And one wash to care for them all – a guide to maintaining your cloth napkins

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

And we come to the end of our series on sustainable menstruation. And as promised, we end this series with a helpful eBook on how to wash and care for your cloth napkins.

Eco femme’s beautifully designed cloth napkins come with a 75 wash guarantee, so their pads will last you atleast 6 years or more. Kathy Walking tells me that she still has cloth napkins which are about 10 years old in her stash, which are soldiering on. So the bottomline, as we promised was that cloth napkins will last you for a long time. Which means that your EQ (environmental quotient) is large and strong everytime you choose a sustainable menstrual product.
Which brings me to the part that we get the most queries about. The washing. And the underlying fear of handling a lot of blood.

Menstrual blood as our high school biology texts taught us are the blood and endometrial lining of an unfertilised egg. So the menstrual blood you handle was created to sustain and nourish another living being. It is not waste. And it is not gross. And is a deep part of our sacred feminine. Many of the users who we spoke to for our switch pieces, echo this as they tell us that using a reusable product helps them connect back to their body and really see their menstrual flow.

But you might still feel suspicious about the work involved around caring for your napkins. As someone who has made the switch successfully and has used only cloth napkins for more than 2 years, I can testify that the hardest part about caring for your napkins is the mindset that it is unpleasant and difficult.

 

I estimate I spend anywhere between 5 – 10 minutes extra everyday I have my period to manage my napkins. But this extra time seems like a very small investment towards keeping tree gobbling and gas guzzling disposables out of our landfills, away from innocent animals and away from ragpickers who are otherwise forced to sort through it. Click here for a neat infographic explaining this.

And this extra 10 minutes means that I get to wear soft, fragrance free napkins that work just as well as my disposables, feel much more comfortable and are healthier for me.

In my book ,this makes these 10 minutes completely worth it.

Click here to download our guide to caring for your cloth napkins with the Krya detergent. And click here to buy the aforementioned Krya detergent.

Krya giveaway:

We are going to be giving away 3 cloth sanitary pad starter kits to 3 lucky people: each kit will come in its own reusable cloth bag (for you to shop with) and will contain samples of the Krya detergent along with instructions to wash and care for your cloth pads.

If you would like to win one of these starter kits, all you need to do is this. Follow our posts and updates in this series and tell us one reason why you would like to make the switch to green your period. Head over to our Facebook page to enter now.

 

More green period information:

To learn more about how you can consciously and sustainably manage your periods every month, start here:

  1.  Here’s an introduction to the world of reusables
  2. Here’s where you can find out more about the dangers presented by disposable sanitary products
  3. Here’s a piece chronicling Srinivas Krishnaswamy ‘s perspective on Reusables and Disposable products
  4. And here’s the first part of our Interview series: this is an interview of Lakshmi Murthy of Uger Pads, Udaipur
  5. Here’s Anita Balasubramanian chronicling how she shifted to reusable cloth pads.
  6. Here’s the second part of our interview series: this is an interview of Kathy & Jessamijn of Eco Femme, Auroville
  7. Here’s Susmitha Subbaraju chronicling how she shifted to reusable cloth pads
  8. Here is the perspective provided by SWaCH on the human rights and social justice issues presented by disposables
  9. Here is the third part of our interview series: this is an interview of Gayathri of Jaioni reusable cloth pads
  10. Here is Preethi Raghav chronicling her switch to reusable menstrual cups.
  11. Here is Sruti Hari of Goli Soda chronicling her switch to reusable cloth pads and sharing why she decided to start selling reusable menstrual products at her store, Goli Soda.
  12. Here is an interview of Tracy Puhl, the young, inspiring business owner behind GladRags reusable cloth pads.

 

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There are no accidents – conversations with Tracy Puhl, GladRags

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Reading Time: 10 minutes

We’ve spent about a month on the Krya blog talking about sustainable menstruation. And we are feeling victorious and somewhat exhausted. We started with an introduction to the subject, briefly spoke about the dangers behind disposables, and then begun exploring reusable options available in Indian interspersed with pieces by users who had made the switch and a conversation with Swach, which is a NGO in solid waste management who brought out the perspective of human rights and dignity of labour associated with clearing soiled disposable napkins.

The reason we started writing about this series is twofold. A part of what we do at Krya has been to provide lots of relevant information about how everyone can live more sustainably.

Perhaps taking a cue from Chef August Gusteau of in the film, Ratatouille who said that anyone could cook, even a little rat called Remy.

gusteau_featured

We talk about sustainable life hacks that anyone can use, even people living in a city, (usually considered the bane of a sustainable existence). Using our sustainable life hacks can help you reduce your carbon footprint, treat natural resources with greater reverence, and our hacks are usually easy to adopt and good for you as well.

All the sustainable life hacks we talk about are hacks we have used ourselves, with a reasonable amount of success. So these life hacks have been tried, tested and are certified by us! Our series on reusable menstrual products comes after I (Preethi) have tried and made the switch to reusable menstrual napkins; I have been disposable free for nearly two years now.

The second reason we wrote this series was this: we have been talking about reusable menstrual products for some time now, and I have discussed it at length in the solid waste management workshops I have been a part of organised by the Hindu and in my column on sustainable living in the Hindu’s Habitat. A large part of the queries that come my way, apart from what products to choose, have all been about how cloth napkins should be maintained and cared for.

I understand the need for this line of questioning. Menstrual napkins, especially if they are to be reused, come with the need to be kept clean and germ free to avoid any possibility of infections. Also, the chances of skin irritation can be high if synthetic products are used to care for them. We will be addressing the topic of caring for and maintaining your menstrual napkins with one of our helpful eBooks tomorrow.

 

Writing this series has been educative and an eye opener to me as well. I feel privileged to get the open responses that I did from the makers of these reusable products, and their consumers: everyone was interested in contributing to this series, and every person I spoke to has been open, and approached this in the spirit of sharing and learning.

 

While using cloth has been a part of Indian tradition for a long time now, we did not have any companies creating well designed, modern cloth napkins for managing your periods until a few years back. But reusable cloth napkins have been in vogue in the U.S from the 1970s, and have been adopted by a whole tribe of people for various reasons including care for the environment, and also to look after them better.

 

Many U.S returned Indian women who switched to reusable cloth pads, tell me of how they were inspired to make this shift by the products they encountered in the U.S. And the name of one company kept coming up in the conversations I had, GladRags.

GladRags is a fascinating company and makes for an interesting read for anyone interested in entrepreneurship. It was started by an entrepreneur in the early 1990s, Brenda Mallory, as she was inspired by the experience of cloth diapering her child to use cloth for her menstrual flow as well.

 

20 years down the line, when Brenda decided to sell GladRags and focus on other creative pursuits, a 24 years old GladRags employee decided to buy over the company from her. And the sale and the terms were agreed upon within a month! This way GladRags continues to be a woman owned and women managed company that continues to focus on period positivity. The company has been growing from strength to strength and now sells its products across US retail and in 15 countries around the world.

 

I wrote to Tracy Puhl, the inspiring owner of GladRags, and was pleasantly surprised to hear back almost instantly, agreeing to answer my questions for this interview.

In this interview, I choose to focus on the sprit of entrepreneurship and ask Tracy questions on how GladRags is run. And I come away with new lessons on creating a venture that is both collaborative and empowering.

 

Here is Tracy talking to us about GladRags, running a positive and empowering venture and her inspiring relationship with Brenda Mallory, from whom she bought GladRags.

 

My mother always told me I should become a business owner, I guess she was right!

6.Tracy Running 5K

My name is Tracy Puhl. I live in Portland, Oregon, USA where I’m the owner of a sustainable menstrual product company called GladRags.  GladRags was founded in 1993 by Brenda Mallory. Inspired by the cloth diapers she was using with her infant daughter, GladRags began as a home-based business and has now grown to a company that serves women all over the country (and even the world!)

A series of happy “accidents” led me to work at Glad Rags.

I was providing job support for adults with disabilities who were performing packaging work for GladRags. I got to know the company and fell in love with the products. Later, when I was ready to make a career change, there just happened to be an opening at GladRags! The rest is history. 🙂

Curiosity and a desire to reduce my environmental impact led me to make the switch.

I had heard a little bit about cloth pads and menstrual cups, but didn’t have much experience with them. My first reusables were some homemade cloth pads a friend gave me. Next, I tried sea sponge tampons, then GladRags cloth pads, then a Moon Cup! Now, I’m more grateful for the comfort than anything else. Disposables were so uncomfortable, but I didn’t even realize it until I had switched!

2.GladRags Pads

I started with just a handful of pads and some sea sponge tampons and used disposables when I ran out. I pretty quickly got tired of disposable pads and tampons when I had these better options, so that inspired me to stock up more quickly. I’ve never regretted making the switch—I only wish I had done so earlier. I feel like my experience with my period in high school would have been so much better if I had been using GladRags then.

Buying the company that I worked for seemed like a great idea at the time, and continues to be..

I had been an employee at GladRags for about two years when the founder decided she was ready to sell the company and focus on her art career. Not wanting to lose my job or see the company be absorbed by a competitor, I decided to figure out how I could take over. Once I make my mind up to do something, I’m really focused on making it happen! I think I made the decision to buy GladRags, and then just over a month later we were signing papers.

My relationship with Brenda, is very unique. When we were negotiating terms of the sale of the company, we often met up together (against the wishes of our well-intentioned lawyers) to hammer out details. We just as often were checking to make sure the deal was fair for the other person as we were for ourselves. I think the fact that we both wanted the best for each other helped us come to an agreement that has served as well.

1. brenda & tracy

This is definitely a different way of doing business—most acquisitions of companies are all about getting as much as you can for yourself, not looking out for the other person’s interests. Fortunately, Brenda and I have a lot more respect for each other than that! And we genuinely like each other as people. We always make sure to meet up on the anniversary of the sale and toast to our various successes. If we can, we’ll meet up once or twice during the year to catch up, too.

I think we’ve stayed true to our roots, but are excited about growing Glad Rags to the next level.

