“For my post-graduate degree it was obvious to me that I would write about adolescents and teenagers. I read tons of articles fighting for honesty in advertising, embracing womanhood, understanding our bodies and freedom of expression and came up with a research proposal that asked important questions about the challenges that young women face in society.
Finding answers took me out of my comfort zone to Umlazi, situated west of Durban. It is one of the biggest townships in KwaZulu Natal which is home to over 400,000 people and is divided according to to the alphabet. I focused on F section; home to gangs, criminals, rapists, drug merchants and unemployed young men and women, and began interviewing young women.
I quickly came across a problem I hadn’t expected: girls missing school because they couldn’t afford sanitary protection. Some of the girls admitted that they could only use one pad a day at school due to the cost, so they either left school for the day or didn’t go at all.
I learned that girls used a small piece of old fabric instead of sanitary towels. Once full, they washed the cloth and left it in the sun to dry. One girl spoke about how it’s just easier to stay at home “because there are no boys or bullies to make fun of you.”
A pad that lasts all day
Based on my insights I created the Happy Days sanitary pads brand, to help young women feel confident, to embrace their periods and understand their bodies. ‘Happy Days’ speaks one simple language: that of the menstrual cycle. Formulated from three years of research, it resulted in a longer length pad with a soft cotton top sheet that can be worn for the entire school day.
Happy Days celebrates womanhood and makes girls accept themselves by countering the insecurities faced by young people. It’s a brand that understands the challenges that every woman faces, presenting a positive experience of menstruation, stripping it of anxiety.
The distribution model is based on the social change aspects adopted by private and public schools, as well as community centers. The decision not to take Happy Days into a traditional retail space was to avoid added costs in the supply chain, in order to provide a cost effective high quality product to meet the needs of the lower earning female population. Sustained by sponsorships, my hope is to move into direct selling in the next twelve months; empowering women themselves as entrepreneurs as well as providing educational support to young women.”
Photography: Sydelle Willow Smith