Two 27-year-old entrepreneurs have launched their take on period undies, selling to Kiwi women in a bid to change the lives of Bangladeshi factory workers.
Auckland-based Emily Au-Young, who has a background in international development, and nurse Ashleigh Howan co-founded registered charity Reemi.
All profits from underwear sales, which kicked off on Wednesday night, will go to Reemi’s partners on the ground in Bangladesh.
Stuff first spoke with Au-Young a year ago when she was in Dhaka touring its garment factories to learn about workers’ menstrual difficulties.
Those women lined their underwear with rags fished from dirty factory floors during their periods.
It was an unhygienic practice which led to repeated infections that stopped women from working, Au-Young said.
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Most of the workers moved to cities from the countryside, where Au-Young said wearing underwear was not the norm.
Those working in the fields let their blood “just run out” or stayed at home where it wasn’t such a hindrance to freely bleed, thus avoiding contact with others as was customary for Muslims and Hindus menstruating in Bangladesh.
Tampons and menstrual cups were not culturally appropriate in Bangladesh, while sanitary pads were prohibitively expensive for garment workers, Au-Young said.
Over the past year, Au-Young and Howan came up with period underwear that held up to two tampons’ worth of blood, eliminated odour and “self-disinfects”, Au-Young said.
One hundred per cent of the profit from undies sold would go to organisations in Bangladesh working to break taboos and educate factory bosses and staff around menstruation.
Au-Young planned to head back to Dhaka at the end of 2019 to trial Reemi’s undies with women in the garment factories.
Period underwear is not a new concept.
Globally growing concern over waste has shifted some women away from single use tampons and pads, and boosted the availability of reusable menstrual cups and period panties.
The first New Zealand company offering the latter, I am Eva, was founded in 2018.
At the moment, Reemi’s undies could only be purchased via its Kickstarter page for $39.
If the Kickstarter did not reach its goal of $44,320 by mid-December, Au-Young and Howan would halt the underwear‘s production.
“If that happens, it just shows the product isn’t commercially viable for New Zealand and we’ll switch Reemi to a traditional fundraising model instead,” Au-Young said.
That model would entail gathering donations for the garment workers’ cause directly.
If the Kickstarter did reach its goal, Reemi’s period underwear would make its way into shops.
Reemi’s launch party, at a Karangahape Rd shop, was packed out with Au-Young and Howan’s supporters on Wednesday.
It raised more than $3000 in its first 24 hours.
Au-Young and Howan said launching Reemi undies made their mission “finally feel real after 18 months of a lot of talking, research and listening”.