Brenda is very busy with her art career these days (check her out: brendamallory.com) but has always been available to me as a resource if I need it. After 18 years of running the company, she’s deserving of a break though! 🙂

The company values have stayed true to their roots—the respect for people and planet, the dedication to improving women’s menstrual cycles, and the integrity of the company are a big part of what drew me to GladRags in the first place.

3. celebrating period positivity

I think our vision is the biggest thing that has changed. With a fresh set of eyes (and plenty of new enthusiasm), I have bigger dreams than ever for GladRags!

The average woman in the U.S uses between 12,000 to 16,000 disposable menstrual products in her lifetime.

That’s a huge amount of waste going to landfills (or washing up on beaches). Not to mention the ongoing manufacturing impact of creating, packaging, and transporting all of these disposable products.

Often, the first response is “reusable pads?? Isn’t that gross??” It can take some time for people to really think about it—and once they do, they may discover that they’ve only been taught to believe that menstruation is a disgusting process, rather than a totally natural, healthy one! It’s amazing to see the shift in peoples’ thinking when they realize this. It can lead to much more positive feelings about their own bodies, especially during their menstrual cycle.

4. At an expo

Most women who are looking to switch to reusable products are doing so for environmental or health reasons, and are very surprised to find out that cloth pads are much more comfortable than their disposable counterparts.

The big concern women have over choosing reusables is how to wash and care for them, or handle travel with them.

Lots of women are concerned about how to wash the pads or how to use them when they’re out in public. We’re working hard to educate women so that they have all of the info! GladRags are really easy to wash—you can pre-soak if you’d like, and just wash on cold/dry on low like regular laundry. We also have a carry bag to tote your cloth pads while in public.

Some women are concerned about the up-front costs of reusable cloth pads. However, in the long run, cloth pads are actually much cheaper than disposables!

We intend to grow and make reusables a well known option for menstrual management.

We have so much room to grow, and we intend to do so! We hope to reach even more women, and make reusables a well known option for menstrual protection. At this time, we’re not looking to get into other reusable products—people often suggest we should start making cloth diapers—because we really want to focus on feminine care. That’s what we do best!

You can buy online at GladRags.com or in natural groceries and pharmacies across the United States. Stores like Whole Foods or grocery co-operatives often carry our products or can special order them. We ship worldwide, and have distributors in a few other countries.

 

Tracy’s advice for other women entrepreneurs:

Do what you are passionate about! Don’t worry about doing things the way they have always been done; it’s okay to be creative! Be collaborative, not competitive. Support other entrepreneurial women in your community. And don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You WILL make mistakes. Just make sure you learn from them!

 

And Tracy has amply demonstrated this creative and collaborative unique way of doing business: both in how she bought over GladRags and how she continues to run it. Thank you so much Tracy and Team GladRags for taking the time to respond to our questions and sending us these lovely photographs.

 

Please support the fantastic work done by GladRags by liking their Facebook page. You could also check out the products they have to offer on their website. Tracy tells me that they ship their products worldwide and that their deliveries are quite prompt.

 

Krya giveaway:

We are going to be giving away 3 cloth sanitary pad starter kits to 3 lucky people: each kit will come in its own reusable cloth bag (for you to shop with) and will contain samples of the Krya detergent along with instructions to wash and care for your cloth pads.

If you would like to win one of these starter kits, all you need to do is this. Follow our posts and updates in this series and tell us one reason why you would like to make the switch to green your period. Head over to our Facebook page to enter now.

 

More green period information:

To learn more about how you can consciously and sustainably manage your periods every month, start here:

  1.  Here’s an introduction to the world of reusables
  2. Here’s where you can find out more about the dangers presented by disposable sanitary products
  3. Here’s a piece chronicling Srinivas Krishnaswamy ‘s perspective on Reusables and Disposable products
  4. And here’s the first part of our Interview series: this is an interview of Lakshmi Murthy of Uger Pads, Udaipur
  5. Here’s Anita Balasubramanian chronicling how she shifted to reusable cloth pads.
  6. Here’s the second part of our interview series: this is an interview of Kathy & Jessamijn of Eco Femme, Auroville
  7. Here’s Susmitha Subbaraju chronicling how she shifted to reusable cloth pads
  8. Here is the perspective provided by SWaCH on the human rights and social justice issues presented by disposables
  9. Here is the third part of our interview series: this is an interview of Gayathri of Jaioni reusable cloth pads
  10. Here is Preethi Raghav chronicling her switch to reusable menstrual cups.
  11. Here is Sruti Hari of Goli Soda chronicling her switch to reusable cloth pads and sharing why she decided to start selling reusable menstrual products at her store, Goli Soda.
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The big green switch – Sruti Hari , Goli Soda

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Reading Time: 9 minutes

Our series of posts on sustainable menstruation have covered 3 kinds of areas: We’ve presented facts about how disposable driven menstruation is un-sustainable, and given you charts, facts and blog articles.

We’ve then featured pieces from actual women who have successfully made the switch – both to cloth pads and menstrual cups,

We’ve then interviewed 3 companies who manufacture cloth pads in India, to understand what makes them tick, and why we should support their work.

But an interesting opportunity came my way when I spoke to Sruti Hari. Sruti is one half of the creative team that runs Ashvita – an art gallery, a series of cafes and retail stores focussing on all kinds of interesting products.

I first met Sruti at the Ashvita Bistro which we discovered a few years ago. A few conversations later, I discovered several areas of mutual interest and conversation.

Sruti’s passionate love for Cinema which lead her to save memorabilia and artefacts form Indian cinemas, sometimes from dustbins to build an impressive collection which now form a part of the Cinema Resource Centre.

1. sruti and ammu

Sruti’s deep love for animals and the environment is evident when you see her care for Ammu Kalyani (her beautiful, rescued Indian dog), when you see her growing her own basil for the pesto made at Ashvita, and when you see her passionately advocating and selling Daily Dump’s Kambhas.

Sruti’s interest for the environment meant that Goli Soda was inevitable. It is Chennai’s first (and perhaps one of the few stores in India) to focus on upcycled and environmentally sustainable goods. Goli Soda’s products are carefully curated to offer you quirky colourful ways to lead a more sustainable life – from coasters made of loofahs, to upcycled wallets, poo paper products, organic clothing and of course Krya’s products.

6. goli soda chennai

Goli Soda also sells Eco Femme’s reusable cloth napkins. We catch up with Sruti to chat about Goli Soda, her experience with cloth napkins and why she recommends and sells reusable menstrual products at her store.

 

 I am a film maker, a model and an environmental crusader.

I have felt connected with nature from childhood – girl guides and treks cemented the bond further. The very fact that my roots are in Kerala meant that I was lived a life that was enmeshed with nature. I spent every summer at my grandparent’s home in Kerala where we grew our own vegetables, used plants and herbs to take care of myself like turmeric for my face and hibiscus for my hair.

My love for animals and desire to lead an ethical life deepened my connection with the planet.

I started giving up non vegetarian food, leather and silk at 6. While I come from a vegetarian household, where even eggs are considered non vegetarian, my older sister used to eat chicken when we went out. So I grew up thinking of chicken as food which you ate outside your house, and never connected my eating with an actual bird.

I joined a summer camp at C.P Art centre where we saw films and had workshops of different animals and birds. I then understood what I had been eating was actually a bird with feelings, and decided to give up eating non vegetarian food. I progressively gave up using leather and silk as well.

 

I started Goli Soda for a selfish reason – to give myself access to ethical and sustainable products

I thought that when I retired I would go back to living more with nature – but then I was too impatient to wait. So I started holding workshops at Ashvita to learn more about the sustainable practices I wanted to learn like organic terrace gardening.

4. the otg workshop at ashvita

As the workshops grew, and my access to environmental products grew, starting Goli Soda became imminent. I wanted access to sustainable and ethical products without having to travel far or search extensively for them online. People on FB and other mediums started to share ideas about cool recycled ideas. But these remained as ideas. To actually make the switch, you need the convenience of products. And I figured there would be more people who want this as well. And given our retail background, starting a store focussed on environmentally sustainable and upcycled products came to us naturally.

 

We choose well designed products that are environmentally conscious to sell at Goli Soda.

Goli Soda started mainly as an upcycled store. We wanted people to understand that and that it was okay to reuse something and give it a new lease of life. We are particular about design and quality because of our background in art with Ashvita. We like to choose products with unique design and high quality.

Also, when it comes to environmentally suitable products, people tend to picture them as boring, and dull and not colourful or cool. We are trying to change that mindset and show people that you can be cool and design conscious with eco friendly products. This explains how we choose the products we retail at Goli Soda. They all have to be well designed with good packaging and product design – the two examples that come to mind are Eco Femme’c cloth pads and Oh gourd’s coasters.

We also offer natural cleaning products like the Krya detergent and the Krya dishwash at Goli Soda. Most people are unaware of how much synthetic household cleaners damage the environment. There is a greater awareness of environmental and human damage when it comes to personal care products but very little when it comes to household care and cleaning products. So we prefer to educate our consumers in that area and don’t offer personal care products at the store.

And of course these are products that I look for which is why I retail these. I don’t want anyone to feel compelled to pick up a synthetic detergent or a chemical filled floor cleaner – they have an alternative which works well.

 

I started selling Eco Femme at the store after my positive experience with their reusable cloth napkins.

Diapers and sanitary pads really affect the environment. Every day when I step out of my house I see used pads and diapers and can see cows and dogs eating this. That affected me. I started to educate people about segregating and composting their waste. When I sell people the Kambha, I tell them to segregate their recyclable waste from their food waste. But I used to be stumped when they asked me what to do with their disposable sanitary napkins and diapers.

3. sruti at a kambha demo

A chance conversation led me to consider using Eco Femme reusable cloth napkins. I think Eco femme’s products are brilliant – the packaging is beautiful, and the product experience is awesome. So I had to have them at Goli Soda as well.

 

I started my switch to reusables gradually.

I started with Eco Femme’s panty liner at first. I thought my experience was brilliant. And it was better than disposables because it came with wings – so I had no side spots or staining. I started getting used to washing and caring for the pantyliners. Then I shifted to daypads for normal flow continuing to use disposables for heavy flow. When I got comfortable, I switched completely to reusables.

