“How we exported our first sanitary pad making machine to Bangladesh!”

Access to menstrual hygiene is a basic human right and the fight to provide this basic necessity to every woman is something we are working towards at Saral Designs. Availability of sanitary napkins is a huge problem in our country, especially since most good quality pads produced, are either imported or very expensive. In my experience of working in this field for 2.5 years, I have observed that the commercial manufacturing machines that make high-quality pads are high-speed, expensive (10 crore – 40 crore) and require huge marketing budgets for selling nearly 20 million pads every month. These machines which are imported from countries like China, Italy, Germany are meant for bulk manufacturing, making it difficult for small-scale businesses to sell such huge quantity of pads.

In India, most machines developed are manually operated and are unable to produce ultra thin pads. Being a part of India’s first hardware start-up that has designed a one of kind automatic sanitary napkin making machine, our aim is to create access at the last mile and set-up machines in different locations, enabling local manufacturing and distribution.

Swachh 2.0 Manufacturing Unit

To put to test this decentralization model of ours, we recently exported our first machine- Swacch 2.0 to a local entrepreneur in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Ariful Forquan identified the need of female garment workers in nearby factories which causes several women to miss work or use unhygienic materials during their periods like husk, newspapers, ragged cloth etc. As a factory owner himself,  he faced a lot of problem due to the regular absenteeism of female workers. When he delved deeper into the matter, he found out that the problem is prevalent mainly due to lack of access and availability of high-quality menstrual hygiene products in the local markets. After extensive research and meetings with many manufacturers, Ariful realized that with manually operated machines, the product quality is poor and the model cannot be scaled, while the high speed lines require very high investments to start off. The hunt for a solution to this problem, led Ariful Forquan and his business partner Dr.Kalam to meet with Saral Design’s Founders Suhani Mohan & Kartik Mehta.

saral designs team sanitary napkin machine
Ariful with Saral Designs Team

Once the deal was finalized, we vowed to provide our new Production partners with an end to end training on running a sanitary pad making business. Our operations head put together a 3-week training program for Ariful and his team where each member from Saral Designs conducted detailed sessions depending on their field of expertise. It provided a holistic experience of running a business.The training involved interactive sessions on the following topics:

  • Technical know-how: In-depth understanding of the machine, how to operate, maintain it and explanation of all manuals related.
  • Pad construction: Making and Composition of sanitary pads, quality check and control, Raw material performance.
  • Sales and distribution: Support with partnerships and proposal writing, introduction to training modules etc.
  • Design and marketing: Packaging and designing of pads, content generation for social media, marketing techniques on different platforms.
Dispatching raw materials and the machine to Dhaka.

Once Ariful and his team left, we crated the machine and prepared for its departure to Dhaka.  The task of transporting a 300 kg machine across the sea, was executed effortlessly .

However, our job was not finished here! We still had a to install the machine in Dhaka and ensure it was up and running smoothly. To help our partners understand the expected timeline to set-up a Swacch machine, we broke down the process right from finalizing the deal to beginning production into steps as shown below:

On reaching Dhaka, we immediately got to work and within two days assembled the entire machine. We started production of sanitary pads from the third day and everything else fell perfectly into place! We stayed there for 7 more days to support them with any unforeseen issue that might arise pertaining to the machine.  We left Dhaka with a feeling of accomplishment and self-assurance for having successfully completed the job at hand.

sanitary napkin making machine
Vijay installing the machine in Dhaka, Bangladesh

The set-up of our machine in Bangladesh has instilled confidence in the entire team of Saral Designs. It has reassured us that our decentralization model when implemented across the countries in need of it, will create last mile access, provide job opportunities and empower women. There is a clear and evident need for better menstrual hygiene products especially in developing countries but due to lack of access to such quality pads, the demand is not adequately met. We at Saral Designs are here to ensure this gap disappears and that every woman lives her life with dignity and confidence.

Sanitary napkin making machine
Inauguration of Sokhi Production Unit set up in collaboration with Saral Designs

 

How we sold our first million pads

Here’s a story of how we sold more than 1 million sanitary napkins in a span of 12 months reaching out to more than 1 Lakh rural women across Maharashtra, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Manipur and many more. With the innovation in the product, production and local distribution we provide access to high quality ultra-thin sanitary napkins at an affordable price in these villages, through Sanginis, a group of women healthcare workers.

1 million

Founded in 2015, we commenced our operations in 2016 and have designed the world’s first compact, modular and automatic machine named ‘SWACHH’ that makes ultra-thin sanitary napkins. The automation reduces human errors and keeps the production rate high, to ~ 15,000 pads per day, while also reducing the cost of production. Further, the decentralized production enables a reduction in distribution cost by almost 30% leading to an overall price reduction.

