According a report published by Allied Market Research in 2016, the global feminine hygiene products market is expected to reap a revenue of US$42.7 billion in 2022.
The Asia-Pacific region was also estimated to be the largest market for these products in 2015.
However, even with all that revenue being generated, pockets of girls in communities around the world still don’t have access to these products; or worse, don’t even know how to deal with their monthly cycles.
Singapore-based serial entrepreneur Kanika Agarwal (26) noticed this firsthand when her helper back in India said that her 2 daughters, 12 and 14, would be assisting her in cleaning houses to earn extra money.
“This is normal in India, but the reason she gave wasn’t a usual one,” explained Kanika.
“When her (the helper) older daughter started menstruating, she had stained her uniform in her school. Given that they cannot afford nor are educated about sanitary napkins, her clothes were completely spoilt.”
The little girl didn’t know what to do and was scolded in school for doing a ‘wrong deed’.
“My helper – their mother – neither understood nor supported the girl, let alone their father. She had to stop school. That’s when it hit me, mothers are limiting their daughters.”
This was in contrast to Kanika’s own mother, who told her that periods were “a beautiful thing to embrace, a special power of giving life”.
More importantly, periods should not inhibit a woman’s ambitions or plans.
Spurred on to looking further into the situation in India, Kanika found out that 80% of girls don’t use sanitary napkins, 70% can’t afford menstrual supplies, and 23% drop out of school because of the lack of access to a toilet in school to manage their periods.
The problem is pressing enough that we’ve already heard stories about other individuals who have come forward to offer their own solutions.
For example, the husband who braved scrutiny and gossip to produce low cost sanitary napkins for his wife and females in India, and the trio of Singapore sisters from Freedom Cups who donate a menstrual cup to a woman in an underpriviledged community with every one sold.
Kanika’s solution is Fempeers, a social enterprise that also works on the buy-1-give-1 system, albeit with a monthly subscription twist.
I had a chat with Kanika, and found out more about Fempeers’ mission, and the bigger vision of creating an ecosystem where females can embrace every aspect of their womanhood – both the good and bad.
Creating A ‘She For She’ Movement
Born in New Dehli, Kanika came to Singapore in 2009, where she completed a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
After graduation, she got a start in her career at Microsoft Singapore.
However, wanting to “make something of [her] own in [her] career, a legacy [she] can leave behind”, she became her own boss 2 years ago, starting Passion Peers, a digital transformation agency.
“Today, it’s an award winning agency servicing over 15 multinational corporation clients in Southeast Asia and India,” she beamed.
However, the ambitious self-starter still couldn’t rest easy, especially after hearing about the predicament of women in India.
“I realised that the time was now, or else it’ll be too late.”
I wanted to help make the lives of the women in Singapore a little easier especially during their period so that they could pamper themselves, while helping the girls in rural villages to start off their menstrual hygiene journey.
Calling her new venture ‘Fempeers’, she explained that the team wanted to put a spin on the established ‘He for She’ concept.
“We thought that the ‘She for She’ concept was way more important as we should encourage women to stand up for each other and be supportive of one another.”
“This ‘She for She’ concept is not one that we see regularly in the real world. I believe that we need to start that culture. ”
A mum raising her daughter with an open mind that periods cannot deter her – this only makes her stronger. Or a friend supporting another friend and giving her the encouragement that she needs.
Kanika dedicates Fempeers to her mother, who had been saving up money for years so that she could run an NGO after her retirement.
“She has been in a corporate role for 30 years now,” revealed Kanika.
“I am just hoping I can make it come true, where she will be personally taking care of the education aspect for our beneficiaries, and we will also be building a safe place for them to learn and take care of their health.”
Creating A Personalised, Affordable Monthly Period Companion
For Kanika, settling on a monthly subscription model was a no-brainer, given how the frequency coincides with a female’s menstrual cycle.
However, she admitted that implementing it successfully wasn’t as simple as it seems.
“Its core is relationship and a good experience.”
Drawing inspiration from Grab in terms of “being agile, releasing services in beta, testing out, and launching quickly” they swiftly went from ideation in May to official launch in December.
For $32 a month, subscribers can expect to receive 12 items – sanitary pads or tampons (depending on their preference), goodies like tea and snacks, to even yoga and activity cards.
The tote bag that holds the period kit also differs from month-to-month, each making a bold statement “so every girl can wear their periods loud and proud”.
