An easy way to save tonnes of plastic per year

Filed in Reduce by on January 25, 2021 0 Comments
FavoriteLoadingAdd article to favourites

When I began my Zero Waste journey, there were very few alternatives for period products.

One company sold pads that were supposedly home compostable (I never did try!) and there were a small handful of companies – usually an offshoot of washable nappies companies – that sold washable pads.

A while later the first reusable menstrual cup became available, but it took a while for any of this to catch on.

Now, with increasing awareness about environmental issues, there are masses of products available, including the newest kid on the block – period pants.

I first came across period pants three years ago and I’ve not looked back. These babies are amazing and are even available in some supermarkets.

Now I won’t lie, there are some drawbacks to using period pants – namely the initial cost of purchasing them (although over your lifetime, reusable products cost a fraction of disposables) and the hassle of drying them in winter. They can’t usually be tumble dried – and our house is pretty cold – so drying them can be a pain. But I’ve found them to be extremely comfortable and effective, so the pros definitely outweigh the cons.

Introducing Connie Shih, founder of Heralogie

I caught up with Connie Shih, founder of Heralogie, which launched last month. She’s committed to providing a sustainable way to manage periods and bladder leakage. She’s on a mission to reduce the stigma surrounding periods and incontinence and is passionate about ending period poverty with her lovely range of products.

In her spare time, she enjoys powerlifting and muay thai. She resides in the Bay Area, where she enjoys exercising and spending time with her family on weekends.

I wanted to know more about the woman behind this innovative brand, about her drive, passions and to get some tips from her on keeping costs down:

Connie Shih - founder of period underwear brand, Heraologie

Designing and selling period underwear is an intriguing niche! What sparked your interest in this?

I had just left my job as an investment advisor on Wall Street and wanted to start a business. I honestly didn’t know what type of business at the time. As I was contemplating this, I had a conversation with one of my business mentors who was living in Japan. He mentioned the aging population in Japan and how that shaped the types of businesses landscape in the country. He talked about incontinence products as an example, and their vast array of them—readily available in any convenience store. After doing some more research about incontinence products available in the States, I learned about period underwear. I bought a few brands of period underwear and fell in love with the concept. A big reason for me leaving my career of 6 years on Wall Street was because I didn’t feel a deep personal connection to the corporate philosophy. I wanted to help people in a way that aligned with my values. As I learned more about the environmental impact of conventional plastic tampons and pads, I grew more and more intrigued. I thought it fit perfectly with my vision for my business. I could help people and the environment and spread a positive message about periods.

I’m curious about your brand name, Heralogie. What does it mean and why did you choose it?

I went through a number of iterations of names and ended up with the goddess Hera, the Queen of Gods, family and marriage. I wanted the name to be an empowering daily reminder to myself, but also to anyone who interacts with the brand. I liked the “ology” suffix because it reminded me of the importance of understanding and honoring the female body. The name can also be construed as Her- ology in addition to Hera- logy.

Later on, however, I learned more about the types people who wear period underwear, I learned that there is a community of trans men and non-binary individuals who don’t identify as women. They may still have a uterus and experience periods, but identify as men, for example. I am working on developing styles of gender-neutral products that would be gender-affirming to those demographics.

Can you tell us about some of the environmental issues linked to conventional period products such as pads and tampons?

Conventional pads take 500 years to decompose—each[1]. Tampons often have plastic applicators which do not biodegrade gracefully either. In the US, 12 billion pads and 7 billion tampons are thrown out each year[2]. The high amount of energy it takes to manufacture the plastic in these disposable products is also very harmful to the environment. Plastic byproducts from tampons and pads often end up in the oceans, harming marine life. They can also end up in sewers or be eaten by animals. And don’t get me started on the the toxic chemicals and vaginal micro-tearing involved with traditional period products…

[1] Borunda, Alejandra. How Tampons and Pads Became So Unsustainable, National Geographic, 16 Sept. 2019, www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/09/how-tampons-pads-became-unsustainable-story-of-plastic/.

[2] Dillon, Annie. Planet-Friendly Periods, stanfordmag.org/contents/planet-friendly-periods.

 

heralogie period pants

Investing in period underwear is initially quite costly. How many pairs of period pants would the average woman need – bearing in mind washing and drying time – and what tips do you have for reducing the initial cost for those who have financial constraints?

