Many years ago at a student women’s dinner that I hosted a friend told me she loved how I would kick ass to help other women. Along the way and to my regret I stopped doing that.. Increasingly I want to get back to fighting for women’s rights and celebrating the great individuals we are and the contributions we make to the world. Today I am sharing an interview with the founder of Wake Up Kick Ass (WUKA) the pants for when you have your period. She has a powerful story to share and I hope you will be inspired to take any disadvantages in your life and turn them to your advantage helping other women as best you can too.
Tell us a little about your childhood and teenager years
I grew up in Nepal with my two sisters, mother and father: life was not easy, but my mum was determined that we would all get a good education.
In my teenage years I witnessed first-hand the degrading practice of Chapaudi, where menstruating women are not allowed indoors because it is believed they will contaminate everything during this ‘impure’ time. The Nepalese word for period translates as ‘untouchable’ – reflecting a shame about menstruation that co-exists across the Western world.
On my first period, aged 12, I had to spend the week away from the family home at my aunt’s house. I could not go outside in the sun, look at men, or touch plants, in case they died – of course!
It was these early experiences that led me to create a business that challenges these attitudes and helps women experience menstruation with a sense of pride, not shame and embarrassment.
What was your first job/career? What did you learn from this?
After graduating in Environmental Science, I got involved in women’s health issues leading educational sessions on menstruation with the Women’s Environmental Network. I realised then that most young women chose menstrual products based on what their mothers had used. This means that most of us don’t make considered choices about menstrual products – we just get on with it, for good or bad.
I also worked at Plan International UK, and this taught me a lot about global issues on menstruation including period poverty in the UK, which I found shocking.
What led to you setting up your business?
During my Environmental Science degree, I studied waste management systems and to my horror discovered that more than 200,000 tonnes of tampons and pads were sent to landfill every year, contributing to the mounting disaster of plastic pollution.
This shocked me to the core. I decided then and there to create my own eco-friendly, sustainable period underwear.
As I looked into it more, I found that most conventional tampons and pads are full of single-use plastic – and I don’t think most women realise this. One pack of pads contains the equivalent of 5 plastic bags! Conventional tampons all contain plastic – and of course there is the plastic applicator. When you see photographs of used tampons and pads littering UK beaches it brings it home that as women, just because of our periods, we are inadvertently contributing to the plastic pollution issue. I really wanted to do something to combat this.
I want to help women have a choice about what they use for their periods. There’s been little innovation in menstrual product design over the last fifty years and I thought we deserved better.
Tell us about your business products/services
WUKA stands for Wake Up Kick Ass and, just like the name, we are on a mission to smash taboos while creating the most comfortable and eco-friendly period pants
I designed all the WUKA underwear and chose CO2 neutral Lenzing MicroModal® fabric which is sourced from sustainably grown beech trees for our first ultra-absorbent period pants.
WUKA Heavy can absorb up to 4 tampons worth of blood. The special leak-proof layer prevents blood from passing through and keeps the fabric breathable. Many women worry that if they use our period pants, they will feel ‘wet’ but the special layering means that the material next to your skin stays dry, and has an anti-bacterial element keeping you comfortable and fresh for up to eight hours. We now have three absorbencies; Heavy; Medium and Light – so you can choose the underwear to fit your individual flow – and they can also help with stress incontinence too!
I also commissioned a beautiful washbag exclusively made in Nepal that will hold spare WUKA underwear. It is made by Nepali women who weave the fabric and create and make the bag. I’m proud of this initiative as it helps supports this women’s business in Nepal.
This year we created the First Period Pack with our new bikini style underwear, a period facts booklet, and a WUKA bralette. It is aimed at girls starting out on their periods – because WUKA is so easy to use. Young people want to change the system and be part of the climate solutions and using reusable WUKA would be a great start!
We’re also designing a special pack for Christmas time so that women can send a lovely period gift to their friends or loved ones – and you can see this soon on our website.
Our new research on the cost of periods found that WUKA is a more cost-effective solution than conventional products when you calculate how much you spend over two years. And WUKA is so much better for the environment. The average women throws over 10,000 single use products to landfill in her lifetime, whereas with WUKA you would use and dispose of only 129 products – which are biodegradable.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of being part of the fantastic network of women who are challenging period taboos and forging change around the conversation about periods.
This year I was included in the global list for the Top 100 women in FemTech and Health Tech and that was amazing.
Perhaps the biggest moment of pride for me was this year when I saw a photograph of the Nepalese prime minister with colleagues holding copies of a Nepali magazine that featured me and the business on the front cover. From my rural life-style in the mountains witnessing Chaupadi and period shame to front-page news about periods in just over ten years – you couldn’t make it up!
What tip would you give to someone who wants to set up a business but lacks self-belief?
I have found that having a business focused on social change really helps to inspire and motivate me every day. Talk to others and build a network of supportive people; working alone can be a challenge but there are so many inspiring women out there who want to help. Find yourself a mentor to help you build confidence in yourself. And remember that a building a business is often down to pure hard work.
If you could recommend ONE book to women what would it be and why?
Period. by Emma Barnett – it’s a much-needed manifesto to remove stigma and myths that abound about the female body and a powerful call-out to both men and women to get the conversation going about periods.
If you could recommend ONE website (not your own) to women, what would it be and why?
https://www.patagonia.com/ It’s a real wake up kick ass business dedicated to fashion that lasts. It is 100% committed to helping the environment and being environmentally sustainable – so inspiring!
Are you ready to wake up and kick ass?