Recently on a radio talk show on Power FM I was asked about Blushproof®, how it began and how the business operates. In the hurly burly of running a start-up business, it gave me a moment’s pause to consider our journey so far and I wanted to share this with the Blushproof community.
Blushproof® started as an idea in September 2020. I have a tween daughter at junior school and so was thinking about her, and her friends’ introduction to puberty and my own experiences. I had also seen some of the alternative menstrual products that were being offered overseas. This coincided with an increased awareness of environmental issues after learning that each person uses approximately 14,000 pads and tampons during their menstrual years, which all end up in landfills and water systems.
My background is that I am married with two children, living in Johannesburg. I obtained a B.Comm in the 1990s and later did a MBA to support me working in a number of corporates in Johannesburg and London. Shortly after having children, I took the decision to step back from my career to focus on raising my family.
Getting back to 2020 - I explored the topic of the menstrual product options for young girls and women and thought about what matters to them, as well as the issues that are relevant in South Africa at this time. I started thinking that period panties could be an effective solution - easy to use whilst having a lower impact on the environment. I also wanted to see if I could help (in a small way) to create jobs in our country. Finally, I believed that period panties could play a role in fighting “period poverty” by providing cost effective solutions to girls and women with limited means and limited access to other sanitary products.
So the challenge started…….
While I have a strong IT systems background and passion for the product, I had no experience in setting up a clothing manufacturing business. I decided that I wanted my business to try its hand at manufacturing locally, so that I could control the product quality and achieve the aim of providing local employment. It’s been exciting for me to design the product range, import the right materials in the right quantities and then produce the Blushproof® period panties that I believe in. My team and I have learnt as we go and have had to “course correct” a few times along the way.
To date my family and I have funded the business, although I am delighted that in 2023 we received equipment purchased for us by Grindstone and Naspers Labs arising from our involvement in the GrindstoneXL and Naspers Limited Entrepreneurs Programme. I was recently part of the first cohort of 10 female-founded startups in South Africa to go through the programme which led to Blushproof winning 2nd place in the Product Design category for the 2023 Burning Heroes - Up Start - Africa Awards.
It's been an exciting journey so far, made possible by the support of friends and family and enabled by the tech world we live in. This has meant that it has been possible to set up Blushproof® as an E-commerce business that sells and delivers directly to consumers nationwide.
Having said that, it hasn’t always been an easy journey, but I can say that my passion to create a sustainable business that can provide “sustainable menstrual solutions for all” remains undimmed. I am proud of the fact that, at last count, we have sold over 10,000 pairs of period panties since we started selling 2 years prior and that the business now employs 8 staff members operating from our workshop in Johannesburg. Blushproof® began operations from a room at our home and moved to its current workshop in Craighall. From a single pair of black underwear, we have expanded the product range to carry a variety of sizes and designs, as well as for activities like swimming, and included colours and skin tones. We continue to explore other sales channels to enable us to get our products to customers, such as selling through specialty retailers like school shops and via an affiliate programme. I am especially proud of the close to600 reviews that we have received from our customers, most of which are 5-star reviews of the product.
Correctly washed and looked after, Blushproof® period panties should last for at least 2 years which means that over this period buying enough "blushproofs" to get a person through their cycle costs around 62% of the cost of using sanitary pads . In addition, assuming 360 pads or tampons are used over this period, wearing blushproofs avoids adding to the landfills in our country. This provides me with conviction that our product serves a number of important purposes in today’s world.
Since I started, there are now a number of competing products available to women, some are being sold by massive clothing retailers who have scale and deep pockets. There are a variety of products targeting different sectors of the market, and I am happy that more businesses are providing women with these options (even if competition makes growing my business harder!)
Looking forward for Blushproof®, my commitment is to continually improve. We are still learning as we go and no doubt making mistakes that we respond to. My vision remains to focus on providing high-quality period panties that cater for girls and women at all phases of their lives and allows them to participate in their daily activities comfortably and confidently. I recognise that, despite all our efforts to date, there is no guarantee of success. I have gotten used to people quoting “…. that 70 - 80% of new businesses fail” however I am driven to succeed in setting up Blushproof® as a profitable and sustainable business. I’m also grateful to all those that have supported and continue to support us on our journey.