I’ve spent the past few months researching period poverty and trying to find a solution. One solution I came up with were reusable cloth pads.
Reusable cloth pads have been around for centuries. This is what women used before plastic disposable pads were invented and became mainstream in the 1970s. Disposables can be toxic, bad for the environment, and expensive.
Plastic, disposable pads and tampons have been touted as sanitary, hygienic, and convenient but that may not be true.
First, do you know what disposable pads are made out of? I don’t and I’ve studied the patents. Period activists have been trying to get tampon makers to disclose ingredients for decades. They have been unsuccessful.
Reports have found that tampons and disposable pads can contain harmful chemicals and carcinogens like dioxin. Dioxin is a byproduct of the bleaching process for cotton and non-organic cotton can also contain residues from pesticides. Even worse is that tampons are not made of 100% cotton but mixed with a plastic rayon. Rayon can shed in the vagina and encourage bacterial growth and cause bacterial vaginosis (BVI). If you’re using a copper IUD, use tampons, and get BVIs like clockwork every month, it might be your tampons. If you suffer from endometriosis, there are studies linking toxic feminine products to endometriosis as well. Scented products are even worse.
If potential toxins in feminine care products aren’t bad enough- some disposable products can be the equivalent of 4 plastic bags. Your bloody pads and tampons will outlive you in landfills, on our beaches, and in the oceans.
If toxic and polluting aren’t good enough, disposable products are also expensive. If a woman has to use a pack of pads every month for over 10 years, and one pack of pads costs $7, she needs to spend at least $84/year and up to $840 for 10 years just on feminine care products.
Feminine products don’t have to be this expensive. They are expensive because there are a small number of huge companies that dominate the market, keep prices high, and profit off the bodies of women. One pad might cost a penny to manufacture but businesses sell them at a 7 to 13x markup or more.
Women and girls suffer. There are millions of girls that are not able to afford feminine care products and miss school or work and have to resort to using newspapers, socks, extra underwear, and more.
Period poverty does not only affect girls and women in developing countries but also in developed countries like the United States. New York City has almost 30,000 homeless girls and women that need feminine care products. There are a million girls in low income neighborhoods in New York City alone. There are studies proving that attendance rates for girls in schools increase when they have access to feminine care products.
Reusable pads were my solution. Complete transparency in materials, using only quality materials like GOTS-certified organic cotton, that can be personalized for every customer in material, design, and size. Reusable pads are safe, comfortable, and can be reused for years. You could make your own by upcycling old clothes like shirts and flannel pajamas or even one set could save a woman hundreds of dollars in her lifetime. After I started using reusable pads, I haven’t bought plastic pads in months.
I wanted to solve period poverty but I became really discouraged.
I made some prototypes but as I volunteered for period poverty nonprofits like Happy Period and spoke with women at events and shelters, I realized that there was a serious lack of period education. Many women were unaware that they even had options. One girl asked me if she would lose her virginity if she used a tampon. Some girls and women are not able to use tampons or reusable cups for religious or cultural reasons. Worse, some cultures including our own, shame women for their periods.
If I pursued this project, it was going to be a risky, uphill battle at every turn. I would have to take a big risk with manufacturing, solve many problems to craft an ethical supply chain, and then the biggest challenge would be raising awareness and educating millions of women.
Who was I to tell women what products to use or wear?
If women were happy with their products, I didn’t want to say anything. It wasn’t my place.
So I’ve decided to pause my Radical Pads project because I don’t have the energy or the funding to commit to this battle right now. I am going to complete my website by releasing an open source pattern and instructions so women can educate themselves, create their own, or purchase from another vendor. I will ship all the samples I promised and I would still love feedback.
If anyone wants to leave words of encouragement or want to team up on this project, I would love all the help that I can get. However, for the time being, I am wrapping this project up and putting it on the to be continued at another time shelf.
You can follow my Radical Pads project, the website is still a work in progress here.
I hope that someday when I have a lot more capital, time, and resources that I will be able to return to this project if period poverty still exists and help a million girls and women. Until then, I have to move on to another project so I can build capital. I’m currently investigating data feminism and deep learning.