11 February 2021|Business Growth, Latest Posts, Launching a business, Meet the Successful Founder
Ruby is the award-winning founder of sustainable period pants brand WUKA, responsible for the UK’s first period pants that can completely replace the need for disposable pads and tampons. Ruby is also an Environmental Scientist and was listed in the 2019 Top Women in Femtech. Ruby grew up in Nepal, which inspires her work in making menstruation positive, taboo-free and environmentally-friendly.
Here she tells us about her journey to becoming a female business founder, what inspired her to create WUKA, and her plans for the future:
“I grew up in Nepal, where shame about periods was widespread. Machine is the Nepalese word for period, which basically translates as ‘untouchable’. When I first started my period, I experienced a form of Chapaudi, now illegal in Nepal.
During my period, I was sent to my aunt’s house and wasn’t allowed to go out in the sun, look at men or touch plants – as it was believed that I would kill them, just because I was having a period.
Like many other girls, I was given old sari rags to use for the bleeding, which happened to be reusable and eco-friendly, but not particularly hygienic. They weren’t leak-proof nor comfortable and they didn’t stay in place when I played sports!
When I arrived in the UK in 2010, I was astonished by the wide range of menstrual products available on the shelves, but quickly realised that most of them were neither comfortable nor leak-proof, and they certainly were not eco-friendly. We can see the single-use plastic in tampon applicators, but most of us don’t realise that pads are usually made from up to 80% plastic.
When studying for my Environmental Science degree at the Open University in 2016, I discovered that more than 200,000 tonnes of tampons and pads were sent to UK landfills every year, contributing to the mounting tide of plastic pollution. This was my ‘lightbulb moment’, when I decided I had to do something about the way menstruation was handled.
Struggling to find sustainable, effective and comfortable period wear, I decided to create my own and got to work with a sewing machine, making my first pair of period pants by sewing layers of material to underwear.
After sharing this first prototype with my husband, we decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to start the production of a small batch of period pants.
The success of the Kickstarter campaign demonstrated the high demand for period pants and so WUKA was launched in 2017.Fast forward nearly 4 years, and WUKA Period Pants can now be found in Sainsbury’s, Ocado, Planet Organic, Whole Foods as well as many independent retailers across the world.
I’m incredibly proud of our success to date and am so passionate about helping people to have a more sustainable, comfortable period. I believe that sustainable periods should not be a luxury, which is why I have been campaigning to remove the luxury tax (20% VAT) from period pants, petitioning to recognise them as a menstrual product so that they can be taxed fairly and help more people have access to affordable and sustainable options.To date we have gained 18,000 signatures on our petition and our local MP has started an Early Day Motion on our behalf. We are asking everyone to email their MP to ask them to sign the EDM, and to get as much support for the motion as possible.
Periods should not cost the earth – equality, social and environmental responsibility is at the heart of everything we do at WUKA. I strongly believe that everybody should have access to sustainable period wear, which is why I am campaigning against the luxury tax and regularly donating both product and funds to those most in need.
Looking into the future, my goal is to grow WUKA to become a household name, providing planet-friendly periods to everyone.”
Ruby shares her tips for those who might be planning to start their own business:
“I think it’s important to find something you’re truly passionate about, as this will motivate you on even the most stressful of days. It’s also essential to do as much research as you can: does your product or service solve a problem? Is there a demand or a gap in the market for your business?
Do your market research first, don’t just go creating a product that you personally like and want, you will have to find out if there is a need for it.
Validate, Validate, Validate. Anything you plan to do or are doing; you need to validate it first. Be Lean: Build, Test, Learn
Network and make connections – this is so important because there are so many people who might be willing to help you and share advice at no cost. Try and reach out to them.
When starting and growing a business, there will always be hurdles along the way. I tend to find that setbacks spur me on and make me hungry to solve whatever issue may be in front of me. I find that collaborative thinking is the best way forward, and helps to overcome most setbacks that come my way. I love having discussions with my team to gain different insights and ideas, so we can find the solution together.”