For Sapna Marde, ‘that time of the month’ is truly a dreaded period; and this has nothing to do with her seething stomach pain, increased body temperature or blood stains. What she actually fears is requesting her family members to purchase sanitary napkins.
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.
This sentiment is resonated by 84% of the rural Indian women. With so many taboos linked with menstruation, a simple demand like asking for menstrual hygiene is a thing of shame and embarrassment. And just like Sapna, women in rural areas lack access to a simple, yet important thing like sanitary napkins.
Currently, the sanitary napkin market is dominated by large-scale MNC’s. But because of high distribution costs, the products are 60% more expensive in voluminous products like pads and diapers. Also, many existing brands do not really cater to remote locations.
After extensively researching on the plight endured by these women, Suhani Mohan, a young girl from Mumbai decided to tackle this issue ingeniously.
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When one talks about poverty, they address issues around water shortage, housing and lack of food. But menstruation is a taboo topic big-time among the poor,
With this ambitious agenda in mind, Suhani along with Kartik Mehta, co-founded Saral Designs. With a background in machine design and engineering, Kartik is the quiet force at Saral Designs responsible for designing the patented manufacturing machine.
In just a short span of time, Saral Designs has sold over 1.3 million pads changing the lives of over 20,000 women. By tying-up with NGO’s and organizing outreach programs, Saral Designs has reached out to over 100,000 women. With their product live on Amazon, the hope to double these numbers by the end of next year!
Propped on a bean bag in a two-story industrial space at Vashi, Suhani gets candid with her journey.
Can you give our readers a brief overview about Saral Designs?
Suhani: Yes, sure. So, Saral Designs is a Mumbai-based startup, working towards creating a better future in menstrual hygiene and sanitation using product design, machine technology, and innovative delivery mechanisms.
In order to tackle this issue of menstrual hygiene, it was important for us to get genuine and direct feedback from our target audience- the rural Indian women. And honestly, the process was extremely enriching.
For example, we had initially priced the product at less than Rs. 10 and our packaging was brown in color with minimum instructions. The women returned the next day with an embarrassing look on their faces. Apparently, their sons thought there were chocolates inside!
So, was your design process iterative?
Suhani: Oh, we did undergo an extensive iteration process for design. After 3 years, the design of our product- Active- has finally struck the right balance between color, intent, and education.
Even though the price of a product is usually the deciding factor while making a purchase, at the end of the day people want value for their money; no matter who your audience is. This is why our packaging talks more about the quality of our product.
We looked at it more from a brand perspective- what does Active really signify and what does it want to communicate? Educating our audiences about the health benefits of using a napkin has always been our priority. A plus sign perfectly describes that. Other factors like the meaning of terms like super absorbency and length of wings have also been explained.
Also, in order to stand out as a brand, it was important for us to take the road less taken.
Instead of going for subtle colors like pink and blue to help viciously hide these packets, we decided to go for a more distinct color on our packaging and not let the women feel embarrassed with what they were carrying.
The Active packaging is a bright yellow outer cover that talks about the various health benefits, quality of the product and instructions on how to use and dispose of it. We also decided on not having an image of the napkin but instead allocating the extra space on educating the buyers.
Also, Active comes in a small, compact box. Unlike plastic, printing on boxes is quite costly. We strategically finalized on three colors and ideated our design accordingly.
How is packaging playing an important role for Saral Designs?
Suhani: Early into our setup, we figured a salesperson or an advertisement can only bring the customer to your product, but finally it is the packaging that finally converts.
Especially when you are looking to scale your business, your packaging becomes the voice.
When it comes to packaging, quality matters a lot- how the finishing is done, thickness of the outer cover, standard of the material used are major deciding factors.
For example, earlier the GSM of our sanitary packet was very low because of which the napkins inside were visible. This gave the outer cover an impression like it had spots on it, giving the product a very cheap look. In our next manufacturing batch, we then decided to increase the GSM.
With direct feedback from our target audience, we kept iterating on the packaging specifications.
One of the major concerns of our users was maintaining the pads once the plastic was opened. The pads would literally keep dropping out from the cover. Hence, we introduced Active in a compact box. One can remove the required pads and neatly tuck away the box. Saral Designs is the first company to bring this concept into the market.
We give a lot of importance to packaging as it has proved to be an effective way to change brand loyalties and perception of people…
Sounds interesting. So, did you face any challenges when it came to the procurement of these materials?
Suhani: Luckily for us, we were in an industrial area so we were interacting with a lot of manufacturers and distributors.
Unfortunately, despite knowing these suppliers, our minimum order quantity was comparatively quite small. I mean we cannot stock 5 lac boxes and then hope to change the design as per feedback.
The big manufacturers do not really entertain small players like us and as a startup, it is very difficult to pre-invest and stock packaging products, especially when we are undergoing so many iterations.
Also, when you are new, the people you are dealing with can see that you are new. And of course, they end up quoting extremely high costs. Despite repeated negotiations, it was very difficult for us to find someone under our budget.
How instrumental was Bizongo in the procurement of packaging?
Suhani: Yes, definitely Bizongo has been of great help!
The biggest help we got from Bizongo was eliminating the hassle of negotiation with suppliers and getting quite a lot of favorable rates than what we were getting outside. Also, the payment cycles were quite friendly.
Initially, when you do not have good relations with suppliers, they look for upfront payments from the customers, which is understandable. But for a startup, it is quite difficult.
With Bizongo taking care of our end-to-end packaging, we were able to get the same packaging on credit. As a startup, every penny counts; and this payment method saved us from burning a hole in our pockets.
One more thing I would like to add.
After extensively researching the market, pricing for standardized packaging like cartons and tapes on the Bizongo website is really unbeatable.
For such packaging that is used in our day to day operations, it greatly eases our mind when ordering from Bizongo. Just click a button and your order is delivered- there is absolutely no worrying whether the truck has left the warehouse, or the supplier has started the manufacturing batch. It has helped us save tonnes of time.
If you had to refer Bizongo to other businesses, what would you say?
Suhani: Well I already refer Bizongo to a lot of my fellow entrepreneurs who are starting into the manufacturing space. It doesn’t matter which sector since the primary and secondary packaging is required in every hardware product. In manufacturing, there are a lot of aspects that you have to take care of and procuring packaging is a big vertical that you have to manage.
With Bizongo, this big chunk of your time and energy disappears; helping you focus on your core business.
So, what’s the future of packaging in the menstrual hygiene industry?
Suhani: Interesting you asked this question because some of our team members had recently traveled to China and found some amazing packaging designs.
In China, the sanitary market is truly saturated. More than 70% of the women in China actively use napkins, as opposed to the 16% in India, and the competition is quite fierce there.
In order to attract customers, the brands there focus a lot more on quirky, smart, user-friendly packaging. Like, one company had given the sanitary packaging a small lunch box design for school girls to carry easily; there was another whose design looked similar to how a fresh wipes packaging is designed.
The scope in India is immense but the current market leaders do not really think around how to elevate packaging for ease of use. With more people adopting sanitary napkins into their daily lives, this stagnation in design and innovation is sure to change.