Better Future in Menstrual Hygiene
Suhani Mohan, co-founder, Saral Designs writes about her experience in innovative solutions in the crucial area of menstrual hygiene.
Automatic sanitary pad making machine
Saral Designs is a Mumbai-based start-up, working on increasing access to high quality sanitary napkins through “Swachh” – an automatic sanitary pad making machine designed and developed in-house. Founded in 2015, Saral aims at creating a better future in menstrual hygiene and sanitation using product design, machine technology and innovative delivery mechanisms. Saral Designs was founded by Suhani Mohan and Kartik Mehta, who are IIT-B and IIT-M graduates respectively. Suhani brings her knowledge from Deutsche Bank and her fellowship with Acumen while Kartik worked with General Motors and has even made special purpose machines.
Since its inception in 2015, we sold 14 Swachh machines to local entrepreneurs and NGOs and over two million sanitary napkins across India, Bangladesh and Namibia. We have more than 40,000 customers and have engaged with over 100 women who are our door-to-door sales partner for last mile distribution. We have also partnered with more than 30 NGOs and Corporates in the space of education, health and sanitation to increase awareness about menstrual hygiene and sanitation.
In the areas where we operate, we have more than 10 per cent market share of the existing market and 15 per cent of our users are first time pad users with a retention rate of more than 40 per cent. Some of our customers have now become our sales women and menstrual hygiene advocates in their communities.
Saral Designs has won several accolades like the National Entrepreneurship Award, by Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, awarded by the Department of Science & Technology, Govt of India; our work has been recognised as the 'Top 10 Good Businesses of 2016' by Outlook Business Magazine and 'Top Woman Entrepreneur' at Empower, an event conducted by Zone Start Ups (a joint venture of Bombay Stock Exchange and Govt of Canada) and recognised as the top 3 global hardware start-ups for social good in 2017 by ASME (American Society for Mechanical Engineers).
Advantages of Saral’s technological innovation over competitors
In India, despite there being several organisations working on menstrual hygiene, the challenges around accessibility and affordability have not been resolved yet because:
- Multinationals produce high quality pads centrally, but with several levels of distribution, the cost of the pad increases by 40-60 per cent and availability in remote regions is low. Their initial cost of setup is extremely high, which makes the break-even point harder to achieve. To overcome their high expenditures, they keep the price of the sanitary napkins high, making it unaffordable for a majority of the population, and
- Small scale manufacturers have made pads affordable, but due to lack of adequate scale of production and machine technology, the quality of the product is inconsistent, often bad, and the unit economics per pad is unhealthy for sustainability. Due to the poor quality, retention of customer base is also low.
At Saral Designs, we are working towards bridging this gap through our smart, automated and distributed manufacturing technology, developed in-house – “Swachh”. The machine has been designed by our engineers and the quality of pads it produces matches that of established brands using extremely expensive machines. Instead of one huge, central plant, we plan to set up small plants in different districts, cutting down the cost of distribution. Each machine produces 16 pads per minute and can produce up to 4.5 lakh pads per month. This scale of production has a significant advantage over other semi-automatic handmade pads which frequently run into cash flow issues due to poor unit economics and produce poor quality products. With an extensive network of such machines, we will be able to provide an adequate quantity of our product to every community. This model ensures our sanitary pads have a better reach that other companies fail to achieve, creates awareness on menstrual hygiene in BOP areas and enables local businesses.
Salient features of Swachh machine
We have developed two kinds of sanitary napkin making machines: 1) Automatic and 2) Semi-automatic.
Swachh Automatic is the world’s first ultra-thin sanitary napkin making machine at a decentralised scale. The machine is automatic, flexible and easy to use. It has the capacity to produce 4.5 lakh pads every month. The machine will roughly require a 2,500 sq.ft space and up to five people managing the production. It can produce multiple types and sized of pads (R, L, XL, XXL) depending on the need of the customers.
Swachh Semi-Automatic is India’s best small scale semi-automatic sanitary napkin making machine. The machine is robust and easy to use. It produces over 1.5 lakh pads in a month, requires up to 1,500 sq.ft space and seven people managing the production. It can produce multiple types and sizes of pads (R, L, XL, XXL) depending on the need of the customers.
Along with the machine, we also provide a vast range of support services including – raw materials supply, market linkages, custom requirements, training and mentoring. We are a one-stop solution for all those who want to start a FemCare enterprise.
Uniqueness of the model
The pads produced by Swachh compare to the best multi-national products (in terms of absorbency, dry feel, finish) in the market and are half the price. These pads do not have harmful additives of colours and perfume. The pads come in a bio-degradable disposal paper with instructions on usage, disposal and healthy practices during menstruation. The pads not just have better functionality than all low-cost pads currently in the Indian market, but also communicate health benefits and are aesthetically attractive for the women wanting to buy these pads. The product design leads women towards proper usage and disposal but also drives the willingness to pay which is critical for long term sustainability of the programme.
Our machine is compatible with different types of raw materials. Understanding the need of the hour, we have partnered with a raw material supplier for replacing plastic with oxo-biodegradable materials, which degrades in compost environment in 2-3 years. We are also constantly looking out for new innovations in the raw materials for sanitary napkins and upgrading our machines to have the capability of adapting with changing needs of women and the environment.
The last mile reach
Menstruation is still a taboo topic in India. Women and girls are unaware of this natural phenomenon, because we don’t openly talk about this issue. There are several myths and cultural practices associated with menstruation, making it difficult to bring about a behavioral change among people.
Knowing how important it is to educate women and girls about healthy menstrual hygiene practices, our business model focuses on door-to-door services at the last mile, which is very different from the models that large and small scale companies follow. After comprehensive training sessions with our team on MHM, a “Sangini” (trained village women for sales and awareness creation) provides sanitary napkins and organises awareness camps for women in her village, while earning a substantial margin on each packet she sells.
This business model makes sure that our product has a better reach in remote areas, creates awareness on menstrual hygiene and health in rural areas, and also provides income to the families of the Sanginis, hence bringing change to the community holistically.
- The Saral Design Team.
- The automatic Swachch machine.
She is the co-founder and CEO of Saral Designs, a Mumbai-based start-up providing access to quality affordable menstrual hygiene products to low-income women in India. She has been recognised as the top 25 trailblazing women in business by Forbes India and 25 most powerful women in impact by Business Today.