Tanzania-based manufacturer and distributor of low-cost, affordable, reusable sanitary towels, WomenChoice Industries, has raised USD 200 K in funding from US-based impact investor, Gray Matters Capital (GMC).
The investment comes under GMC coLABS, the sector-agnostic gender portfolio of the American impact investor.
Announcing the funding, GMC says the USD 200 K investment is aimed at helping WomenChoice Industries reach out to 500,000 women and girls from low-resource settings, to use its reusable sanitary towels by December 2022.
This will entail the funding amount to be used for ramping up its production capacity, recruiting and training of vendors and sales & distribution agents.
Prior to this funding, WomenChoice Industries had received a grant of USD 1 K from the Pollination Fund; a soft loan investment of USD 11.5 K from the Tanzania Post Bank (TPB) and a total of USD 5 K from another US-based company, Rock Flower Inc.
The reusable sanitary towels produced by WomenChoice Industries are made by locally trained tailors, volunteers, and staff employed by the company from locally-sourced soft cotton, absorbent toweling and Polyurethane Waterproof (PUL) fabrics materials, making them soft, light and easy on the skin.
By virtue of its high absorbency and fluid retention capacity, each pad can be used for 6-12 hours and can be cleaned by hand washing, using locally available soap or detergent with water, sundried and re-used after 4 – 6 hours. These pads not only save menstrual costs by 75 percent to 90 percent annually but can also be reused for a period of 3 years.
“Young women and girls aged 9-24 in schools and colleges in Tanzania from low-income families earning less than USD 1.50 a day, face a myriad of menstrual hygiene management health challenges ranging from lack of information to lack of access to products and services, said Lucy Achieng’ Odiwa, Co-founder and CEO, WomenChoice Industries.
“They, perforce, use unhygienic materials such as sisal fibres, old cloth rags, animal skins, sand and pounded tree barks to manage their menses. Some are also compelled to trade “sex for pad” with men twice their age thus, exposing them to unintended pregnancies, abortions, HIV/AIDS and STIs,” she continued.
Outlining her company’s problem statement. “Our ‘Salama pad’ reusable sanitary towels, which come in a pack of five affordably priced at USD 2.20 as compared to one-time use, disposable sanitary towels, are an innovative solution to these problems”, she added.
WomenChoice Industries recruits socially disadvantaged and vulnerable young women such as teenage mothers, commercial sex workers, people living with HIV/AIDS and widows from local communities as vendors and sales agents empowering them with menstrual hygiene management (MHM) models along with business and financial management skills.
These recruits are sourced through partners and stakeholders such as NGOs, community-based organisations, women and youth groups, the local community village and wards leadership, and the local government authorities.
To-date, WomenChoice claims to have recruited, empowered and employed 700 women with a 90 percent retention rate with specific regional retails and wholesale shops with legal business licenses and tax compliances.
Speaking about the funding, Jennifer Soltis, Portfolio Manager, Gray Matters Capital coLABS, said,
“We came to know about how menstruation is making girl students in Tanzania and across Africa abstain from school for 48-84 days annually, impacting their school attendance and academic performances. Reusable sanitary towels like WomenChoice Industries’ Salama Pad’ have shown to reduce incidences of MHM related school dropouts and menstrual health problems resulting from the use of unhygienic materials.”
The funding of WomenChoice Industries marks coLABS’ first investment in Tanzania and its sixth portfolio company to be added from Africa following Rwanda’s ARED, Ghana’s Redbird Health Tech, Nigeria’s Sonocare and Kenya’s Taimba and Farmshine.
Besides ‘Salama Pad’ reusable sanitary towels, WomenChoice Industries have other products in its line such as post-partum maternity pads, reusable child and adult diapers, travelers reusable vomiting pots and in and outpatient urinal leaks packets.
The company also claims to have been profitable since its inception in March 2018, clocking net annual income in excess of USD 100 K.