Wash, don’t throw

Two students of IIT Delhi have developed innovative female hygiene products that include a reusable sanitary pad

ByProma Chakraborty
Wash, don’t throw
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It was the plight of a female friend contracting urinary tract infection due to lack of clean public washrooms on a trip to the mountains that led to the founding of Sanfe – a startup for designing and developing products for improving female health and hygiene. Two IIT Delhi BTech students Archit Agarwal (CEO) and Harry Sehrawat (COO) started this journey two years back.

The duo earlier developed two products that are available in the market, Sanfe Stand & Pee and Sanfe Period Pain Relief Roll On. Now currently in their fourth year, they are back with a new product – reusable sanitary pads that can last up to two years (120 washes).

India has approximately 12.3 billion disposable sanitary napkins to be taken care of every year, and a majority of these are non-biodegradable. According to Menstrual Hygiene Alliance of India (MHAI) there are almost 336 million menstruating women in India, of whom 36% use disposable sanitary pads. In an attempt to address this huge problem of disposable pad waste, Sanfe has launched reusable sanitary pads made from banana fibre. Available online and soon to be taken to retail stores as well, a pack of two costs Rs 199.

Patriot catches up with Archit Agarwal, who talks about his journey, the setbacks they have faced and the need for awareness among general public.

Could you share what prompted you to develop and create a reusable sanitary pad?

We are known as women empowerment entrepreneurs. We have been working on woman healthcare and hygiene for the past two years. Previously we came up with two more products that have been quite successful in the market. We interacted with a lot of women in the process, and during these interactions we got to know about the problem of disposing plastic pads. A lot of plastic waste is created with each sanitary pad. We wondered why a sanitary pad cannot be re-used. And this question led to our new product.

How did you come up with this product? Could you elaborate on the process and how long did it take to finally launch it?

We started off the ideation process in December 2018. We identified problems with the current sanitary pads and set out to redesign it.

Both of us are pursuing textile engineering in IIT. Having this background, we had the core experience required for the development of the product and also had access to technology. After some trials, we zeroed in on composite banana fibre made out of polyester and viscose.

There are quite a few reusable menstrual pads in the market already. What makes your product different from others?

The major difference is that our pads are made of banana fibre. Fifty percent of it is polyester and the other half is cotton. While the cotton is highly absorbent, the polyester fabric has wicking qualities. The combination provides a dry experience throughout the time.

Menstrual cups are now considered the way forward. Why haven’t you worked with cups rather than creating a reusable pad?

We tried interacting with various rural groups and in the process figured out that the definition of virginity in India is quite different. The use of menstrual cups may lead to the breaking of the hymen. Adoption of menstrual cups is currently very slow in the country.  We tried distributing cups among women but we received a lot of questions regarding its usage. It dawned on us that bringing a change in behaviour would be difficult.

Hence, we thought of cloth pads which would be quite similar to the piece of cloth that is already being used. We wanted to bring a slightly modified product so that the behavioural change required for its adoption would be minimal.

Since you have come up with three products already, what kind of feedback have your received from your family and friends?

Initially, most people laughed at me. They asked what am I doing with a product that only women use. But when we came up with the actual product, they were quite taken aback. People have now started using it more and more.

It has been two years now with your company Sanfe. What kind of setbacks have you faced over this period?

The challenging part is changing mindsets and to make women talk about menstrual issues. Other than that, the difficulty we face now is sourcing banana fibre. We are based in Delhi and, currently, we are getting it sourced from Kerala and Maharashtra. The quality of the fibre also depends on the season and the state where we are getting it from.

Don’t you feel the issue lies more with awareness rather than the availability of products? 

What I have seen is that people are willing to talk about menstrual issues but no one is taking the initiative to start the conversation.

We have launched two campaigns to raise awareness which also makes it easier for women to adopt the products. One was titled “Stand Up For Yourself” and it got good response.

Now, we are asking government bodies and NGOs who are distributing pads in rural areas at subsidised rates, to switch to our reusable pads. Distributing disposable pads every month is not a sustainable model. The cost you would be incurring for 24 months with the disposable pads is much higher than what will be incurred with the reusable ones.

This article first appeared in Patriot.

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