Every menstruator is different, in their duration and volume of blood loss. My research found 2-7 days as the average length of a cycle[1]. It takes 1.5-2 days for the moderate absorbency styles to dry, due to the number of layers in the gusset (crotch/absorbent region). The lighter versions can dry in less than a day. It’s really hard to pick a number of pairs that works for everyone. Most users wear one pair the whole day, and another the whole night. Some people use just a menstrual cup during their heavy days and period undies for a day or two at the tail end of their period, when it’s really light. It’s highly dependent on the person’s comfort level and individual biology.

The average menstruator spends over $6,300 USD on period products in a lifetime[2]. Switching to reusable options such as period underwear or a menstrual cup cuts down significantly on those costs. Yes, while it is more expensive on the outset, the long term financial benefits of not constantly buying disposables outweigh the drawbacks by far.

Additionally, in the US, as of April 2020, period products qualify for HSA (Health Savings Account) reimbursement[3]. This means employees can use funds in their HSA to pay for these products pre-tax. A lot of companies deposit money into these accounts for their employees, or have a matching system.

For first-time users, I’d recommend starting out with one pair. See how you like it, and go from there. I think a lot of misconceptions people have about starting a sustainable lifestyle include the all-or-nothing mentality. Every bit counts. It’s okay if someone can only afford to use period underwear 1-2 days of the month and has to use other means to get by for the rest of their period. The collective impact of many people making little changes can be significant. Users can slowly build a collection over time. Also, many first-time period underwear users have a lot of apprehension about starting something new for the first time. Starting small could be key in both cases.

[1] Menstrual Cycle: What’s Normal, What’s Not, May Clinic, 13 June 2019, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/womens-health/in-depth/menstrual-cycle/art-20047186#:~:text=Menstrual%20flow%20might%20occur%20every,begins%2C%20long%20cycles%20are%20common.

[2] Sadlier, Allison. New Research Reveals How Much the Average Woman Spends per Month on Menstrual Products, SWNS Digital, 27 Nov. 2019, www.swnsdigital.com/2019/11/new-research-reveals-how-much-the-average-woman-spends-per-month-on-menstrual-products/#:~:text=Results%20revealed%20the%20average%20woman,the%20money%20they’d%20save%3F.

[3] Rodriguez, Leah. US Government Acknowledges Period Products Are Necessities in COVID-19 Stimulus Bill, Global Citizen, 10 Apr. 2020, www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/cares-act-covid-19-menstrual-products-fsa-hsa/.

You go to great lengths to source vegan dyes, use biodegradable packaging and use sustainably harvested fabrics. Why is sustainability so important to you?

As important as it is for people to take individual action to preserve the environment for generations ahead, I think it is even more important for businesses to do the same. Businesses have an even bigger onus on them due to the fact that they operate on much larger scales. I believe in the ideology of “do no harm.” Our processes aren’t perfect, but it is my responsibility as a business owner to make sure that scaling my business practices won’t be unnecessarily harmful to the environment. It just seemed contradictory to do all this work in designing a sustainable product and then give up and use plastic packaging. It just didn’t make sense.

It seems that every day there is a news story about the climate catastrophe. How do you keep upbeat and positive about the challenges we are facing?

I always like to focus on small, measurable steps that I can do personally to combat climate change. Just like many things in life, there are a lot of things that I can’t control. I can control what I can do from a personal and business perspective, and do my part. I cannot control how other people act. It’s often difficult to keep moving forward whilst focusing on what is not going right. Instead, I like to take a more proactive, practical approach and do my part step by step.

heralogie menstrual pants

The washing instructions show 30 degree wash. How can we be sure our products stay biologically clean when using such low temperatures?

The products can be washed in warm water; however it is best to use cold water as this dissolves the proteins in blood more efficiently. Hot water may set stains; however because the gusset in all our products is colored black, this may be less of an issue. We would suggest hand-rinsing before placing the underwear in the washer as this allows for more thorough cleaning. Hand washing is also preferred, but not required. The fabrics in the gusset also have anti-bacterial and anti-odor properties built-in.

These products are not suitable for tumble drying. Do you have any tips for getting these dried quickly during winter months so there is no risk of bacterial growth?

