ATALK ON THE SAD STATE of fe­male hy­giene in In­dia, in 2012, by Magsaysay Award win­ner and Founder of the NGO Goonj, Anshu Gupta, changed the life of Suhani Mo­han. Till then, for the 28-year-old Mo­han, the idea of giv­ing back to so­ci­ety was lim­ited to par­tic­i­pat­ing in cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity ac­tiv­i­ties of her em­ployer. Gupta’s shock­ing sto­ries about how a large ma­jor­ity of women used the same cloth dur­ing men­stru­a­tion and how some of them died of tetanus due to this were an eye-opener for the founder of Saral De­signs – a san­i­tary

WHY SHE MAT­TERS Mo­han wants to set up at least 100 pad­mak­ing ma­chines in re­mote cor­ners of the coun­try. She is also reach­ing out to other de­vel­op­ing and poor coun­tries

pads com­pany.

Hav­ing been brought up in a well-to-do Mum­bai home, Mo­han had no idea that 88 per cent of In­dia’s 355 mil­lion men­stru­at­ing women did not have ac­cess to san­i­tary pads, 36 per cent girls rarely went to school dur­ing men­stru­a­tion and that 23 per cent dropped out of school when they started men­stru­at­ing. “I went back home shocked and teary-eyed,” re­mem­bers Mo­han, who was 23 then and had joined Deutsche Bank af­ter pass­ing out from IIT Mum­bai. She de­cided to not only make san­i­tary pads more ac­ces­si­ble to women but also to get rid of the stigma at­tached to men­stru­a­tion. Her in­tent was not to com­pete with the likes of P&G and John­son & John­son, but to reach ar­eas where the multi­na­tion­als were not present. In fact, she found that even ur­ban slums with ac­cess to chemist shops re­ported low off-take of san­i­tary pads. The rea­son was the stigma at­tached to men­stru­a­tion. So, get­ting more women to use san­i­tary nap­kins was the big­gest chal­lenge.

It was at this junc­ture that Mo­han met Arunacha­lam Mu­ru­gu­natham, known as the pad­man for his work in making low-cost san­i­tary pads. “I went to see some of his units and I thought of tak­ing his ma­chines to in­te­rior places and kick-start­ing my busi­ness. How­ever, I re­alised that it was labour-in­ten­sive. Ten women were making hardly 500 pads a day. I needed scale. Also, the cost of making those pads was ` 5 and Mu­ru­gu­natham Sir was sell­ing for ` 3. So, it was a grand-funded model and could not be run by it­self,” re­mem­bers Mo­han.

The only way was au­toma­tion. In early 2015, she met Kar­tik Me­hta, an IIT Kan­pur alum­nus, who was de­sign­ing ma­chines for var­i­ous pack­ag­ing com­pa­nies. Me­hta was more than happy to de­sign a ma­chine for a so­cial cause. The duo put in their own cap­i­tal and raised funds from Powai Lake Ven­tures and fi­nally launched Saral De­signs in 2015. They built their own ma­chine, which can pro­duce 50,000 pads per day.

In the ini­tial months, Mo­han went door to door sell­ing her san­i­tary nap­kin brand – Ac­tive, in the slums of Mum­bai. She sold a pack of three pads for ` 10.

“Still, women pre­ferred us­ing a cloth as low-cost pads do not ab­sorb as much. I re­alised that ab­sorbency is the key. There­fore, our first pad was XL size, com­pletely dry.” Mo­han says they made sev­eral changes to the prod­uct based on con­sumer feed­back. Mo­han de­cided against hav­ing distrib­u­tors and hired women from the com­mu­nity to go house to house and sell. “The prob­lem in smaller towns and vil­lages was not just af­ford­abil­ity but also ac­cess. A lot of women didn’t even know how to use a pad, so we needed women from the com­mu­nity to bring about a mind­set change.”

The ` 1.6-crore start-up is a ‘for-profit’ so­cial en­ter­prise. “We get in­put credit which we can pass on to con­sumers. But our man­date is clear – we will al­ways work in the so­cial space. You will never find us sell­ing per­fumes,” she clar­i­fies.

Apart from sell­ing Ac­tive pads through the net­work of women from the com­mu­nity, over 60 per cent of sales are through NGOs, which buy in bulk. The Mo­han-Me­hta duo has now started repli­cat­ing this model in mar­kets out­side Ma­ha­rash­tra by sell­ing their ma­chine to en­trepreneurs not just in other states but also in Bangladesh and Namibia. They have al­ready sold 10 ma­chines, priced be­tween ` 18.5 lakh and ` 22.5 lakh.

Mo­han hopes to set up at least 100 ma­chines across the coun­try and clock a turnover of ` 5 crore in the next one year. “Most of our sales are from western In­dia, but we now want to go to mar­kets such as Bi­har and the north-east where the need is more. We are help­ing peo­ple raise funds so that they can set up our ma­chines and pro­duce pads across the coun­try.”


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