Many of us swear by our skin care rituals and mostly all of us take a quick glance at the ingredients before buying any product. The information about the harmful effects of chemicals in skin care products has turned the industry on its head. There is a paradigm shift - manufacturers and consumers are now focussing on products with 'natural' ingredients.
But how about sanitary napkins? The quintessential product of every woman's life. Consider this, during the monthly menstruation cycle, the sanitary napkin stays in direct contact with our skin for at least five days a month. Have you ever wondered, what are the ingredients used to make the napkins? As long as it is thin, absorbent and leak-proof, I don't remember caring much about the 'ingredients' or even flipping over a pack to check. But, 27-year-old Tanvi Johri did.
"It was kind of a revelation for me to actually understand that first of all, there is no mandate for any sanitary pad manufacturer to disclose the ingredients that go into making these pads, said Johri. "During our research, most women we spoke to told us they think the pads are made out of cotton. This is absolutely not true, because more than 90 percent of any pad is plastic. When you are going to the market and buying a face cream, when you are buying a body lotion, you're conscious about checking the kind of ingredients that go into making the products. Please go ahead and look at your intimate care as well."
Tanvi, a chemistry honors graduate who has done an MBA in marketing, grew up with a problem common with the majority of women - rashes during periods. But the difference was she worked towards solving the problem. She researched extensively and discovered numerous problems related to sanitary napkin usage.
The non-compostable nature of sanitary napkins also came to light in her research. She realised it was a global problem and the western world had already started working on solutions by launching organic sanitary napkins. Armed with a clear idea, Tanvi approached her long-time friend Rikshav Borah, the man with the business acumen. Borah, an experienced entrepreneur, had founded DudeGenie which was acquired by travel firm Yatra.
"When Tanvi approached me with the idea of all-natural sanitary pads, I started talking to everyone. Initially, it was mostly family members," Borah said. "I went to my cousins, I went to my sister and asked them what are the problems that you are facing with your current pads? What are the general problems that you have? The initial reaction was 'why are you asking me this?'. It was a little weird at first."
The friends turned business partners launched Carmesi in November 2017. Carmesi makes natural and bio-degradable sanitary pads and panty liners.
“The top layer of the sanitary pad, that comes in direct contact with the user's skin, is made of corn starch," Tanvi said. "The absorbent layer is made of bamboo fibre and the third layer is made of corn-based bioplastic. Decomposition of the pads starts in about 6-12 months of disposal and it takes about two years for the pads to decompose. The pads are completely rash free. Every Carmesi pad comes with a disposal bag.”
The disposable bags are biodegradable too. Why is this important? Because 12.3 billion pads are disposed of every year in India. Majority of these are not biodegradable and take hundreds of years to decompose, according to Menstrual Health Alliance India data.
It doesn't end here. The super absorbent polymers (SAP) present in pads absorb and retain thirty or more times their weight in fluid, causing blockages in sanitation systems. According to Census 2011, India has 375 million girls and women of reproductive age, most of whom experience menstruation every month.
"All we are trying to do is normalise periods," said the co-founders of Carmesi. Which is why they chose to call their product 'Carmesi', a Spanish word which means crimson, the color of the blood.
"We want women to realise that periods is as important as any other part of their personal care regime. Better be safe than sorry, better be more conscious and aware about the products you use & better have a product that is safer for your body and for the environment as well," Tanvi added.
Tanvi and Rikshav started Carmesi with their personal money. They eventually raised an undisclosed seed amount from a group of angel investors like Sunil Kalra, Amit Manocha and Arun Venkatachalam of the Murugappa Group. Recently, Carmesi also raised $0.5 million in pre-series. A round from Samrat Bedi, the managing director of Forest Essentials.
Carmesi caters to 10,000 customers every month and has managed to retain more than 50 percent customers. Around 60 percent of their demand is from tier-1 cities and the remaining 40 percent from tier-2 cities.
"We have two sizes of sanitary pads, a 280 mm regular pad and a 315 mm XL pad for heavier bleeding. We introduced panty liners a couple of months ago. We sell through our website
www.mycarmesi.com. We are available on Amazon, Nykaa, Bigbasket, Purple," Tanvi said.
The company currently has a subscription model available on Amazon. Women can directly go on Amazon and subscribe to the product and it will get delivered to them, she said, adding that they the are soon launching this on their website as well.
Carmesi manufactures its pads in China and packages them in India. The government's move to keep sanitary pads manufactured in India out of the GST net is a disadvantage for companies like Carmesi which manufacture outside India.
However, Rikshav is confident that with increasing demand for 'natural' products, scalability is the next step. Tanvi concedes that competition is growing in the biodegradable sanitary pad market, but she is convinced that once customers start using Carmesi sanitary pads "it will speak for itself and will be incomparable."
Footnote: I decided to put the product to test. I went for a shoot wearing the Carmesi XL pad. It was a six-hour outdoor shoot which involved a lot of running and walking. Carmesi definitely felt 'different' compared to usual sanitary pads. I didn't feel like I was wearing a pad and the best part is, I suffered no rashes. Bonus, the thick disposable bag in place of the flimsy wrapper. Also, the packaging will surprise you.