Now I still use disposables when I travel, but I am in the process of figuring it out. I have been using reusables for a year now – now when I use disposables I find it very uncomfortable.

 

Having switched to reusables, I discovered how uncomfortable disposables really are:

Before I switched, I used to think disposables could handle heavy flow and protect me from accidents better than cloth. Having made the switch, I now know better. I have had staining accidents only with disposables and not reusables. Using reusables has put me in better touch with my body and I’m intuitively able to handle my flow much better.

I am still figuring out how to adapt when I go to shoots, etc. I travel once every 2 – 3 months and sometimes my outdoor film work can stretch upto 6 months in all kinds of places.

Krya note: Sruti’s point about knowing your body better when using reusables is well taken. This is the case across many categories of reusables. Cloth diapering mums find that children on cloth diapers are more conscious of their bodies and adjust to toilet training faster than disposable diapered babies. Using a completely dry disposable, makes you unconscious of your body’s rhythms and cycles and isolates you from your body.

 

I love the comfort and bright colours of reusable cloth napkins.

I am instantly cheered up by the bright colours and designs of the cloth pads and love how comfortable they feel. There is no synthetic plasticky feel; it feels like you are wearing soft, padded underwear. There is no additional, synthetic layer like there is in disposables,

Of course washing and maintaining it takes a small amount of additional time. I prefer to hand wash my pads myself – but of course washing them is quite easy.

 

I ask other women to switch to reusable cloth pads simply for the comfort they provide.

The environment needs people to act now and not talk. I am tired of dinner table conversations about global warming where no change is made at the end. Everyone knows intellectually why eco friendly products are good – but they believe they are uncomfortable to use which is why they do not take to them fast.

 

While I am an environmental crusader, I find people getting on the defensive if I lecture them about their ways. So I focus on the superior feeling of comfort a product like Eco femme’s cloth napkins can have. I always used a disposable – a combo of wood pulp and gel pads. I don’t know any other way apart from disposables. But the minute I switched to a reusable cloth napkin, I felt good.

When I wash out my own blood and do not throw it into a dustbin, I feel more connected to myself. I ask women to transition slowly – so that they understand their flow and gently transition so that they get comfortable with the experience.

 

We’ve had a reasonable rate of success selling reusable cloth pads at Goli Soda.

I found most people are interested in it. For example, when I heard of cloth pads, I had the image of smelly rags in my mind. When I opened up Eco Femme’s pack I loved it. I find this happening to many people at our store. Some come in armed with information and know what to buy; others take back our flyers and mull over the information.

When I’m around, I’m happy to answer questions about my experience as well. Many people follow my advice and transition gradually. Some give up at the pantyliner stage. But many people carry on and make the switch.  And that makes me proud.

 

And it makes us proud too Sruti. To see your work. To shop at your store. And to have Krya associated with you and Goli Soda. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us and sharing your experiences.

 

Please do support Sruti’s work at Goli Soda and at Ashvita Nirvana (Chennai’s first PETA certified cafe offering vegetarian and vegan food) by visiting them and by liking their Facebook pages. Ashvita Nirvana has a delicious and sinful vegan menu as well – I recommend the hazelnut chocolate vegan shake!

 

More green period information:

To learn more about how you can consciously and sustainably manage your periods every month, start here:

  1.  Here’s an introduction to the world of reusables
  2. Here’s where you can find out more about the dangers presented by disposable sanitary products
  3. Here’s a piece chronicling Srinivas Krishnaswamy ‘s perspective on Reusables and Disposable products
  4. And here’s the first part of our Interview series: this is an interview of Lakshmi Murthy of Uger Pads, Udaipur
  5. Here’s Anita Balasubramanian chronicling how she shifted to reusable cloth pads.
  6. Here’s the second part of our interview series: this is an interview of Kathy & Jessamijn of Eco Femme, Auroville
  7. Here’s Susmitha Subbaraju chronicling how she shifted to reusable cloth pads
  8. Here is the perspective provided by SWaCH on the human rights and social justice issues presented by disposables
  9. Here is the third part of our interview series: this is an interview of Gayathri of Jaioni reusable cloth pads
  10. Here is Preethi Raghav chronicling her switch to reusable menstrual cups.

 

Krya giveaway:

We are going to be giving away 3 cloth sanitary pad starter kits to 3 lucky people: each kit will come in its own reusable cloth bag (for you to shop with) and will contain samples of the Krya detergent along with instructions to wash and care for your cloth pads.

If you would like to win one of these starter kits, all you need to do is this. Follow our posts and updates in this series and tell us one reason why you would like to make the switch to green your period. Head over to our Facebook page to enter now. 

 

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A cup of happiness – conversations with Preethi Raghav

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Reading Time: 8 minutes

Our series on reusable menstrual products has received a lot of questions and queries from women wanting to make the switch from disposable menstrual products. As we have discussed previously, disposable menstrual products come with several questionable environmental and human health antecedents.

 

For one, the environmental footprint of using a disposable sanitary product is very large. A wood pulp based napkin uses up pulp from old heartwood trees, contributing to the decimation of our forest cover. A modern SAAP napkin or a tampon uses highly specialised derivatives of plastic which itself emerges from the fossil fuel industry.

 

Again, a whole lot of technology has gone into producing this SAAP which was itself derived from incredibly ancient fossil reserves from the earth which is a finite resource. Read more about the peak oil crisis here. And our alternatives today are much more sophisticated than the “smelly old rags” sanitary napkin ads are always ranting about.

 

One of the set of emails we got at Krya came from users of menstrual cups. Many cup users wrote to us about the comfort, and invisibility offered by this reusable menstrual product.

I personally confess to an irrational fear of internal menstrual devices. Despite Srinivas being a brand manager in our earlier life of a major brand of tampons and despite the samples he brought me to get me to try one, I was freakishly unreceptive to the idea.

But the many many users of cups who have managed to get over this initial apprehension have gone on to experience a whole lot of comfort and security around their periods. And of course, compared to cloth napkins which we have been discussing, menstrual cups involve very little maintenance.

So for today’s piece on menstrual cups, I have Preethi Raghav, sharing her story of
the switch.

About Preethi Raghav
Preethi Raghav is a very interesting young lady. She is one of the most committed vegan and animal rights activists we know, and does a lot of stellar volunteer work for Blue Cross along with her husband, Raghav.

1. Preethi with the animals she love
Preethi has just started a venture of her own to provide cruelty free, earth friendly jewellery alternatives made from terracotta. Preethi’s beautiful terracotta jewellery is made following special eco friendly process. She has designed her own terracotta stove that does not use electricity and does not emit too much of smoke to create her earth friendly pieces.

2, preethi with no harm charm

In addition to No Harm Charm, Preethi creates educational content for an NGO working towards providing quality education to rural children,  and helps conduct healthy-cooking workshops for SHARAN (a not for profit working in the field of disease control following a cruelty free, whole grain, plant based diet). Previously, She spent a year heading the English department in a government aided tamil medium school, where English was being introduced for the first time.  

Preethi’s other interests include Krav Maga, painting, warli art and doodling. She takes great interest in conservation and other related issues threatening our planet and has been an ethical vegan for more than 3 years now. 

Preethi put all her principles to practice in her wedding which served only vegan and cruelty free food where no silk or gold was used.

Here is Preethi sharing the story of her switch.

The horrific sight of used disposable pads thrown carelessly on the terrace of the school I taught me, made me decide to make the switch.

It was a rainy afternoon in 2011, when I was having fun teaching English to an enthusiastic bunch at a slum, in the heart of Chennai. I had planned a spoken English lock and key activity, and so needed a larger space. That’s when I decided to take the kids to the school terrace. As I reached there, a poor sight awaited me. I saw at least 5-10 used sanitary pads, thrown uncovered on the building terrace. Just before I could ask the children to do a U-turn, they started running all over them, like they were used to it.

This incident shook me. I couldn’t get that off my mind. I immediately took responsibility and began research on how periods should be hygienically managed, so I could talk to the girls about it.

Talking to my friends did not help:  I was just 19 at the time, and all that we were exposed to then, were sanitary napkins. With Google’s help I stumbled upon the existence of menstrual cups and cloth pads. It was then that I decided to make the switch, but honestly I took almost a year to get rid of the “sophistication” that disposable sanitary napkins offered me.

I loved the green-ness of a cloth napkin, but did not like its wet-ness.

Chennai being super hot, I always love some rain and wetness outside, but I did not like feeling wet inside – this was something I disliked even with sanitary pads.

But then once, while I was reading a little more about menstruation to prepare a presentation on the same, I hit upon an informative article that spoke about the essential vaginal fluids that are discharged during our periods, and how they are helpful in maintaining the pH levels.

A year later I developed a hyper sensitive skin condition called dermographism. This condition meant that using even a cloth pad would trigger intense itching in my body, which is when I decided to switch to the menstrual cup.

I loved the neatness and dryness I could experience with a menstrual cup

When I began using the she Cup, I loved it. I additionally needed to put in no extra effort to wash it and dry it. However, I must add that it needed me to do a bit of gymnastics to try to figure out the best way to fit it in for it to seal well, but, that’s because I didn’t see the many helpful videos online then. After about 2 cycles of trying it, I loved it!

I found the idea of inserting a sizeable menstrual cup inside me a bit nerve wracking.

It took me a day’s time to get used to it inside, but, I had to make the try to realize what a wonderful alternative this is. However after a couple of days, I hardly felt it! And the dry feeling was simply so comforting (they don’t dry us out completely the way sanitary pads do, since they just collect the discharge).
I found many reasons to continue to stick to my menstrual cup.

When I started, I simply wanted to help myself from the dreadful hours-long itching that I used to have before due to dermographism. Later, because of the simplicity in usage, I continued to love using my menstrual cup.

Even on my heaviest flow days, I have worn it for 7-8 hours at a stretch before having to empty it, and it still wouldn’t stain.

