WUKA was born out of my desire to create a brand that empowers everyone that experiences menstruation so that nothing, especially not their period, would hold them back. I also wanted to address the environmental damage single-use period products have on the planet.
I have a personal understanding of both issues which undoubtedly fuelled my desire to empower women and help tackle plastic waste through WUKA.
Growing up in Nepal, I experienced the now illegal practice of Chapaudi, a menstrual taboo which prohibits menstruating persons from participating in normal day-to-day activities. I was sent to my Aunt’s house and confined in a room on my own whilst I was bleeding – I wasn’t allowed to touch family members as I was thought of as ‘impure’.
Access to period products was limited - I was given old sari rags to use whilst bleeding. These were unhygienic, unreliable and incredibly impractical, limiting my ability to take part in sports and exercise with my peers.
When I came to the UK in 2010, I was astonished by the huge range of menstrual products available. And yet, I quickly noticed that most of the products on offer were neither comfortable nor leak-proof and they certainly were not sustainable. The saris I had been given back in Nepal may have been impractical, but at least they didn’t contain vast amounts of plastic like the readily available pads and tampons I had no option but to use here.
Whilst studying for my Environmental Science degree in 2016, I discovered that more than 200,000 tonnes of tampons and pads were sent to UK landfill every year, contributing to a mounting tide of plastic pollution. This was my ‘lightbulb’ moment. I knew I had to do something about the way menstruation was handled and so I set out to create WUKA.
I began work on a sewing machine, stitching together multiple pieces of fabric to create my first pair of sustainable, effective, and comfortable period pants. With the support of my husband, a strong Kickstarter campaign and multiple award wins, including the 2022 Queen’s Award for Sustainable Development, WUKA is now a market-leading scale-up tackling the social and environmental issues surrounding menstrual products head on.
A Sustainable Future
Amid a climate crisis, it has never been so important for everyone to consider the personal changes they can make. Plastic-riddled, single-use menstrual products are used by millions of women every month with 4.3 billion menstrual products used per year in the UK alone. A year’s worth of disposable pads and tampons for one person produces 8.9kg of CO2 emissions; the same as charging a mobile phone more than 1000 times.
Just one pair of reusable period pants can save 200 disposables from polluting our oceans or going to landfills and will reduce an individual’s carbon footprint by six times if ditching pads, and cut it down four times if switching from tampons.
Through WUKA I want to encourage the menstruating population to consider the personal changes they can make to lead more environmentally friendly lives and encourage everyone to become conscious consumers.
That’s not to say that the answer is as simple as switching to reusable period products; it’s also important to consider the materials they are made from. For example, conventional cotton production uses insecticides and herbicides which are washed out of soils, polluting our rivers and damaging the environment – not to mention the vast amounts of water required for irrigation when farming cotton.
To date, WUKA customers have prevented an estimated 3,500 tonnes of CO2 emissions, the same as planting 60,000 trees. If the 15 million women and individuals who menstruate in the UK switched to WUKA Period Pants, we would reduce carbon emissions by 4.2 million tonnes. That's equal to more than 2.5 million return economy class flights from London to New York.
And it’s not just better for the environment, as switching to reusable period products can also save people money. Cost can be a huge barrier to the accessibility of menstrual products for women and girls today, with many across the UK currently facing period poverty - a serious and growing issue thanks to price hikes and the cost-of-living crisis.
Although the initial outlay is bigger, in the longer term, reusable period product options will often work out cheaper than using disposables. A pair of WUKA reusable pants, for example, could save a person around £1,000 in a lifetime compared to using single use pads.
Looking ahead to the next five years, my mission remains the same – to empower women to realise that nothing should hold them back whilst on their period. As part of this we, at WUKA, will continue to improve access to quality, sustainable period products whilst moving towards eliminating period poverty. Because anyone who menstruates should be able to Wake Up, Kick Ass.