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This Filipino-owned sustainable feminine hygiene brand wants to break the stigma on period care

By CAMILLE SANTIAGO Published May 25, 2021 4:17 pm

For the longest time, topics on feminine hygiene were considered taboo—women were hesitant to talk about vaginas, girls were ashamed of their periods, ladies hid their pads as if they were something illegal, and some were just oblivious about feminine health. Luckily, some companies are helping break the stigma around feminine hygiene—including a Filipino-owned organic period care brand called Nala Woman.

"It was so important for us that girls wouldn't be embarrassed about our pads," said one of its founders, Aiai Garcia. "The messaging that we are trying to let girls know is that pads for your period isn't something to be embarrassed about. This is completely normal. It also showed in our packaging and the way that our brand talks about it," she added.

The locally-sourced period brand is the first clinically-tested hypoallergenic, non-irritating, biodegradable, and GOTS-certified feminine care company in the Philippines. Each of their pad is individually wrapped in biodegradable cornstarch material that dissolves in three years. 

But more than just a sustainable brand, Nala Woman aims to be the go-to when it comes to feminine health awareness.

"The deeper I got into menstrual health and studying about it and what was lacking, the more invested and the more passionate I got about it," Garcia shared. "[I hope] NALA woman would be the coolest Tita or cool Ate whom girls in the Philippines would look up for information that isn't widely shared or even widely known."

PhilSTAR L!fe caught up with Garcia to discuss changing attitudes towards sustainability and feminine hygiene, and why she is committed to advocating about menstrual health and ending period poverty.

What made you decide to place sustainability at the core of the brand’s vision when you were first conceptualizing Nala Woman?

While we were studying what the damages of menstrual products, not only the Philippines but all around the world, if you compare regular FMCG brands that you find in the supermarket, we found out that it takes about 500-800 years to biodegrade because it's made out of 99% plastic. The Philippines is the third largest contributor of plastic waste into our oceans and landfills. And if you look at how many women there are in the Philippines, I think we're almost close to 60%.

[Seeing] how much of our everyday use contributes to that, we just wanted to help lessen that waste with one product. Compared to the regular pads out there, our pads actually start decomposing in a month. It takes about three years for the entire thing, including the glue and then breaking down the packaging and the organic content. So I think in terms of sustainability, we're doing our part. I feel like every business should approach product use that way—sustainability should always be at the forefront.

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What is Nala Woman all about?

Nala has become a sustainable brand as part of its identity, but that was never really what we wanted to position ourselves. I really felt that the conversations around menstrual health and women's health needed to be elevated. What makes a woman a woman is her period and it's still something that we don't really discuss or we know very little about. 

I would have conversations with my friends about “How many times have you seen an OB-GYN?” Like, “Oh, I don't know. How many times are we supposed to see them?” “When was the last time you did that?” We still don't understand like why we have period cramps or what to do when we have a period or how we can actually help manage that through food or proper hormone management. These are all under researched fields and conversations, especially the medical side. I was really hoping that NALA Woman would be the coolest Tita or cool Ate, whom girls in the Philippines would look up for information that isn't widely shared or even widely known.

Nala Woman also hosts online talks called Period Party. What is it about?

It started in the pandemic, before we started raising awareness about the brand and the conversations. It was also a way for my advisor and I to learn more about menstrual health in general. We really took that opportunity and were able to source fantastic speakers who looked at this from the medical standpoint, from the nutritional standpoint, from the wellness and mental standpoint, and even the spiritual side—and it was well received. 

Girls would be asking us, “Did you know that there are different phases in your menstrual cycle? Did you know that hormones could affect you? Did you know that a lot of it is part of your mental well being and you also have to choose how to practice self care? What body positivity is and how to incorporate that into cultural conversations.” 

What makes a woman a woman is her period, and it's still something that we don't really discuss or we know very little about.

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Aside from being a sustainable brand, Nala Woman also advocates awareness on Period Poverty. Could you tell us more about it?

Period poverty is essentially just not having the proper environment or resources to help manage your period and its effects. It affects mostly people in  rural areas and poor communities. It can look something like not having a washroom to cleanse yourself, and it can be as basic as not having [pads] to use when you have your cycle every month.

There was one—I can't remember the name of this tribe in Davao—where teachers were going there to distribute school supplies during the pandemic, and they reached out for donations, and instead we donated pads.

That's because I asked the teachers, “What do they use to manage their periods?” And they said, “Rarely do they get pads, but when they do, they'll cut it in half so it extends the life longer.” For us in metropolitan areas, it's such a privilege to have access to that, but  they don’t.

And also, I think Nala as equity, which became part of the conversation during the last typhoon in NCR, where people were just, you know, raising funds for donations. During calamities, we’re always so focused on essential goods like food, water, clothes, but we tend to forget that period products are also essential. It's really embarrassing to have to speak in front of everyone because you don't have the right resources, you don't have the washroom, you don't have pads when you're already  bleeding it in front of other people. The stigma around this is already very embarrassing to begin with.

I was really hoping that NALA woman would be the coolest Tita or cool Ate whom the girls in the Philippines would look up for information that isn't widely shared or even widely known.

What do you hope for Nala Woman to achieve in the coming years?

What I really want to achieve for NALA is for more girls to use it because it's healthier for them, for their bodies, and it's better for the planet. And I want to continue raising awareness around menstrual health and how women can take care of themselves better. And lastly, I want to start manufacturing here, locally. 

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Photos courtesy of Nala Woman