I also get to measure my periods, which I can’t say is very useful, but very fascinating, and I feel very connected to my system with those measures. Menstrual cups can hold nearly 2 times more vaginal discharge than what a cloth pad absorbs. At times, on my heavy flow-days, I use both the cup and the cloth pad together.

My family and I have found the transition to reusable menstrual products much easier because of the cup.

After fine tuning my mind to accept the switch, I find there is no other discomfort. My partner thinks it is a neat system, as I do since the blood isn’t absorbed like in a cloth pad. So are no external smells or any evidence of blood at all.

I held some myths in my head about menstrual cups which had to change before I accepted the switch.

The greatest myths I held in my mind were :
Myth1- The insertion of a silicone cup, and it’s possibility of leading to infections
Myth2- The disposal of the blood while I’m outside, especially in our not-so-neat public toilets
From the studies available, silicone is widely studied as an implant and is considered non-toxic and inert. Most cups available in the market are medical grade silicone. So there isn’t anything to worry!

 

As far as disposal is concerned, this is such a charmer! I just need to empty the contents and wash it with clean water. Worst case, once, while on a long distance journey I simply cleaned it neat with a tissue and reinserted.  I no longer have to hunt secret places to hide my used pads or look for safer ways to dispose one.

Disposable sanitary products are unhygienic!
Ask any restaurant cleaner and they’ll tell you, that they hate throwing used sanitary napkins and tampons for the decaying stench they have. Ask a corporation worker, he’d tell you that most public (especially govt. schools) bathroom outlets are clogged with stinky used napkins and poor them; they have to remove them all! So I feel at least in a country like ours, we’ve all the more responsibility to contribute to lesser/NO waste of these kind, to help maintain better hygiene.
I know a lot of women including you, Preethi have some inhibitions to trying out a cup. So here’s why you should:

  • Neat!
  •  Just Rs.799 to manage your periods for 5-7 long years! (Save money)
  • No washing and drying
  • Works well for all activities- swimming (can’t wear a cloth pad too), dancing, jumping, exercising, sky diving…
  • No chemicals / pesticides (Cottons are highly sprayed crops accounting for almost 10% of pesticide sprayed. So unless it’s organically made cloth pads, why take the risk of using it?)
  • Can proudly say’ I have nothing for the landfills!’

Preethi’s note to Preethi: I am still not sure if I want to try one Preethi, but May I say your point is extremely well made? Thank you!

Krya’s note: Preethi’s point about pesticide sprayed cotton is a valid one. All of our garments, unless stated otherwise, are sprayed with a super high dose of pesticides and fertilisers. Cotton is one of the most heavily sprayed cash crops around the world, along with coffee and there is concern about the dermal absorption of these chemicals when using this fabric – especially around your intimate areas.

That said, cloth is still a great option compared to disposables. Of course Preethi’s case for menstrual cups is still valid.

Both Eco Femme and Jaioni have plans to launch an organic cotton range of pads. We advise women using the cloth pads until then to pre-wash the pads atleast 4 – 5 times to remove superficial chemical traces like dyes , bleaches and starches – this will also help improve the absorbency of the fabric. Our washing guide will follow in a few days on how you should do this and your main washing. And whenever available, we would strongly advice replacing your stash with organic cloth napkins.
Thank you Preethi Raghav for that candid, straight from the heart set of answers to our questions.

 

3. no harm charmPlease do support Preethi’s work in cruelty free, earth friendly jewellery by exploring her work here and liking her Facebook page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some additional links to get you started:

More green period information:

To learn more about how you can consciously and sustainably manage your periods every month, start here:

  1.  Here’s an introduction to the world of reusables
  2. Here’s where you can find out more about the dangers presented by disposable sanitary products
  3. Here’s a piece chronicling Srinivas Krishnaswamy ‘s perspective on Reusables and Disposable products
  4. And here’s the first part of our Interview series: this is an interview of Lakshmi Murthy of Uger Pads, Udaipur
  5. Here’s Anita Balasubramanian chronicling how she shifted to reusable cloth pads.
  6. Here’s the second part of our interview series: this is an interview of Kathy & Jessamijn of Eco Femme, Auroville
  7. Here’s Susmitha Subbaraju chronicling how she shifted to reusable cloth pads
  8. Here is the perspective provided by SWaCH on the human rights and social justice issues presented by disposables
  9. Here is the third part of our interview series: this is an interview of Gayathri of Jaioni reusable cloth pads

 

Krya giveaway:

We are going to be giving away 3 cloth sanitary pad starter kits to 3 lucky people: each kit will come in its own reusable cloth bag (for you to shop with) and will contain samples of the Krya detergent along with instructions to wash and care for your cloth pads.

If you would like to win one of these starter kits, all you need to do is this. Follow our posts and updates in this series and tell us one reason why you would like to make the switch to green your period. Head over to our Facebook page to enter now. 

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It doesn’t go away – conversations with Swach Co-op

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Reading Time: 10 minutes

Julia Butterfly Hill is a U.S environmental activist. She is best known for having lived for 738 days in a 55 meter, 1500 year old California Redwood tree to prevent the loggers from the Pacific Lumber company from cutting it down.

 

5. Julia Butterfly hill

In the context of this piece, Julia Butterfly hill is also known for her rousing and inspiring beliefs and powerful words on what she terms our disposability consciousness. She calls our penchant to use and throw resources that come from fossil fuel reserves and ancient forests, in other words, paper, plastic and disposable napkins, as a weapon of mass destruction.

Julia Butterfly Hill on the disposable economy

Julia also asks us a provocative question: What is away? When we throw things “away” where is away?

In the question of disposable sanitary products and diapers, it is important to ask, who is away? And when we imagine away, who do we imagine is clearing our trash for us?

Last year, after repeated pleas and emails to companies manufacturing sanitary napkins were ignored, SWACH Pune and Stree Mukti Sanghatana from Mumbai took a drastic step. They collected and sent bags of soiled sanitary napkins to the corporate offices of Johnson & Johnson, Hindustan Unilever, Kimberly Clark and Proctor & Gamble – they wanted these companies to understand what it is like for waste pickers to hand pick and collect this waste by hand.

And this is a reality that happens every day across Indian cities.

Waste pickers handle our soiled disposable napkins, which are rarely marked separately and are often mixed with food and recyclable waste. They separate out soiled napkins from useful items by hand, exposing themselves to micro-organisms like E.Coli, salmonella, staphylococcus, HIV and pathogens that cause hepatitis and tetanus.

Because of the hazardous nature of their job, waste pickers can cut themselves when handling broken glass and sharp pieces of metal in the waste. Open, cut skin when exposed to blood soiled napkins or urine soaked diapers can present a very grave health hazard.

The Plastic Waste Management rules formulated by the MOEF in 2011, has included basic provisions asking for extended Producer responsibility when it comes to disposal of products. Producers of goods are responsible for the entire cycle of their products from cradle to grave, and need to provide solutions to help organise waste generated from the use of their products.

We have a conversation with Pratibha of Swach today to understand more.

How SWACH began:

SWACH is India’s first co-operative formed by waste collectors from low income backgrounds. In 1993, waste pickers and waste buyers in Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad came together to form KKPKP (Kaghad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat) a membership based trade union.

The Union was started to improve and establish the important role played by waste pickers in solid waste management and to assert through dialogue, their contribution to the environment. Today KKPKP has 9000 members of which many are from social and marginalised castes.

Each member pays an annual fee to the organisation and an equal amount towards their life insurance cover. Members are given ID cards endorsed by the Pune Municipal Corporation, and have access to benefits like interest free loans and educational support for their children.

4. swach in the pinkathon

KKPKP has done stellar work in helping establish the role of its members in Solid Waste Management. Their study helped quantify the waste picker’s contribution to solid waste management and demonstrated how the recyclable recovery operations carried by their members helped save Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation several crores of rupees in waste handling costs.

In 2005, KKPKP launched a pilot programme in conjunction with PMC, which integrated its waste picker members in door to door waste collection work. This pilot programme paved the way for the genesis of Swach – a wholly owned worker’s co-operative which followed a pro-poor Public Private partnership.

Swach began work in 2006 and became fully operational in 2008. The work under Swach includes door to door waste collection services. Swach Plus is another arm of the venture which includes value added components that help boost income like e-waste collection, composting services, and products like ST dispo bags which we will talk about.

2. Swach plus initiative

 

“We hate reaching into a trash bag and encountering a used diaper or a soiled sanitary napkin”…

When people throw napkins into their domestic waste they don’t stop to think that another human being is sorting through all this waste to remove their recyclables. So they wrap the napkins in any old polythene bag, or don’t wrap it all. Some people wrap the napkins in newspaper, but often this opens up and the dirty napkin is exposed. Yes, we are waste pickers, but there are some things we would not like to touch.’

Another waste picker and Swach member, Shobha Bansode says that she puts plastic bags on her hands when she has to handle sanitary napkins. “That’s the only way I can handle this waste.” She says.

Rajendra Kamble, a Swach member says, “There never has been a uniform method of disposal of these pads. Some people wrap it in paper, some put it in a plastic bag and some just throw it, without putting it in anything. But even if one did wrap it, we had to take it out of the wrapping – the paper or plastic, as the municipal wet garbage truck does not even let one small piece of paper and plastic into it. So at the end of the day, we still have to handle your used napkins no matter how you wrap it.”

In order to prevent waste pickers from direct handling of sanitary pads, Swach members started manufacturing Sanitary Towel Dispo Bags. These bags are made out of old newspapers by the waste pickers of Swach. The bags are minimally priced at Rs. 1 and are made available to citizens, bulk buyers include IT companies, Women’s hostels and our members also provide it as per the request on helpline or as part of their door to door collection. By using these environment friendly bags, citizens not only help in preserving the health and dignity of several waste workers but also contribute to their livelihood.

When our waste pickers see this bag, they know not to open it and keep it aside while sorting through the trash they collect.

We were proud to have been featured on Satyameva Jayate in their episode on solid waste management.

3. swach on satyameva jayate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have been working for 6 years on the problem of appropriate disposal of disposable menstrual pads and diapers.

