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What are your plans for commercially launching Saathi Pads?
We are now launching in the urban Indian market. We did our first urban launch recently at the India Environmental Festival in Ahmedabad. We are selling in rural India every month. Over the course of the next year, we are going to continue selling at trade shows and expos. And almost all of the 100,000 pads that we manufacture every month goes to rural India. Towards the end of this year, we are going to sell directly from our website. Hopefully, by early next year, we will scale up our manufacturing to two to three million pads a month. We will also look at resellers in probably a year from now.
How much will they cost?
We do not know yet. They will be sold as a premium product in the urban market. That will be our business model to allow us to subsidise the pads in rural India.
How will you market your product?
We want to be in all the eco-friendly channels. We will start selling them directly from our website by later this year as well as on all the eco-friendly channels online. We will get into retail. We have been fortunate to have a lot of decent press. So, we have a pretty long waiting list of people who want to buy our products. We will also figure this out before we launch early next year in the urban market.
What measures are you taking to encourage women from rural areas to use them?
Our NGO partner has a female community healthcare worker in each village they work in. Every month, these workers come together and we and the NGO educate them on various topics on proper feminine hygiene and health. We give them the pads to be distributed in the villages. As outsiders, it will be a challenge for us to go into the villages. So we take help from the female community healthcare workers from specific villages and have them spread the message that these pads will allow you to be able to attend school, and you will not miss work, they do not produce any waste and you will also be healthier because a lot of them get infections like UTI as they use unhygienic cloth.
This has to come from within the community and the hope is that as more people in the villages start using them, they will tell their friends. The best way to spread the message is by word of mouth.
What kind of reaction or feedback did you get from rural women?
The feedback has been very positive. The absorbency is slightly higher than that of traditional pads, mainly because banana fibre is more absorbent. They have also said that the product is very comfortable. Surprisingly, a lot of people care that it is fully natural and there are no chemicals. The feedback is that it looks and feels like a very popular brand and there is the additional benefit that it is more absorbent and they are not creating waste. You can burn them, you can bury them or you can compost them.
How do you plan to compete against commercially available sanitary napkins?
There is a lot of data that says that India is ranked number one in terms of countries trying to go green and trying to become biodegradable and reduce waste. With efforts like Swachh Bharat, the Indian government has vowed to reduce waste.
The feedback has been extremely positive and the number of people reaching out to buy our products has been overwhelmingly positive. The Indian market is more than 40 billion pads a year. So, if you are trying to provide sanitary napkins to every menstruating woman in India, you will need 40 billion pads a year. Last year, seven to eight billion pads were sold. The market is huge and no one player is going to be able to win the entire market.
We want to do two to three million pads a month to start with. That means, even in a year we will only produce 30-40 million pads, so there is room for multiple players. We hope to be the leader in the biodegradable eco-friendly space.
Will this be your core and only product? Any R&D on any other women's hygiene products?
We are only doing sanitary pads now. In future, there are two things we want to do. We want to look at using other naturally available fibre. In India, banana fibre is common and there is no shortage, but what if we want to expand beyond India and take it to Africa, South East Asia and South America? Banana fibre may not be available everywhere. We want to be able to use locally available fibre like coconut, bamboo and sugarcane. Secondly, we want to expand our product line to diapers, maternal pads and incontinence pads. We want to expand our materials as well as the product line.
What was the initial seed money? Where did that come from?
It was all through grants. A part of it came from a number of small business plan competitions and we won the Harvard Business School new venture competition, which was US$ 50,000. We also won the MIT D-lab fellowship for US$ 20,000 and a number of other smaller grants. We used the initial US$ 100,000 to start.
How many people are employed in your office?
We have a factory manager, eight factory workers and seven employees at Saathi.
What is it like to manage a set-up with more women than men?
All the women are hard working. We have never had any issues. They appreciate the products and they have been great workers.
How do you think International Women's Day will help the cause of women?
It is that one day of the year when every woman ought to pause and think. What are the different things that have helped women to get where they are? What are the things still lacking for other women who are not as privileged? What can we do to give them access to all those products and services that can help them? It is a day when everyone should pause and reflect on how we can make sure every woman has every opportunity to succeed.
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