“We start with a standard kit […] but if a customer requests us [to send] a fruity flavor, then it’s already first level of personalisation. Our aim is to go in much more depth with our upcoming tech platforms.”
My idea was to build a kit that’s truly your period companion, something that will be with you everywhere you go so that you’ll always have your supplies at an arm’s length.
Kanika shared that currently, Fempeers is bootstrapped by her own money, and around $50,000 has been put into the business so far.
“We’ll be soon going into a seed funding round,” she added.
Linking Subscribers To The Women They’re Helping
But how does the buy-1-give-1 aspect of Fempeers come in?
Who sends the menstrual products to the beneficiaries in India, and can subscribers get to know more about the women that they are helping?
“Currently, the delivery is coordinated with our partners based in India like Kshitij Foundation.”
“With the help of our India lead, who is spearheading the efforts there, we’re forming a team for a smoother communication and transition into the Indian market.”
She also shared that their recent milestone was developing a “robust progress report system where subscribers are linked to the girl they are impacting”.
Every month we tell them how the girl is doing both in terms of health and education. This is our first step in giving them transparency and truly show them how their efforts is paying off.
Since launch in December last year, they’re selling over 250 of these period kits every month.
“Long way to go, but I am happy with how things have shaped up in these 3 months!”
Running On No Ad Budget, Putting A Different Spin On Influencer Marketing
Kanika shares that marketing has been tricky, given that they’ve been running on a $0 ad budget.
I didn’t want to follow marketing tactics of running contests or usual ads.
First, she put a different spin on influencer marketing – instead of picking ambassadors by follower count or social media popularity, she picks “strong, fearless women from various fields”.
“We have some girls who are entrepreneurs, girls who are extremely active and into fitness, and even young mothers. These ladies have a strong influence on their predominantly female following.”
“We tap on that by allowing these influencers to experience our FEMkits first hand and then proceed to recommend it to their followers after realising and experiencing its full potential.”
With a strong belief in community-building, Fempeers also organises Period Parties and Period Awards to “enable females to celebrate each other”.
“In the Period Awards, we have come out with 12 different hilarious yet real categories. It also reiterates the ‘She for She’ concept.”
Period Parties are exactly what the name suggests – a gathering where subscribers, influencers, guests, female entrepreneurs, and healthcare experts can network and discuss about subjects related to that time of the month.
“This party is meant to be a safe and educational space to learn and grow together.”
The Talk Pad, a 3-in-1 community made up of a blog, discussion forum, and a Facebook group, is another initiative to get women talking and sharing female-related knowledge.
There are innumerable forums talking about women equality, women in tech or entrepreneurship, but in Asia we still shy away from openly talking about real women topics like menstrual hygiene, mental health, body positivity, and sex & relationships.
“The Talk Pad was created with one notion in mind – no topic is taboo for us.”
“We are encouraging women to speak about any and all matters pertaining to their well-being without any qualms.”
Next Step: Building A Tech Platform To Educate Girls All Around Asia
Kanika reveals that there’s much work to do for Fempeers in the coming months.
First up, releasing specific kits for ladies on-the-go, working professionals, teenage girls, and even new mummies.
“The needs of all of these women are different from what our regular kits offer, and we want to cater to their needs as well.”
Working directly with companies are also in the pipeline.
We want to make sure that no woman ever feels hindered by her period. The FEMkit will provide her with everything she needs to have a great period thus reducing the number of medical leave that she’ll have to take.
Education is also a huge part of Fempeers’ mission, and there are plans in place to go to polytechics and schools in Singapore (and eventually, around Asia) to educate girls on their periods, and why they shouldn’t fear or be embarrassed about it.
Kanika also shared a snippet of phase 2 for Fempeers – the creation of a interactive platform on Facebook where women can ask any questions and get answers immediately.
The platform will be available 24/7, meaning that women can immediately find sound advice (goodbye, webMD) for the worries that keep them up all night.
“This system is being built on AI, where current queries and data are being collected and learnt from our current psychologists and gynaes.”
FInally, a new product which uses Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) technology will also be launched in a bid to make menstrual hygiene consistent in rural areas.
More than another subscription service, Fempeers is gearing itself up to celebrate womanhood, empower females with knowledge, and the inspire the spirit of mutual sharing and support.
I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely into the idea of helping a fellow woman in need while fulfilling my monthly need of menstrual products.