What began as an effort to avoid direct handling of this waste by waste pickers has over time evolved into a complete campaign to ensure manufacturing companies fulfil their duties under EPR (Extended Producer’s Responsibility) guidelines as included in the Plastic Waste Management Rules.

Swach has taken the first steps in beginning a dialogue with manufacturers and the local government about appropriate disposal of STs, keeping in mind the occupational health issues of waste pickers, and in the light of the EPR. Efforts are also being made at an individual level through the Swach members to convince citizens to use the ST Dispo bags.

We have also been organizing awareness sessions at societies where waste pickers are given a forum to convey to other urban women, how they feel about having to handle soiled napkins, often with their bare hands. Such face-to-face conversations have helped in bringing home the issue and have resulted in genuine change in few societies.

While there is a section of women who have shown a certain resistance in spending that extra bit towards disposal of sanitary pads, many women have shown interest in the issue and have taken up the cause by promoting these bags in societies and encouraging their friends. Also, there are various aspects of ST Dispo Bags, which attracts citizens- besides addressing the health and handling issue of waste workers, some women feel it is quite handy and easy to carry in handbags for safer disposal; some are attracted by the fact that is made from recycled paper.

 

Our engagement efforts with manufacturers of disposable sanitary products have met with less success.

We estimate that more than 4 Lakh Sanitary napkins are used in a city like Pune per menstrual cycle (i.e. every month). This we think is a conservative estimate. The figure could go upto 15 lakh disposable menstrual products every month.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests has notified the Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011 on 4th February, 2011. As per these Rules, in line with the principle of Extended Producer’s Responsibility (EPR), the municipal authority may ask the manufacturers, either collectively or individually to provide the required finance to establish the plastic waste collection centres. The producers are required to finance, and organize a system for environmentally sound management of waste generated from their products. The concept of EPR has been adopted as being practised in various countries, requiring the producers to take responsibility for the end of life of their products and to ensure that the waste from such products is channelized for safe handling.

 

For the last three years, as per the Extended Producer Responsibility, and/or CSR, we have been politely asking manufacturers to take more responsibility towards its post consumer waste. We know that disposable sanitary napkins are being promoted as a healthy option to young women (who might otherwise drop out of school after onset of menstruation). We are also sensitive towards our women members. Both KKPKP and Swach cooperative are both women centric organizations with an 80%+ female membership. The coop is particularly concerned about the health and dignity of women who handle and have to deal with this particularly degrading post consumer waste.

 

We also approached the Pune Municipal Corporation to help with this problem. They took a keen interest in the health of our members. They called for a consultation of elected representatives, active citizens groups and various manufacturing companies but they failed to attend this important meeting.

 

Since the responses from companies were so unsatisfactory, we had to take an aggressive step and on the occasion of international women’s day – March 8th, 2013, we launched our campaign “Send it Back”. A small package of used napkins was sent to the head offices of leading Sanitary Napkin manufacturing companies in India, to make them experience how insulting and revolting it is for waste pickers to handle this waste on a daily basis. The idea was to gauge the urgency of this issue and the need of implementing a mechanism for safer handling of sanitary napkins.

6. send it back campaign

The campaign caught attention and responding to the packages sent to them, a meeting was called in April 2013, by Feminine and Infant Health Association (FIHA) at Pune Municipal Corporation Office to discuss the matter with Joint Commissioner and Swach/KKPKP representatives. They said they require at least 90 days to come up with an action plan. We have still not heard back from them.

But also, more importantly, once we sort through the trash piles, we need to know how to further dispose used and soiled sanitary napkins and disposable diapers. Manufacturers till date have given us no answer to the question “does a sanitary napkin or diaper go into organic waste or recyclable waste or do we put into another category of waste? How should we deal with this waste? “

We also started building public awareness on this issue. Some people’s representatives and Mohalla committees – the citizen’s group have also extended their support and had sent letters to the companies demanding accountability.

Krya’s point of view on this:

While Swach’s initiative to make the disposal of used napkins and diapers more sanitary for their members is certainly laudable, we at Krya feel that this is a stop gap solution. A sanitary napkin wrapped in an ST dispo bag will still reach your landfill, although this time other people would not have had to handle it with their bare hands, in the landfill it will degrade slowly leaching blood, pathogens, and the chemical additives that make up its construction.

And of course appropriate disposal methods still do not address the several grave health concerns that disposable products present. Read more about these here and here.

 

It is also a telling comment that manufacturers have been unable to answer Swach’s very pertinent query on what category of waste soiled disposable sanitary napkins and disposable diapers. We are all aware that they are neither organic waste nor recyclable waste, although the blood, pee and poop that goes into them is organic, and the materials they are made up of (plastic and wood pulp) are in theory recyclable.

 

But the lethal combination of mixing organic material into highly processed and specialised material made from fossil fuel renders a used disposable product like a diaper and sanitary napkin completely un-recoverable. The highly specialised SAAP in diapers and napkins cannot be safely retrieved, cleaned well of organic matter and then reused for another purpose at an efficient cost. This is why corporations are investing in incinerators which are the only way to dispose this material – burn it. Incinerating this material comes with added complications of health and air pollution.

 

Citizens living near landfills like Kodangaiyur and Perungudi, routinely lead demonstrations and protests every time the landfills run the incinerators. They complain of lethal smoke and soot that leave them filling ill. This makes sense given the many weird additives, dioxins and fragrances that go into disposable products.

We believe the true solution will emerge when menstrual waste does not leave your home and is handled by me and you, ourselves.  This becomes possible only if we all give adopting reusable menstrual products a serious thought.

We would like to thank Malti, Aparna and Pratibha of the Swach team who kindly consented to or interview and helped us with their important perspective of disposable products from a solid waste management and human dignity.

The Swach team does amazing work in Pune. Please support their work by “liking” their Facebook page, and reading more about their work and services here. There are opportunities for volunteering with Swach and contributing both your time and money to their work. If you are interested in exploring this please contact Aparna or Pratibha at Swach co-op via email.

The photos on this page of Swach’s work is courtesy Swach Co-op, Pune.

But perhaps the best way to contribute to their work and be the solution, would be to consider adopting reusables. If you would like to know more about the problems of disposables, start here: 

  1. Here’s an introduction to the world of reusables
  2. Here’s where you can find out more about the dangers presented by disposable sanitary products
  3. Here’s a piece chronicling a Man’s perspective on Reusables and Disposable products
  4. And here’s the first part of our Interview series: this is an interview of Lakshmi Murthy of Uger Pads, Udaipur
  5. Here’s Anita chronicling how she shifted to reusable cloth pads.
  6. Here’s the second part of our interview series: this is an interview of Kathy & Jessamijn of Eco Femme, Auroville
  7. Here’s Susmitha chronicling how she shifted to reusable cloth pads.

Krya giveaway:

We are going to be giving away 3 cloth sanitary pad starter kits to 3 lucky people: each kit will come in its own reusable cloth bag (for you to shop with) and will contain samples of the Krya detergent along with instructions to wash and care for your cloth pads.

If you would like to win one of these starter kits, all you need to do is this. Follow our posts and updates in this series and tell us one reason why you would like to make the switch to green your period. Head over to our Facebook page to enter now.

 

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How I switched to cloth – Susmitha Subbaraju

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Reading Time: 9 minutes

We received a call yesterday at the Krya office, which made me understand the depth of the pot we have begun to stir with our posts on sustainable menstruation.

An example of one of these thoughts / queries was a phone call I received yesterday at the Krya office. The lady who called was both a Krya consumer and someone who reads our blog regularly. Inspired by the articles, thought-starters and conversations we have been having around reusable products, she called to ask me if she should take the leap and switch to reusable cloth napkins.

Ms.A told me that she had been thinking about switching to cloth for the last 2 years, and had been following the work of Ecofemme who we had posted yesterday about. But she continued to be hesitant about making the switch.

“I have heavy flow. Do you think using these pads will leave stains on my clothing”, she asked. When countered with my explanation of several layers of cloth and a leak proof barrier, she voiced another concern. “Is it going to be very difficult to wash”? She asked. A ready quip came to my mind about how with the Krya detergent it was going to be easy. But I brushed that aside, and approached her question with more seriousness, and asked myself, if I too had felt that when I switched.

And yes, I had. Many of us grew up hearing stories of our mothers using cloth “rags” to manage their menstruation. My mother grew up in a home where menstruating women were supposed to confine themselves to a particular room designated specifically for that purpose. And with 4 sisters, “the room” was pretty much always occupied.

5. african period picasso

Menstrual cloth could not be dried along with other people’s clothes and had to be taken down before regular laundry was dried. This meant that several times, the menstrual cloth would be dried in the same room they were confined to. If older women were also confined, this space would also be the space where they cooked food for themselves, as they were not allowed to enter the kitchen.
These stories became a part of my psyche. Leading me to associate the worst with menstrual cloth. Stories of confinement. Of a lack of space. Of being considered impure. Of blood stained rags being hung inside a room, And of the shame of everyone knowing you were menstruating. All of this got enmeshed in my head with the association of cloth.

The advertising that I saw when I was growing up, with the entry of MNCs into India also worked on this long held menstruation story and the association with cloth. “Cloth is for curtains” said the ad, as they showed women coming out of the taboos of menstruation and bravely switching to disposables.

I carried these images in my head. And these images, of redemption were what propelled me to the world of disposables.

Which is why for new entrants like myself into the world of cloth napkins, the difference comes as such a shock. Far from my images of stained, ragged, smelly cloth rags, today’s modern day cloth napkins are a work of art. They borrow several design cues from disposables and many of them come fitted with wings and cut in the shape designed to make menstruation comfortable. These cloth napkins resemble nothing that my feverish imagination conjured up when I was told my mother and my aunts’ menstruation stories.

These cloth napkins are different. Beautiful, sleek, comfortable. Pretty. Yes they offer the comfort that cloth offered my mother’s generation. With much more sturdiness, ease of washing and caring and comfort of use.

My mind spun back to the present as I spoke to my consumer. I described the construction of a modern cloth napkin. Described how easy it was to take care of, and why it worked. Reassured, she said thank you and promised me she would try one out.

As I sat down to think about how the series should continue, I realised many more people like me (before I made the switch) and Ms.A would continue to hold apprehensions of cloth. With the associations that we collectively held.

And the only way to change these associations was to offer the story of another switch. Another perspective of someone who transitioned into sustainable menstrual products. And loved her switch.

So here is Susmitha’s story.

About Susmitha:

Susmitha is a legend in the Indian vegan community. So much so that a trip to Bangalore, where she lives, would be incomplete for most vegans without having the opportunity to meet her and speak to her.

1. the vegan monsterSusmitha is a jewellery artist and a vegan food blogger. She makes miniature sculptures of very cool vegan monsters like the “Veganosaurus” after whom she has named her food blog.

Her vegan food creations are carefully photographed and displayed to the rest of the world as part of what I could best describe as an “affirmative action series” she has started with other food bloggers called “Vegan temptivism”. Her creations showcase the inventiveness and deliciousness that is possible when you elevate cuisine to an art form, as only a Vegan temptivist blogger can.

4. Vegan hazelnut butter choc ice cream

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When one of my favourite restaurants, Carrots , India’s first vegan and vegan owned restaurant started by Krishna Shastry decided to join forces with Susmitha, every single one of us vegans clapped. And then salivated thinking of how much yummier Carrots food was going to get with Susmitha’s talent added to the arsenal.

It should come as no surprise, given Susmitha’s background that she is an outspoken vegan and environmental activist. She is an avid kitchen gardener, growing many of the micro greens that go into her temptivist fare. And of course, we are proud to share that she is a Krya consumer as well.

Susmitha made the switch to cloth sanitary napkins about 6 years ago. And here is her story.

I first heard about reusable cloth napkins online in my Vegan etsy group.

Everyone was raving about how cool they were and how comfortable they felt, and I was curious to know more about cloth napkins. The idea of using cloth to manage my menstruation actually appealed to me instantly and I started to read more about it online.

When I came across my first cloth napkin brand, I fell in love with the pads.

My researches led me to an etsy seller based in Canada, called Naturally Hip. Her cloth pads were bright, and colourful with happy prints. And her pads looked very thick and comfortable, so I bought a few for myself.

Once I started using them I loved them. And my sister who saw my pads also fell in love and asked me to source more for her – which was a pleasant surprise for me because my Sister was a staunch disposables user and I never thought she would be tempted into switching to cloth.

I transitioned very quickly into cloth after my initial trial.

As soon as I began using cloth pads, I was hooked. I loved how they made me feel with their bright, happy colours and how soft and comfortable the pads felt. I did not realise how uncomfortable disposables were, until I shifted to cloth and saw how comfortable I could feel during my periods.

I had fed myself the marketing messages that I had seen about disposables about how they were thinner, and did not leak, etc. But when I switched I realised how plasticky they would feel, and how they would chafe once I had worn them for a couple of days.

In fact, when I switched to cloth, I was so comfortable that many times I actually forgot I was wearing pads!

Washing menstrual blood did not faze me.

When we were younger and used to use wood pulp napkins, my Mother had taught my sister and myself to rinse out our disposable napkins before wrapping them to throw away in the trash. She had always asked us to be sensitive about this and ingrained in us the need to treat the workers who handle our waste with care.

So we actually grew up rinsing our disposable napkins. Taking care of our menstrual blood was our responsibility, so I had no squeamishness associated with this.

But as I grew up wood pulp napkins began to get replaced in popularity with gel based napkins. Once I switched to gel based disposables, I slowly stopped rinsing my napkins (and it was no longer possible).

But when I switched back to cloth, my years of practice in this helped.

Note from Krya: as Susmitha described this to me, I was transported back in time to my childhood, and remembered my Mother taught me to do the same thing. I was also asked not to carelessly dispose my soiled napkin where someone else would have to handle it or an unsuspecting animal would come across it. So I too rinsed my wood pulp disposable before throwing it away.

Of course, with the advent of gel based napkins, this sensible and sensitive practice ceased to exist as it was no longer possible to continue to do this.

But yes, I did have one apprehension when I switched to cloth napkins.

I was concerned about how I would handle travelling out of my home when using a cloth napkin. So I started gently. I started by using cloth napkins at home and disposable napkins when I was out of the house or travelling.

As time went by and I grew comfortable with using cloth napkins, I began reducing my use of disposables. Now I use only cloth completely even when I go to work or travel on holidays. With a few adjustments I have easily managed to incorporate cloth completely into my lifestyle.

2. Vegan food is awesome

As long as you have access to a private bathroom, any woman can use cloth napkins wherever they are. They are extremely easy to launder and take care of.

I find myself handling my periods much better after switching to cloth.

I find that I am more relaxed and comfortable which explains why I have much less discomfort and symptoms of PMS (although all of that had already reduced when I went vegan). My flow seems more even and everything feels much much better.

I think women should choose cloth napkins in order to treat themselves better during their time of the month.

I’ve actually recommended switching to cloth napkins to all my girlfriends. And while I understand there is a strong environmental and health reason to do so, I never speak about these. I ask them to switch just to see how good they can feel during their periods.

The comfort and the way cloth pads make you feel so outweigh any minor changes in convenience. And with effort you can easily make these work well for you and adopt them into your lifestyle.

Yes washing and caring for your cloth napkins does involve some washing and drying in your bathroom, which may weird out some people.

However I think that women should go ahead and choose products that make them feel good and help them ease any discomfort they feel during their periods. With all that we have to deal with at this time, I don’t think it is fair to expect us to have to deal with anyone else’s discomfort as well.

My husband has been extremely supportive about my switch given how environmentally aware he is as well (Milesh, Susmitha’s husband , is also a vegan and a committed environmental activist in Bangalore).

But even if he had not been, I would have still gone ahead and chosen to use cloth pads because they are good for me. And I guess he would have just come around to it eventually.

I have a simple washing process for my pads.

I wash them once every day. Until then I leave them to soak in cold water, which helps remove the menstrual blood. Once I get around to washing them, I simply rinse out the menstrual blood and then load them into my machine with my other clothes. I run a hot water wash cycle and then dry them with the rest of my clothes.

Cared for this way, my pads are extremely hygienic, wear well, and have worked very well for me.

So if you are a woman reading this, and would like some advice on how to make the switch, I would ask you to switch to cloth pads and have a truly happy period. Enjoy!

Thank you for that happy, rousing and inspirational piece Susmitha.

If you need more convincing, and would like to read more about the problems of disposables, start here: 

  1. Here’s an introduction to the world of reusables
  2. Here’s where you can find out more about the dangers presented by disposable sanitary products
  3. Here’s a piece chronicling a Man’s perspective on Reusables and Disposable products
  4. And here’s the first part of our Interview series: this is an interview of Lakshmi Murthy of Uger Pads, Udaipur
  5. Here’s Anita chronicling how she shifted to reusable cloth pads.
  6. Here’s the second part of our interview series:this is an interview of Kathy & Jessamijn of Eco Femme, Auroville

Krya giveaway:

We are going to be giving away 3 cloth sanitary pad starter kits to 3 lucky people: each kit will come in its own reusable cloth bag (for you to shop with) and will contain samples of the Krya detergent along with instructions to wash and care for your cloth pads.

If you would like to win one of these starter kits, all you need to do is this. Follow our posts and updates in this series and tell us one reason why you would like to make the switch to green your period. Head over to our Facebook page to enter now.

 

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Walking the talk – a conversation with Eco Femme

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Reading Time: 8 minutes

I first experienced reusable sanitary napkins in 2012. We were new parents keen on raising a green, sustainable baby. Somewhere in the middle of the night when I was flushing poop out of a reusable cloth diaper and congratulating myself on the disposable diaper I had just saved, I asked myself why I could not make the shift myself to reusable cloth pads.

It certainly had to be easier to adopt compared to a cloth diaper, I figured.

My searches online led me Kathy Walking and Eco femme. After several email exchanges to allay my concerns, I bought myself a few of Eco Femme’s pads. When I tried them out the first time, I could not believe how good they felt compared to a disposable pad. Like most disposable users, I did not know things could actually get better and was mentally conditioned to accept discomfort as a part of menstruation.

With time, my understanding of my body and my menstrual cycle has deepened thanks to the cloth pads I use, many of which are courtesy Eco Femme’s pioneering work in India.

The genesis of Eco Femme

Kathy Walking became a cloth pad user, 12 years ago, when she moved to India to become a part of Auroville. In the absence of a waste collection system, she had dig pits herself to bury soiled napkins. This deep connection with her complete cycle (from use to disposal) led to her exploration of reusable cloth pads. Kathy then started to create her own cloth pads for herself and her friends at Auroville.

As Kathy’s business grew, she began working with Auroville Village Action group to understand how local women managed their menstruation. This exploration led to the formation of the eco Femme project, which drew from Kathy’s designs and her existing cloth napkin business, and added a strong social component of women’s empowerment integrated with rural development.

Eco femme today consists of a 12 member team, including members from 7 Self help groups from Auroville village Action group. The eco Femme Project started in 2010, and is a proudly social enterprise, following fair trade principles with its employees and tailors, and spreading the message of safe and sustainable menstrual management among both urban and rural women.

1. Eco femme at work

 

Working along with Kathy is the energetic Jessamijn, who has answered most of my emails and queries for this post. Jessamijn also has a deep connection with sustainable menstruation: her mother had stitched washable menstrual pads from old towels for the women living in her neighbourhood in Sumba, Indonesia!

Over to Kathy and Jessamijn for the post.  To improve clarity and readability, Jessamijn & Kathy have answered our queries in the first person for this interview.

Washable cloth pads are beautiful…

They touch on so many aspects (psychological, social, economic and environmental) of life of women around the world. As a social enterprise we have the freedom to work in an integral manner on the (largely) taboo subject of menstruation, and reach out to women who do not have access to information and products to manage their menstruation. For example, we raise awareness among school girls in government schools and gift them pads (donated by international pad users) through our educational programs

2. Eco feme pads

Washable cloth pads are also better for your body…

Washable cloth pads are made of cotton and are (with appropriate care) better for your body than the plastics (primarily) of which disposable pads are made. Many women and girls get irritations and infections from disposable pads, also because plastics generate more heat than cotton. The bleaches used for disposable pads generate dioxins which are known to be carcinogenic.