The gusset of the underwear is made with an anti-bacterial and anti-odor fabric, which should alleviate concerns about bacterial growth both during usage and whilst drying. Hanging the product in a well-ventilated, dry and/or sunny area expedites drying time (i.e. don’t hang in the shower or bathroom, which can be moist areas).

On your website, you say you pledge to give back to the community by donating funds and products to those in need. What sort of projects are you involved with?

I have talked to a number of organizations involved in ending period poverty. It is so important to me to give back to people who may not have access to any period products in the first place. Here we are, talking about the luxury of choosing different ways to manage our periods, when some people unfortunately don’t have access to any products on a monthly basis. I learned that it’s not just people overseas or in far away countries that have these problems. There are a number of local organizations that provide period products as well! For the initial launch month (January 2021), I am donating a percentage of proceeds to No More Secrets MBS. This organization has worked tirelessly to deliver menstrual products to those in deep poverty. They are based on the East Coast, in the Tri-State area, where I am from originally. Last year, they launched the #BlackGirlsBleed campaign which was aimed at helping amplify Black voices in the menstrual health space as well as decrease period stigma in the Black communities. I helped share their message, and that was when we first began communicating about the possibility of a future partnership.

Additionally, I have donated new period underwear and disposable products to Next Door Solutions, a women’s shelter based locally in San Jose, California. I have found that the type of donation accepted is highly dependent on the demographic that organization serves. For example, I tried donating extra samples of period underwear to a few local homeless organization based in San Francisco, California. Unfortunately, they preferred either disposable menstrual products or funds to buy disposables. The reason for this was that the women the organization serves do not have continual access to running water. Therefore they would be unable to cleanse reusable products. It is an inequity that I am not sure I know how to solve personally, but won’t give up in helping in the ways in which I can.

There are so many noble organizations that are working toward ending period poverty. I plan to work with multiple organizations across different launches to both help them gain visibility, but also gain access to funds needed to continue their work.

I love that you have chosen red as one of the colours for your products. What made you choose red?

Red has always been one of my favorite colors. I’m quite a driven person and love the boldness of the color. It reminds me of how we don’t have to be ashamed of periods—a biological, normal, healthy occurrence. I spent some time developing the shade of red. I wanted it to be a unique color, and something that would stand out in someone’s closet. It has subtle shades of pink in it, which makes it really special. We launched around the holidays and the color reminded me of poinsettias.

What is your proudest moment with Heralogie so far?

I love talking with individuals on social media about their experiences with period underwear. I love hearing stories about how the underwear is so comfortable that it has changed the experience of a previously dreaded event. It’s so fulfilling to talk to individuals who have benefitted from the work I put in. These products can also be used for light bladder leakage. This is a huge issue, as it affects millions worldwide. Incontinence pads can be expensive and embarrassing for a lot of people to buy. The condition affects people daily, not just one week out of the month. Although incontinence is often a treatable condition, sometimes it is not. My heart really went out to a young lady I talked with who has spina bifida, an incurable birth condition that often causes incontinence. I still talk with her and love hearing how my products have made her life so much easier.

What is your biggest challenge with getting the message out there regarding sustainable periods?

I am doing a lot of my marketing via social media. There, I’ve found a bit of resistance in trying something new, especially in the menstrual space. There are a lot of preconceived notions about period underwear—that they’ll feel like diapers, or they’ll be wet and gross-feeling etc. These biases are often byproducts of cultural stigmas towards periods. I’ve tried to combat the negativity by educating the public about what they really feel like. I think this is a normal byproduct of being on the Internet, but it does take some time getting used to.

Where do you see Heralogie in five years?

I’d like to expand the business as much as possible. I love the idea of period underwear being a normal item found in retail stores. It should not be a luxury good afforded to only a niche and/or wealthy market. I moved across the country to Silicon Valley because of the accessibility of venture capital and the number of thriving startups. I would like to partner with some of the brilliant minds in the area and take this as far as I can. I’d like to really make a dent in how people think about periods—not as something that is gross or embarrassing—but as something that is normal, natural, and if possible, even empowering. I’d like to donate to a number of different organizations dedicated to ending period poverty and help those in need gain access to a sustainable period management solution. I’ve always loved work and loved working with like-minded people. I am excited about partnering with people like you and spreading the message.

period and incontinence zero waste pants by heralogie

 

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *