When I think about what I achieved in my first year out of school it was…well, it wasn’t a whole lot to be honest. Sure, I started uni, I changed jobs and I started paying a bit of rent, but I certainly did not have the courage (or vision for that matter) to start my own business! A lot more can be said for local Adelaide entrepreneurs, Eloise Hall and Isobel Marshall, who, fresh out of year 12, took a gap year to set up their business, TABOO.
TABOO is a social enterprise that sells and distributes sanitary products throughout Australia, with all of the profits going towards providing sustainable sanitary care to females across the world who don’t have access to such care. As TABOO prepares to launch their own brand of sanitary items (of which all profit will be donated to various sanitary care projects in developing countries), I decided to get in touch with these two lovely ladies to find out a little more about their journey so far, and their future aspirations for the business.
What was the initial vision for TABOO?
Our vision is to create a brand of feminine hygiene products that enable women to practically support each other. TABOO is a movement that inspires women to empower each other through the shared experience of menstruation.
How did you come up with the concept of TABOO and has the issue of menstrual health care in developing countries been something that has always concerned you?
We were actually inspired by Thank you Water, a company that has adopted the 100% social enterprise model. This concept involves taking advantage of something in high demand and using that market to generate profit for a related social cause. We fell in love with this model and started to look into different products that would fit this criteria. When we fell upon sanitary pads and tampons, we quickly became passionate about the issues and taboo surrounding female menstruation in both third-world and developed countries.
What was the process involved in starting TABOO? What steps did you have to take to make it happen in your year out of school?
Because we were both quite inexperienced in the area of business and entrepreneurship, we relied heavily on guidance from mentors and professionals who had the experience that we lacked. We invested our time into learning how to set up a business, researching and trying to absorb as much information as possible from these various mentors.
We knew that it would take a lot of time and work before we had any actual products to sell, so our first priority was to grow a following, a potential customer base, and a group of people who were as passionate and as invested in this area as we are. At the end of the year, we hosted our first crowdfunding campaign, which was designed to raise the funds for our first batch of sanitary products to sell in Australia. Fortunately, this campaign was successful and we were able to raise $56K! We were blown away by the generosity of so many people and so excited to start producing some sellable items. At the moment, we are finalising these products and working through the logistics of the legal structure and accounting details of a social enterprise.
What was the most difficult challenge that you had to overcome when starting TABOO?
The hardest part has probably been juggling and adjusting the responsibility that we have towards our followers, our financial supporters, our mentors and, of course, the girls that can’t go to school because of their period.
We are still very young at 19 and 20 years, and so a lot of what we are doing through TABOO is very new and foreign to us. Like anything, our time commitment and emotional investment in this project mean that we sometimes need to make sacrifices, but we are willing to do this because we are passionate about the cause and want to be successful in turning our vision into reality.
You are both traveling overseas at the moment, are you able to tell us a bit about what you are doing over there?
Of course! As we type this response we are currently traveling from a remote, Maasai village, back to our motel in Nairobi, Kenya. We have just spent the day with a local organisation called Simama Na Dada, who deliver sanitary pads to girls in the villages surrounding Nairobi and host mentorship programs to teach the girls about hygiene, the menstrual cycle, self-esteem, sex, and relationships.
These topics are extremely important to talk about in this context, because some of these girls are likely to be married off, become pregnant or else undergo genital mutilation. Especially at this time of the year, it is crucial to assure the girls of their worth, their potential, and to remind them that they don’t have to succumb to some of the cultural traditions that are harmful to them.
It has been such a learning experience for us to present to these girls. They are the ones who are experiencing all the injustices that we have spent the past year researching into, and it has been crazy to interact with them and understand the issues from their perspective.
We are traveling to India on the 13 July to visit a similar organisation that works in Delhi and Bhopal. We will visit their sanitary projects and learn from their workers as well as hear from the people who are benefiting from the programs.
The purpose of this trip was really to learn about the most effective ways to tackle the issues that menstruation creates in countries like Kenya and India. By doing this, we will, in turn, learn how to best utilise the profits from TABOO’s pad and tampon sales!
I don’t know about you, but I’m in awe of Eloise and Issy and what they have managed to achieve in the past year. Not only is the work they’re doing helping thousands of females in developing countries, but it’s also lifting the taboo that has shrouded the topic of menstruation and periods for far too long. If you’d like to stay in the loop, check out TABOO’s website here. You can also follow them on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. If you’d like to make a donation, I have posted the account details for TABOO below.
TABOO Account details
Account Number: 304759489