And of course, washable pads are so much kinder on the environment and the people who manage our waste

Cloth pads generate less waste as they last at least 75 washes. Disposable pads are use & throw, and take approx. 500 yrs to decompose! Burning, land fill and littering of pads result in tremendous air and ground water pollution which evidently also influences our health. Disposable pads also impact the lives and health of people working in waste. For example, disposables flushed down in toilets cause sewages to block. Unblocking these systems is done by people who immerse their bodies into the sludge. Using cloth pads also helps to dignify their lives!

6. Kathy with arundathiyars

The picture to the left shows Kathy at a meeting with conservancy workers of the Arunthathiyar community. Many women from this community handle bio medical waste like used sanitary napkins without any protective gear. They commonly suffer from infection related to the handling of this waste – they risk being infected from blood borne pathogens from soiled sanitary napkins apart from possible infections micro organisms like E Coli, HIV and staphylococcus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our cloth pads are tested for quality and are pre cut for consistency

Eco Femme pads are made of cotton flannel on the top and inside for comfort and absorbency, leak proof laminated cotton is used at the bottom to prevent leakages. These fabrics are pre-cut to provide consistency.

At our partner-NGO, Auroville Village Action Group, 24 women from related self help groups have learnt advanced stitching; they stitch Eco Femme’s pads (7 full time jobs) as well as other products. This provides those living wages and aims to enhance their personal development. The final pads undergo two rounds of quality control, once at the tailoring site and a second time at Eco Femme’s office before it journeys to our customers.

5. Eco femme pads production

The final pads that we ship out to customers and retail partners are comfortable, absorbent, easy to wash, leak proof and beautiful: pads to be proud of!

We guarantee that our pads will last for atleast 75 washes.

We have a wide range of pads for different needs: panty liners, day pads, day pad plus and night pads for light to heavy and night flow. Each size is similar to disposable equivalents in terms of absorbency/duration.

 

 

 

The biggest hurdle to adopting a cloth pad appears to be around its care

There are many big myths but we very often hear people say that washing pads seems much work, which it really isn’t. When you soak them in cold water, the washing is a quick job.

Also, the use of disposables is no less work. They use up a lot of natural resources and someone has to dispose them. If you put them in a landfill, you are feeding plastic to the soil. If you burn them, you are polluting the air. 

So actually if you think about it, washables are overall much less work.

 

A reusable pad works as well as, sometimes better than a disposable pad

You can use a washable pad as long as (or slightly longer than) a disposable plastic napkin before changing to the next.  Because it is made of cotton (instead of plastic) the pad is not hot and sticky. You fasten the buttons on the wings of the pad under your underwear, which makes the pad stay in place and the leak proof layer gives us that bit of security that we often want to have.

 

We have replaced 4 million disposable products (through our sold and donated pads) already through our work.

We are growing steadily and it is inspiring to us that this growth is more and more taking place in India. Our focus is Menstruation and we will continue to work in menstrual education and providing alternative menstrual products.

Our education efforts revolve around opening up conversations around menstruation for women & girls, that is respectful of culture while providing a safe space for women to question their menstrual experience, social restrictions and product choice. These conversations build trust and community, and they are vital for reproductive health, as many of the women we work with do not have access to regular checkups, and are unaware of their body’s natural biological functions, i.e. what is considered normal or healthful and what is cause to seek medical attention.

Eco Femme team educating and inspiring women to open up on menstruation

We are working on a module based educational curriculum which can be applied to different contexts and settings. As of April 2013 we have modules that focus on how to work with uneducated adolescent girls and women as well as a module targeting educated young women that explores linkages between menstrual products and health, environment and media – this module has even been adapted for use on college campuses in countries like USA and UK. In the coming year, we plan to develop more modules including how to work with adolescent boys and plan to make this body of knowledge available through training of trainers programs from end of 2014. 

 

3. Period talk young girls

At the same time we are also developing products that are connected, such as washable nappies for babies – so keep tuned!

Can everyone afford reusable pads? We ask, can people afford to ignore reusables?

We often do not realise how much we are spending on disposables. I suggest for everyone to keep track of that and do the math yourself. On an average -given with 75 washes per pad (equivalent to 4 yrs), using a total of 8- your payback time is 2 yrs.

But yes, reusables demand a longer time frame. You don’t think about tomorrow but of the years ahead. Apart from a financial benefit, you need to ask yourself what it means to have the possibility to make a change by choosing an environmentally-friendly and healthy product?

 

With our Pad for Pad program we supply pads that are donated by international customers to girls in government schools; this is free of cost to them. We further offer pads through NGO/institutions/Self Help Groups at a subsidised price (only the cost of material and stitching) for giving access to those women who cannot afford the pads against the commercial prices. If women are willing to use internal products, a menstrual cup is also a great option to explore:  they are a very affordable, health and environment-friendly option too.

 

Krya thanks Kathy & Jessamijn, and the whole team at Eco Femme for the great work they do, for spending their time in answering our questions and for kindly gifting us a cloth pad starter kit for the Krya giveaway.

 

Support Eco Femme’s work:

Please show your support for Eco Femme’s work in menstrual education & sustainable menstrual management by “liking” their Facebook page and inviting your friends and family to this post and their page.

If you would like to experience Eco Femme’s natural reusable pads for yourself, please read more about the variants available on http://ecofemme.org/product/premium-pads/ . Once you have decided what you would like to buy, please visit : www.ecofemme.org/buy for online shopping options or addresses close to you. Eco Femme pads are available in 15 countries around the world, including India, from brick and mortar as well as online stores.

If you need more convincing, and would like to read more about the problems of disposables, start here: 

  1. Here’s an introduction to the world of reusables
  2. Here’s where you can find out more about the dangers presented by disposable sanitary products
  3. Here’s a piece chronicling a Man’s perspective on Reusables and Disposable products
  4. And here’s the first part of our Interview series: this is an interview of Lakshmi Murthy of Uger Pads, Udaipur
  5. Here’s Anita chronicling how she shifted to reusable cloth pads.

Krya giveaway:

We are going to be giving away 3 cloth sanitary pad starter kits to 3 lucky people: each kit will come in its own reusable cloth bag (for you to shop with) and will contain samples of the Krya detergent along with instructions to wash and care for your cloth pads.

If you would like to win one of these starter kits, all you need to do is this. Follow our posts and updates in this series and tell us one reason why you would like to make the switch to green your period. Head over to our Facebook page to enter now.

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How I switched : Anita B on reusable sanitary napkins

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Reading Time: 6 minutes

I had a careful order of articles planned when we started this month’s series of Re-usables with the series on reusable sanitary napkins. I was going to start by talking about the dangers of disposable sanitary napkins, introduce 3 companies that were creating reusable sanitary options in India and end with a piece on how you should care for and maintain your reusable sanitary napkin to make sure they work well for you.

 

But I was surprised and gratified to see the comments, questions and positivity around this series when we started sharing the facts on Facebook and our blog.

And this response is in no small measure due to the large environmental impact of using disposable sanitary products.

Environmental footprint of a disposable sanitary napkin - by Krya - July 14th 2014 infographic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The two facts that affected me most about disposable napkins:

  1. Every time a woman decides to use a disposable “gel” based napkin which is based on an SAAP derivative, every pad she uses has plastic that is equivalent to 4 plastic carry bags.
  2. In India, wood pulp based napkins continue to occupy a large part of our stores (and our landfills) – they are cheaper, and are usually the first napkin many young girls shift to before moving on to the thinner gel based “Ultra” napkins. Every woman using wood pulp based disposable menstrual napkins in her lifetime would have used up the wood pulp from one whole tree.

 

Clearly these facts spoke to many more people apart from me, which explained the number of comments, questions and concerns expressed on these posts.

 

But the decision to shift to a reusable is not an easy one. It comes with a nightmarish vision of the work involved, especially if the work involves disposing of a whole lot of menstrual blood and getting that out of the cloth pads.

 

So I kept on hearing one question over and over about reusable pads:

And it revolved around the “ick” factor associated with menstruation. Was it going to be easy to switch? Were the benefits outweighed by the perceived messiness of cleaning the pads? And most importantly was it hygienic and as comfortable as we said it would be?

Sometimes the only way to dispel these fears is to let an actual user write about her experience with cloth pads. And here I have a lovely piece written by Anita Balasubramaniam who has used reusable cloth pads for close to 10 years now.

 

About Anita: a reusable cloth pad user, mom, life schooler, kitchen gardener and organic enthusiast

My introduction to Anita came on a hot summer afternoon in May 2011, when I received an email from her asking about the Krya detergent. We had beta launched our product but our website was not ready so there was no easy way to pay and get our products then. Anita was one of our earliest consumers and braved her way through our technological challenges to adopt the Krya detergent into her home.

 

Since then, we’ve exchanged detergents, books recipes, ideas on parenting and have met several times recognising in each other a kindred spirit.

 

Anita is a life schooling Mum to 2 gorgeous girls (just look at their smiles below!). She is an environmentalist, and went vegan a few years back. She is a kitchen gardener and makes amazing cups of herbal tea with lemongrass and mint grown in her kitchen garden for those fortunate enough to visit her.

nidhi_yukti_allsmiles1

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is Anita’s story of the Switch.

How I shifted to cloth pads: the beginning:

I got to know of menstrual cloth pads in 2002 when I was living in the US. I saw them displayed at a community organic store and was excited to see this option as I was quite intensely exploring ways of living a more sustainable life in any and every way possible. To see menstrual cloth pads was very exciting. If this option worked, I felt I was bringing sustainability in a very personal way into my life. Little did I know how this shift itself would bring deeper perspectives and changes in my life.

