In 2013 Roz Campbell decided to forgo the Western products she was used to using during her period. Instead, one month she put a sock, newspaper and a kitchen sponge (she stopped short of using tree bark, although this is not an option for many women in developing countries) in her underpants to avoid leaking on her dress.
“I had no idea what I was getting myself in for, and it was pretty awful,” Campbell says flatly. “I spent a lot of time at home, not wanting to go out and feeling embarrassed. It’s such an uncomfortable, nerve-wracking experience.”
Campbell was inspired to take on the Do it in a Dress challenge after hearing a representative from the charity One Girl speak to her class while she was studying industrial design at RMIT. One Girl’s Launch Pad program provides sanitary items to girls who, without a way to manage their periods, would otherwise miss up to a week of school every month. As One Girl puts it: “In many developing countries, menstruation equals inequality.”
Campbell started researching women’s empowerment and became interested in the relationship between design and sustainability. She was also introduced to the social enterprise model of doing business. “I started questioning what I wanted to do, and how I was working towards a consumer-driven industry,” says Campbell.
She is now the founder of Tsuno. It’s a brand of sanitary pads made from sustainable bamboo that gives 50 per cent of its profits to the International Women’s Development Agency (IWDA).
“I did research into traditional pads and tampons – the materials, processes and their disposal – and found out how much ends up in landfill,” Campbell says. “I thought I could make the existing product better. I found that the cotton-growing industry is bad for the environment, and how much plastic and synthetic materials go into a lot of the other brands of pads.”
Her research led her to a factory in China that develops sustainable, biodegradable bamboo fibres, which it uses to make nappies and pads.
“I contacted them and pretended I was a big business, even though I was just a uni student, with no money.” She funded her first order with a Pozible campaign that raised $40,000 in May 2014.
When you put a Tsuno pad next to any other sanitary pad, you notice the difference. Bamboo is softer than organic cotton, and the fibrous structure of bamboo is more hollow, so it naturally absorbs more moisture. The pads are also wrapped in a biodegradable plastic, and there is no chlorine or dioxin bleach used in the manufacturing process.
“They still have a plastic, polyethylene layer – the bit that goes on the underpants – because they still need to stick. I’m working with the manufacturers to get something that is completely biodegradable,” Campbell says.
The packaging for Tsuno pads will be designed by a different Australian artist every time Campbell makes a new order with her manufacturers. Currently it’s by Erin Lightfoot, a prints designer from Brisbane. “I wanted to create a beautiful package that wasn’t obviously a box of pads, which people would be happy to have on display in their bathrooms.”
The IWDA, to which Tsuno donates half of its profits, is a rights-based feminist organisation that works with women in the Asia Pacific region. Its goal is to advance the human rights of woman by working with local partner organisations. “IWDA is amazing, and aligns with my ideals. They work with women, which motivated me to do what I’m doing in the first place.”