This post was last updated on August 12, 2021 by Preethi Sukumaran
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Here’s an introduction to the world of reusables
- Here’s where you can find out more about the dangers presented by disposable sanitary products
- Here’s a piece chronicling Srinivas Krishnaswamy ‘s perspective on Reusables and Disposable products
- And here’s the first part of our Interview series: this is an interview of Lakshmi Murthy of Uger Pads, Udaipur
- Here’s Anita Balasubramanian chronicling how she shifted to reusable cloth pads.
- Here’s the second part of our interview series: this is an interview of Kathy & Jessamijn of Eco Femme, Auroville
- Here’s Susmitha Subbaraju chronicling how she shifted to reusable cloth pads
- Here is the perspective provided by SWaCH on the human rights and social justice issues presented by disposables
- Here is the third part of our interview series: this is an interview of Gayathri of Jaioni reusable cloth pads
- Here is Preethi Raghav chronicling her switch to reusable menstrual cups.
- 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.