Back in 2012 I had an idea. The idea came flying at me from many angles. I was studying industrial design at uni, and had just been to Europe to exhibit a chair I'd designed.
When I was in Europe I got my period.
It was here I was made aware for the first time of this incredible thing called 'the menstrual cup'. For those of you who haven't heard of the cup (unlikely now perhaps) ... It's a silicon cup that you insert into your vagina to collect your menstrual blood, you can leave it in for up to 12 hours, there's very little chance of toxic shock syndrome, you empty it, wash it, put it back in and they can last for up to ten years. How's that! what!? wow!? Of course I bought one and was so amazed that something like this wasn't very well known in Australia, I wanted to tell every woman I knew about it. I did some research and learnt that they had actually been invented around the 1930's, about the same time as the first tampon came to be.
I started doing more and more research into the period product industry. I was trying to figure out why not much has changed in so long when it comes to the products we have available. I used my cup. Although it sounded amazing, for me, it actually didn't work as well as I had hoped. I was still using pads and tampons. I thought I could design something better, or even, something completely different. In my research I realised how people who menstruate are all different. They have such different needs. Personal preference, religion and health amongst a host of other influences come into it. There should be more options for us.
I looked into the industry more, and was saddened by how much plastic is used, that after just a few hours use, ends up in landfill for hundreds if not thousands of years. Also, the chemicals used for conventional cotton farming including pesticides and artifical fertilisers. They aren't great for the environment or the people working with them.
Around the same time I heard about an Australian based charity providing education scholarships to girls in Sierra Leone, one of the worlds poorest countries, called One Girl.
After sending their first cohort of girls to school they realised they weren't going every day, they were missing up to a week of school every month because of THEIR PERIODS. They would fall behind at school, struggle in exams and eventually drop out. I was gobsmacked. I had honestly never given it any thought what people do when they can't afford or don't have access to sanitary products. I definitely didn't think something so easy for me to manage could affect someone else's ability to stay in school. In 2013 I decided to take part in One Girl's yearly charity fundraising challenge, and set myself the challenge of having my period using the methods I'd heard people resort to when they don't have access to affordable sanitary products. I used rags, newspaper, kitchen sponges and leaves. I was also going to use bark, yes bark from a tree, but when I went to the tree to pull some off I actually couldn't bring myself to do it. I really felt something strong, for a woman to be in the position that bark is her best option, that definitely is not a good position.
So, coming full circle I felt compelled to try and do something to help. Life feels better for me when I'm being helpful, and this is how I've decided to do so.
I sourced a product from a manufacturer working with sustainable fibres. They make bamboo fibre disposable sanitary pads. Bamboo is a wonderful natural material. It grows so quickly, the harvesting process doesn't erode the soil- it's cut like a grass, and keeps growing, rather than being ripped out by the roots like most plants. It's naturally pest resistant, meaning no chemical fertilisers or pesticides are needed to grow it. The structure of the fibre is quite hollow, so it has lots of room for absorbing moisture, which is perfect for pads, drawing the moisture away from your body.
My manufacturers and I have worked together on making a version of our pads that no longer requires a polyethylene under layer (the leak proof part!) and we replaced this in 2017 with a biodegradable corn starch based film. They are also individually wrapped in a compostable plastic sleeve to keep them clean, a recyclable cardboard box made from FSC certified paper, again, reducing the plastic that will sit in landfill forever. They are also free from chlorine and dioxin bleach. The pads are not 100% biodegradable yet (they contain a super absorbent inner layer which makes them work very well), we are still working to find a suitable, compostable, renewable alternative that works just as well. The industry and materials producers are focusing more and more on sustainability and I'm hopeful an affordable and feasible solution will be available soon.
I needed just over $40 000 to buy my first order from the manufacturers. I didn't have $40 000. As an unemployed student, no bank would take me seriously when I told them what I wanted the money for, so I decided to try and crowd fund the idea. In May 2014 about 1200 people believed in my idea and invested about $30 each to pre-order some of these pads until I had reached the amount I needed to buy my first shipping container. In October 2014 they arrived, and now here I am...many years later, still with lots of pads!
In November 2016, after huge demand from my customers, I launched a second crowd funding campaign to introduce 100% certified organic cotton tampons to the Tsuno range. It took $45 000 in pre- sales, and thankfully we made it! These have been available for sale since mid 2017.
These bamboo pads (and now organic cotton tampons too!) I sell go under the name Tsuno. If you are wondering how to say that, it's kind of like the word tsunami. But it didn't actually have anything to do with a giant 'crimson wave', that was a great connection I realised afterwards. Yoko Tsuno was a cartoon character who was the epitome of a competent woman. She was an engineer, a pilot, a scuba diver, amongst many other great things. Nothing really held her back, and definitely not her period. I liked the name. It's good. Tsuno is good.
Why is Tsuno good? I donate 50% of net profits from the sale of these pads to charities helping to empower women. Right now I have an agreement with One Girl, who give education scholarships to girls in Sierra Leone and Uganda, and also run vital sexual and menstrual health literacy and support programs. As of February 2023, I have sent just over $73 000 to One Girl!
A little while after starting Tsuno I heard about Share the Dignity, Pinchapoo and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. Before then I had not given much thought to what it must be like to be an asylum seeker arriving here with nothing, a homeless person in Australia, or fleeing from domestic violence, and how having your period without effective and hygienic products can make your situation more difficult. We encourage our customers to support these local charities and match every donation made via our website. I made a calculation recently (February 2023) and I have delivered over 65 000 boxes of Tsuno pads and tampons to these local charities.
Even after almost 9 years, Tsuno is still a very small business, I am the only full time employee here, but I have some wonderful support from my distributors, retailers and others in my community. And a little word on what is to come, this year (2023), I aim to spend much of the year revisiting my original goal of developing a new reusable period product! I am slowly working on it behind the scenes.
Thank you so much for taking an interest in Tsuno, it's been a wonderful journey bringing it to life and watching it grow with your support. Thank you!