This morning, I conducted a quick poll among my female colleagues: Are you a pad or tampon girl?
ALL of them said they used pads to defend themselves against the crimson tide. Nobody was particularly keen on venturing into using tampons because the idea of inserting something into themselves made them uncomfortable.
“So does that mean you girls won’t ever want to try menstrual cups too?”
They replied with a resounding ‘no’. And I bet that this sentiment echoes many Singaporean females too.
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Vanessa Paranjothy, who is a huge advocate of menstrual cups.
For those unacquainted, a menstrual cup is a small cup made of medical-grade silicon that is inserted much like a tampon; which sits at the base of the cervix collecting menstrual fluid.
And get this – one cup can serve a woman up to 15 years.
When Vanessa was first introduced to menstrual cups — by her male friend, no less — the 28-year-old was baffled that (most) women aren’t aware of its merits.
“A menstrual cup is something that is better for women on their wallets, on their bodies, and on the planet, yet no one knows of its existence. That seemed ludicrous to me,” she said.
So that’s when she, together with her two sisters — Joanne Paranjothy, 25 and Rebecca Paranjothy, 20 — started toying with the idea to bring it to market here.
Popularising Menstrual Cups In Asia
But menstrual cups are still rather unpopular in Asia, including Singapore (office survey above is a case in point), so would this be a feasible business idea?
For Vanessa, the cups are just not as popular as pads and tampons “yet”.
“We have been socialised and educated to believe that pads and tampons are the cleanest, most comfortable, best, and only way of dealing with our periods,” she said.
“But menstrual cups are the future. They are more comfortable, more affordable, and more environmental-friendly. And women everywhere will grow to learn it. It will just take time and baby steps to get there.”
The benefits to menstrual cups are endless, she pointed out.
“A menstrual cup allows for unencumbered movement. Once inserted, it forms a vacuum seal, which makes it leak-free. A woman can swim, dive, sleep, work for 10 to 12 hours a day without worrying about leaks, stains or mobility.”
A menstrual cup also lasts for several years, which makes it a very economical option. A woman stands to save about $3,000 just by making the switch, according to Vanessa.
Besides saving money, menstrual cups also help to save the Earth. Since menstrual cups are reusable, less waste will be generated. In fact, for every menstrual cup used, wastage of about 12,000 non-biodegradable sanitary products can be reduced.
A Freedom Cup is also made of medical-grade silicone. This means that it is safe, comfortable, and long-lasting. Unlike tampons, there have been no recorded cases of Toxic Shock Syndrome with medical-grade silicone.
There is however a slight learning curve during the first period or two — but once you get it right, menstrual cups can be pretty life-changing.
But since menstrual cups are still an unfamiliar concept in Asia, local drugstores and pharmacies fail to recognise that there is a market for reusable menstrual products.
Besides the lack of demand, it also makes more sense for them to sell things that women have to keep coming back for, as opposed to selling something that will last them a decade.
“We are making a hard push for Freedom Cups to get on these shelves though, so women can see menstrual cups as a viable and accepted period option, not just an alternative for women who are hipster/tree-hugging/adventurous/sporty et cetera.”
Doing Business And Doing Good At The Same Time
Established in October 2015, Freedom Cups is a social enterprise that adopts a buy-1-give-1 scheme to benefit women in under-privileged communities.
According to Vanessa, almost 70% of women across the globe have little or no access to any form of sanitation during their periods. This means that they lack access to clean water, toilets, and sanitary products.
“We study the women we distribute cups to and find that 85% of them get recurring yeast and urinary tract infections. This is due in large part to poor menstrual hygiene practices.”
“They typically use leaves or damp cloth (they do not dry their rags out under direct sunlight because of stigma), or use pads for 12 hours a day.”
As such, a menstrual cup is the most sustainable solution at this point, emphasised Vanessa.
To raise awareness about menstrual cups, Freedom Cups also stage an hour-long session to educate women about their bodies and periods. Through this session, women learn more about Freedom Cups and their menstrual cups – its benefits, how to use it, as well as cleaning and storage instructions.
To date, Freedom Cups has worked on nine projects across five countries, namely the Philippines, Cambodia, India, Nepal and of course, Singapore.
Here, the trio have partnered with HOME (Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics), a shelter for abuse victims; and slightly over 1,200 women have benefited from their buy-1, give-1 scheme.
“In every area where a project has been done, we receive calls to go back and distribute more cups as there are more women in need.”
Changing Mindsets, One Cup At A Time
Freedom Cup has faced many challenges as a young, bootstrapped start-up, but “changing mindsets” is one of their biggest business challenges.
Thus far, women have been educated to believe that disposable sanitary products are the only viable option, hence educating women on the benefits of reusable menstrual products has been an uphill task.
To bridge this gap, Freedom Cups has also weaved in a pricing strategy to better convince women to purchase menstrual cups.
They price their menstrual cups at $30 — that’s about 40% cheaper than the market rate, which ranges between $50 and $60.
“We have priced it such that even though margins are tighter, women here are far more likely to give the cup a shot.”
So far, this strategy seems to be working as they have been seeing a year-on-year increase in sales.
Despite being a fledgling startup, they have also received a lot of support from their parents since day 1.
“They helped fund our first outreach projects in the Philippines; and even now, when things get busy and we are short on hands, they volunteer and do everything from packing, to deliveries, to sales,” said Vanessa.
On Forbes Asia’s 30 Under 30 List In 2017
Recently, Freedom Cups has been listed on Forbes 30 Under 30 list, which gives recognition to some of the brightest minds in 10 different industries – and this is no mean feat!
“It was great to be recognised as people who are likely to ‘shape Asia in the coming years’. It has not been an easy journey, periods are not something people are comfortable discussing and that translates into laughing fits, dirty glares, and rejection on an almost daily basis,” said Vanessa.
“But Forbes 30 under 30 was a pleasant surprise that helped highlight the plight of millions of women as well as the change we are working toward making.”
In the future, Freedom Cups hopes to be the “go-to company in Asia for sustainable period-related products”.
They are currently in the midst of physically moving into Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand; and are looking to expand their range of products.
By now, if you are convinced about ditching pads and tampons, and keen on jumping on the menstrual cup bandwagon, you can check out Freedom Cups here.
Featured Image Credit: Freedom Cups