Suhani Mohan, Co-founder and CEO, Saral Designs said “We are delighted to achieve this milestone in a short span of time. At Saral Designs, we believe that menstrual hygiene is the right of every Indian woman and we are committed to providing that last mile accessibility to high-quality pads. While innovation in technology and decentralized distribution have made the pad affordable by almost 50% as compared to a global brand, the percentage of first-time users of pads and our repeat buyers reaffirm the quality of our product. However, a vast majority of Indian women are still using unhygienic modes during their menstruation period. From our own survey in rural areas, we found a lack of awareness of hygiene, lack of accessibility and lack of affordability among the primary reasons discouraging rural women to switch to using sanitary pads.Hence, we are investing in awareness programs to address social challenges including taboo around menstruating women.”

Sapna Marade, a happy consumer and repeat buyer of Active Ultra from Kadav, Karjat says-I hardly go to the town as I feel shy asking my family members to get pads for me. Hence, I had to use cloth. Now that Sangini didi sells pads in our village, it is very convenient for me. Now, I use Active Ultra pads only. I like the quality of pads too”.  

Happy Customers of Active
Happy Customers of Active

As a part of our school intervention program, we also installed vending machines across 14 low- income schools across many villages in Maharashtra. We recently put to test our delivery model to measure its impact by conducting a survey across 60 villages and observed the following outcomes:

  • 52% of the total users of our product were cloth rag users before.
  • 3% of buyers feel that easy accessibility at the last mile has led to using them pads regularly.
  • 88% of the users who switched from other brands believe the product quality was much better. Remaining find it on par with the products they used before.
  • For our healthcare workers (Sanginis), apart from the added income, they said that they take pride in selling our pads and spreading awareness about menstrual hygiene.

Our learnings from this survey have been that increased access, coupled with a high-quality affordable product has enabled multiple women to make the switch towards hygienic menstrual hygiene solutions.

Reaching the ‘1 million’ target has been one of our biggest achievements. It reinforces our belief that we are heading in the right direction towards formidable change. This year we also reached out to people who are in genuine need of hygienic menstrual products, fostered strong partnerships and have had experiences that make this journey so much more meaningful. We are truly grateful and humbled by all the support and love we continue to receive.

Team Photo

(P.S To learn more about the survey, you can read our blog post – Health Impact Monitoring System which is a detailed and well – researched survey on our door to door delivery model.)

Health Impact Monitoring System

Health Impact Monitoring System

At Saral Designs, we constantly put to test our interventions and measure its impact on various communities. Our aim is to design a better future in menstrual hygiene via our decentralized production and unconventional distribution mechanisms. Through our initiative, we have sold more than 1 million pads in less than 1 year and have a presence in towns and villages of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh and Manipur in India, Bangladesh and Dubai. This Survey has been researched extensively in an attempt to make available all our findings for everyone’s use.

Of the various mechanisms for increasing last mile access, we have been working on creating a sustainable channel for door to door distribution of pads in villages of India. This study is to understand the key objectives and measure outcomes and impact of this delivery model.

YOYOYO

The survey was conducted by Sanginis who are trained village women for sales and awareness creation. They have a thorough knowledge of geography and members of the village, basic literacy up to class 10 and are comfortable travelling in the village and to the training centre when required.

The objective of the monitoring system is to provide continuous data to track the increase in knowledge about menstruation and health benefits and usage of hygienic menstrual products. The program will measure and track the awareness, intention to use, reported usage data and health seeking behaviour.

Of the 60 villages (a total menstruating population of ~25,000 women) we have a presence in,(via our door to door health workers -Sanginis), we interviewed 100 women. The sample size is ~0.4% of the total target population.

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The sample size has been arrived at on the following considerations:

  1. The chances of the program having different responses for different villages
  2. The sample size should be sufficient enough to provide an estimate of product usage and awareness for the total target women

Survey Mechanism

  1. Out of 60 villages in Raigad district of Maharashtra where the program is active, we selected 5 villages to do the survey(Kadav, Kalamb, Neral, Pali and Wadwali).
  2. 5 villages were chosen so as to include regions with the strongest sales and the worst product sales to get a balanced perspective and range of feedback.
  3. The survey questionnaire and data was collected from the users and Sanginis of the village.
  4. It approximately took a month to complete one round of data collection.

Analysis of the Survey:

YOYO

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 Post our intervention in these villages we found that, there were 0.01% respondents who continued to use unhygienic cloth rags, 0.04% were using a pad for incorrectly (for Eg. Using the pad for more than 10 hours a day). 100 % of the Sanginis said that apart from the additional income, they take pride in spreading awareness about menstrual hygiene which ensures better health of their village women.

From this survey and our interventions, we have found that increased access, coupled with a high-quality affordable product has enabled multiple women to make the switch towards hygienic menstrual solutions.

However, our work does not stop here as there is still a need to continue and strengthen the MHM awareness programs to ensure 100% hygienic and proper usage of sanitary napkins.