Menstruation is a biological issue; it shouldn’t have to be a social one, too. For hundreds of millions of adolescent girls and women who lack access to safe feminine-hygiene products in the developing world, however, the monthly bleed-out is a regular exercise in anxiety, frustration, and shame. The stigma that surrounds the subject doesn’t make it any easier, according the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, a Geneva-based partner of the United Nations. Girls routinely miss and eventually drop out of school because of their periods. Others make do with dirty rags, corn husks, newspaper, or even tree bark—items that are not only ineffective at absorbing blood but can also increase the risk of infection. But “Flo,” a finalist in the 2015 James Dyson Award, could change that.
GO WITH IT
Designed by Mariko Higaki Iwai, Sohyun Kim, and Tatijana Vasily from California’s Art Center College of Design, Flo is a toolkit that helps girls living in poverty to wash, dry, and transport reusable sanitary napkins safely and discreetly.
“Learning that a girl’s menstrual cycle could have a substantial negative impact on her life was heartbreaking,” Iwai, Kim, and Vasily write in their entry. “Disposable sanitary pads are too expensive for population living below $1.25 purchasing power parity per day, and more than 90 percent of girls still use rags instead of pads.”
Because of the cultural and religious taboos, rags or reusable pads can neither be washed with other clothes nor dried in public.
“Consequently, they are hidden under the bed, on top of the roof, or inside cracks in the wall,” they add. “Rags and reusable pads are always wet and are causing reproductive infections and illnesses.”
Flo offers an all-in-one washer and dryer that comprises two bowls, a basket, and string. Compared with regular hand-washing, it uses half as much water and detergent, according to Iwai and company. It uses a spinning action to wring water from the fabric, minimizing drying time. Girls can also use the basket and a fabric blinder to dry the pads outside in the sun, hidden, as it were, in plain sight.
The kit even includes a Tyvek pouch, marked with non-verbal directions on the use of the product, so girls can carry a reusable pad to school and back without drawing attention.
All of this can be produced and sold for less than $3 per set. “With the Flo tool kit, girls will have access to dry, clean pads that can reduce illness and will be more comfortable, both physically and emotionally,” Iwai’s team says. “Girls will be able to work around their menstrual cycle and be in control. By having control over their menstrual cycle, girls do not have to give up on their dreams and can be empowered to pursue what she wants to become.”
Many things already hold girls back. Getting her period shouldn’t be one of them.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ecouterre is a website devoted to the future of sustainable fashion design. We’re dedicated to showcasing and supporting designers who not only contemplate cut, form, and drape, but also a garment’s social and environmental impact, from the cultivation of its fibers to its use and disposal. Our ethos: To follow the evolution of the apparel industry toward a more environmentally sound future, as well as facilitate a conversation about why sustainable fashion matters.