AS A woman you’ve prob­a­bly been us­ing san­i­tary pads for a long time, since you started your men­stru­a­tion at pu­berty.

But how well do you know your favourite san­i­tary towel? How safe or harm­ful are the prod­ucts to your health and what is their im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment?

Those are the ques­tions a young Cape Town en­trepreneur Zizipho Nto­bong­wana, 23, asked her­self be­fore she started her eco-friendly san­i­tary brand that is known as Sheba Fem­i­nine Hy­giene.

The “wom­an­ist and self­pro­claimed health guru”, who launched her busi­ness ear­lier this year ad­mits that af­ter cu­rios­ity got the bet­ter of her last year, she went on a re­search spree and would later find that san­i­tary prod­ucts women use are not al­ways in the best in­ter­ests of the men­stru­a­tors, and a size­able num­ber of them have the po­ten­tial to cause health prob­lems and are eco-un­friendly, con­tain­ing harm­ful prod­ucts such as non-biodegrad­able plas­tics, chlo­rine or dioxin, which are used in the bleach­ing process.

She de­cided to come up with a health and en­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious prod­uct that uses only cer­ti­fied or­ganic cot­ton to pro­duce all the san­i­tary prod­ucts. This means that Sheba is cre­ated “by men­stru­a­tors, for men­stru­a­tors”.

We chat to Nto­bong­wana about cre­at­ing her range and the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind it.

Who is Zizipho Nto­bong­wana?

Zizipho Nto­bong­wana was born in Mthatha. Al­though I’m from the Eastern Cape, I went to a Dur­ban pri­mary school and later to a board­ing school in the Natal Mid­lands.

I re­cently grad­u­ated with a bach­e­lor of so­cial sciences and hon­ours in African stud­ies at UCT.

Tell us about your or­ganic range?

The Sheba or­ganic range con­sists of tam­pons, ul­tra thin san­i­tary pads, and ev­ery­day anatom­i­cal panty-lin­ers. All th­ese prod­ucts are made from or­ganic cot­ton that is breathable and al­lows air to flow eas­ily through the fi­bres. They are com­pat­i­ble with the hu­man body’s phys­i­o­log­i­cal PH. It does not al­ter the nat­u­ral acid­ity of the vagi­nal mu­cous. There are no chem­i­cals, chlo­rine or dioxin used in the bleach­ing process.

When and why did you start the range?

Last year I be­came frus­trated at the re­al­i­sa­tion that most of the things on the African con­ti­nent were in fact not African at all. Ev­ery­thing I had been taught re­it­er­ated the fact that Africa was and still is a gold­mine which the rest of the world loots from. Apart from be­ing pained by this fact, I was also in­spired by my hon­ours de­gree. This is the space in which Sheba Fem­i­nine Hy­giene was born. Dur­ing my pe­riod, the idea for Sheba came to me. Sit­ting on the toi­let and read­ing my tampon box, I re­alised that there was no in­gre­di­ent la­bel on it.

Why the name Sheba Fem­i­nine Hy­giene?

The name Sheba is in­spired by the life-story of Makeda, the Queen of Sheba. Al­though there are var­i­ous tales of her life rang­ing from those told by Chris­tians to those told by the Ethiopi­ans through­out all of th­ese dif­fer­ent tales, the African queen re­mains op­ti­mis­ing wis­dom, truth and in­tel­li­gence.

Sheba is about African men­stru­a­tors and their roy­alty by virtue of be­ing African. Sheba is de­signed and mar­keted for the African peo­ple.

What in­spired your eco-friendly pack­ag­ing?

Be­sides the fact that san­i­tary prod­ucts take decades to de­com­pose, we un­der­es­ti­mate the hor­ri­ble im­pact their pack­ag­ing has on the en­vi­ron­ment. We see th­ese generic prod­ucts and for­get to con­sider their im­pact as well. This is why we in­sist on us­ing re­cy­cled card­board pack­ag­ing that is also biodegrad­able.

How im­por­tant is it for women to cre­ate their own prod­ucts?

I be­lieve that one of the rea­sons that the in­gre­di­ents in our san­i­tary prod­ucts have been prob­lem­atic is partly due to the fact that the prod­ucts we use aren’t made by peo­ple that men­stru­ate.

Once we as men­stru­a­tors be­gin to take charge and ed­u­cate our­selves we will be­gin to hold th­ese com­pa­nies ac­count­able.

To con­nect with Nto­bong­wana visit www.she­bafami­nine.co.za or follow her on Twit­ter @shiba_­fami­nine

170721. Cape Town. En­trepreneur Zizipho Nto­bong­wana,23, who de­vel­oped an or­ganic san­i­tary prod­uct range is pos­ing for a pic­ture at her home in Pinelands. Pic­ture Henk Kruger/ANA Pic­tures

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