 

I found cloth pads very exciting:

I was thrilled about cloth pads as it meant I would not have to repeatedly buy menstrual pads that were disposable (even if made from recycled paper, or bio-degradable material), that were made at a factory or a manufacturing facility, from materials that were either unsustainable, heavily treated, and that would add to the landfill. Just to be out of the consumer mindset with respect to my menstrual cycle felt very empowering. I felt very hopeful and powerful about making this shift that would also be caring for myself and the earth.

 

My experiment began:

I bought a couple of cloth pads to sample and see if I could begin this shift. And I felt wonderful using them. For one, I never got rashes again. They felt softer and more absorbent. As I used the cloth pads, I began to find that there were many other things that happened. I began to feel a sense of caring and intimacy with my body, my blood, my menstrual cycle. I was more tuned to when I was about to menstruate.

 

I would keep the cloth pads handy instead of assuming that I could always run down to the shop to get a pack of disposable pads. My sense of responsibility and care towards myself increased as the months went by. I noticed that many negative beliefs faded and washed away as I washed these pads every month.

 

I began to see that there was really nothing very dirty about this, that this was part of a life giving cycle, just like all cycles in nature are. In death there is birth. In peeling away there is regeneration. As belief systems in one area give way and are replaced by newer more life giving ones, they also influence other areas in life (like handling children’s poop and pee)

 

Why reusables and handling our waste scares us :

We have been disconnected from our bodies, our blood, our poop, our pee. This disconnect creates fear, false beliefs, and lack of experiential knowing. As we begin to get familiar with what we are disconnected from many layers begin to unravel within ourselves. Beliefs change and we develop experiential knowing about what comes out of our body and also what we put into our body. I am now at a place where I see my menstrual blood and my body as sacred, am patient with myself, am comfortable with handling my menstrual blood which once used to be considered dirty.

 

My transition into reusable pads

Over time, I made the shift to using cloth pads entirely and have been doing so the last 5 years. I also considered the menstrual cup and tried it, but that did not work out too well for me. All along the journey, I worked with challenges that came up and beliefs that I had taken on that would stop me from persisting with this shift. Questions related to comfort, washing and drying, safety and cleanliness, etc. As I begin to enquire into them they began to give way and I came up with strategies to overcome these challenges.

 

Find your path

Each of us need to work through these challenges and find strategies that work for us from a place of care, love, and commitment to ourselves and our earth. There is really no one way that works for everyone, but we have to persist to find solutions that are personalized and work for our individual contexts while being sustainable.

 

Thank you Anita !

 

Begin your quest here:

If you would like to make this switch, you can begin your quest here:

  1. Here’s an introduction to the world of reusables
  2. Here’s where you can find out more about the dangers presented by disposable sanitary products
  3. Here’s a piece chronicling a Man’s perspective on Reusables and Disposable products
  4. And here’s the first part of our Interview series giving you companies that create reusable menstrual products in India: this is an interview of Lakshmi Murthy of Uger Pads, Udaipur.

We also have a giveaway on right now on the Krya facebook page, where we are giving away 3 starter kits of reusable pads –one each by the 3 companies we are featuring in our interview series. If you would like to win our giveaway, please head over to the Krya facebook page and enter our giveaway.

 

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Let it bleed: The Yang of reusable menstrual products

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Reading Time: 6 minutes

I can’t seem to get the phrase “Let it bleed “out of my head for the past few days. I was reading about the 1969 Rolling Stones album called Let it bleed” and shortly afterwards read the Ian Rankin novel of the same name, inspired by the album. And then, all through July my partner Preethi has been reading, researching, blogging and advocating the cause of re-usable cloth napkins, as opposed to disposable sanitary napkins.

I share an office with Preethi, and obviously I cannot help being surrounded by the animated discussion around periods, menstruation and how women can green their periods by switching to cloth napkins. It was an important cause for us at Krya and I was happy to observe from the sidelines and carry on with my own work. And then suddenly, out of the blue, Preethi asked me to write an article, the man’s perspective on menstruation and re-usable napkins. I should have seen it coming though, given my special background.

Where it all began : a class project on the sanitary napkin industry

It all started in college, at IIM-Bangalore in 2000. I obviously knew nothing about menstruation, beyond the two periods in the biology class that dealt with the female reproductive system. What little I learnt in those biology classes, could have been written on the side of a tampon. Of devices to manage menstrual flow, like sanitary napkins, I knew nothing at all.

In a marketing course we were a group of five, four lads and a girl. Our project was to take a particular product category, and analyze how disruptive marketing strategies turned the category on its head, or something to that effect. We were just a few days from the deadline and had no clue about the project and not much inclination either.

Then the sole girl in our group decided to take matters into her own hands and started work on writing a project report on the sanitary napkin category in India. Obviously she had some knowledge of the industry as a consumer and to her credit; it had a lot of potential for the marketing academic to work with. Needless to say she toiled alone for a few days with the other four lads clapping and encouraging her from the sidelines.

Then on the very last evening before the big project presentation, she gave up the lone crusade. And decided it was time to take help. I was the first group member that she could locate and with a massive number of grade points on the line, I decided to do my share of the project work. This close to the deadline I could not start work on a new category and so I decided to man up and learn all about sanitary napkins. Soon I found myself sitting in the night canteen , quizzing a couple of girls about their periods, their choice of sanitary protection and a quick download on belted and beltless napkins, ultra-thin and cottony napkins. Needless to say, the next morning, in front of a class of sixty colleagues and an embarrassed, middle-aged marketing professor, I gave a profound lecture on the Indian sanitary napkin industry.

And it didn’t stop there: I went on to join a sanitary napkin company

That little marketing project was just the beginning.  A year later, by an extremely convoluted, twisted turn of events, I found myself working in a company that also happened to be India’s largest manufacturer of sanitary napkins. Then I drew the short straw and got assigned to the marketing team responsible for sanitary napkins. On my first day as the product manager of the ultra-thin napkin brand, I remembered my marketing project in college and like Wooster, emitted a hollow, mirthless, laugh.

The company was bleeding market share and miracles were expected of my ultra-thin brand. As a first step, I remember writing a detailed newsletter to the entire sales force, on why gel-based ultra-thin napkins were the future, how they offered superior, discreet protection to women even on heavy flow days. I just couldn’t believe what I was writing at that time and restore my sanity, I heavily referenced a favorite Jimi Hendrix song and threw in a Superman comics reference. I even branded all my monthly newsletters as Purple Haze.

The surreal world of sanitary product sales

For the next couple of years I found myself daily in an increasingly surreal set of situations. I have held P&L responsibility for belted napkins, ultra-thin napkins, beltess cottony napkins, tampons (with and without digital applicator) and even liners.

For a brief period (the fifth pun so far, for those keeping count) I was the only man in a five member marketing team and battled several “what would you know” type of arguments. I have written a detailed research report on why belted napkins were crucial to the mother-ship and had a future. For a few weeks, with some key teammates on leave, I had responsibility for the brands customer care cell. I have no doubt that the hundreds of consumers writing to the brand with their period problems pictured an elderly gynecologist at the other end.

Someone got the idea that women executives in MNC banks were well suited to receive marketing messages about tampons. So one day, I found myself in a bank in Delhi, distributing free samples of tampons to the unsuspecting women at lunchtime. In return for the samples, we requested product feedback. During a call back a month later, one lady said that she had no use for the tampons as she had reached menopause.

Connecting the dots at Krya

However more than a decade later, as I type this article at my office in Krya , one experience stands out and has a whole lot of relevance to our discussion on re-usable cloth napkins. In my first job, I had the primary responsibility to execute a massive pan-India program to educate school girls on menstrual hygiene and of course distribute a free sample of a wood-pulp based napkin at the end of the lecture. This was conducted with the blessing of the local health authorities and focused on government girls schools in the smaller districts.

The entire program was a well oiled machine and all that was required of me was to travel once every other month for a field visit to check out the execution. In a girls school in Nasik district, I was waiting outside the class full girls who were receiving information about how cloth rags were unhygienic and why napkins were crucial to women’s health. For obvious reasons I never entered the hall during these lectures, but on this occasion I was asked by a teacher to respond to a very specific question by one of the girls. She simply asked me that that it was all very well to receive the free sample, but come the next month she had no hope that her parents could afford to buy her a pack of napkins. So what’s a girl to do? I gave her a brief answer on price versus value and the importance of health.

Looking back I have been responsible in a small way, for distributing millions of wood-pulp based disposable napkins along with a subtle message that cloth was an inferior, unhygienic solution.

But cloth napkins are not inferior

I am glad today that at Krya I have a fantastic opportunity to set right some wrongs of days past. For one, there is no question that disposable napkins of any stripe are an environmental disaster. They present a huge landfill and public health problem. Period.

Secondly, I am reliably told that re-usable cloth pads are way better for the user, no weird dioxins or fragrances. In my career as a product manager I depended completely on Preethi’ s wisdom for consumer behavior and was rather successful too. Once again with her direct, profound experiences on using re-usable cloth napkins, I can recommend that they good for the environment and good for you too.

To this I will add the man’s perspective. Switching to re-usable cloth pads from disposables needs some serious support. Sometimes there can be weird smells in the bathroom as they get washed. A few stray drops of blood on floor. I am acutely aware that a few disapproving comments from the partner can add immensely to the existing mental barrier around re-usable cloth pads.

So here are my 5 reasons why men should encourage their wives/partners to switch to re-usable cloth napkins.

1. No more emergency, late night runs to the pharmacy to bring back a black plastic bag.
2. Do it for the environment, disposables are an environmental headache.
3. Do it for the woman in your life. My reliable source tells me that re-usable cloth pads are more comfortable, work really well and are safer too.
4. There is no weirdness around menstrual blood, it is natural and at the right times, a sign of good health. In our home, soiled cloth napkins are kept in a separate bucket and rinsed first to remove the blood. Then after a wash with Krya detergent they are good to go. They are washed in the same machine, laundered along with all of our regular laundry and they are absolutely clean and hygienic.
5. Re-usable cloth pads are quite sturdy and long lasting, so over a few years they will prove to be more economical than disposables.

So to all the husbands & boyfriends, if you have some ick-iniess around the switch from disposables to re-usable cloths pads – Be a Man, let her bleed.

 

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