbell said a big challenge was the realisation that setting up a business, and turning a profit would take time, especially as it was only her running the show.
“I wanted so badly to help One Girl with their programs, but the business just sucked money up so fast, and for someone who wanted everything now, and a lot of it, it was hard to stay motivated,” she says.
After a couple of years, and immense support from the public, Campbell has no problem turning a profit, and is achieving her goal of funding One Girl programs.
“I think what I like about them is they are a small charity, and they work in a small area, so I know the money I’m giving them is going to be funding the programs they say they will,” she says.
Tsuno has also donated to, and continues to support the work of charities that work towards empowering women, such as the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Share the Dignity, The International Development Agency and Essentials For Women South Australia.
Since starting Tsuno, Campbell has witnessed change in the industry, but believes the future of menstrual products needs to be reusable.
“Regardless of it being a natural fibre, it’s still a disposable product that you use once. Compared to when I first found out about menstrual cups though, there are so many brands out there, stocked in heaps of mainstream paces, which is incredible,” she says.
“In my experience, with my customers, reusable is where people are looking towards.”
In the meantime however, Campbell says what she is pleased to have seen in the time she’s been involved in the industry, is there’s a more open minded attitude towards periods, and a change in what matters for the big tampon and pad companies.
“During my first crowdfunding campaign back in 2014, I really needed the media’s help to spread the word, as my networks only went so far,” she says.
“I got turned down by so many organisations because they said their readers would be uncomfortable with the content. Now we are seeing one of the largest global brands in the UK, Always, bringing out an ad for their products with blood in it. That hasn’t been done before because people complained too much.”
The same company also recently launched a campaign where for every box sold, one is donated to a person in the UK who can’t afford the products themselves, and Cottons in Australia jumped on with Share the Dignity, aimed at helping women experiencing homelessness with sanitary supplies.
“This isn’t a trend, it’s a movement,” she says.
“Big companies are recognising that customers are demanding more, because small businesses like mine do exist and they are an option, so if the big ones are going to stay relevant, they are going to have to start thinking about more than profit.”