Lunapads sets social innovation example
Social innovation means different things to different people; and in a world dominated by consumerism, it may not often be the driving force behind a company. For Lunapads founders Madeleine Shaw and Suzanne Siemens, social enterprise and innovation are, they say, the key to their success.
Growing up with a traditional Asian upbringing, Suzanne Siemens was taught the importance of academics with an intense expectation to work in a respected profession. Ultimately, she was unfulfilled in her career as a chartered accountant and was seeking an outlet and creative expression for who she was.
With a social worker for a mom and a judge for a father, Madeleine Shaw credits her parents for her passion towards social justice. Growing up relatively affluent, Shaw understood that there was a bigger world than the one she had been accustomed to.
Shaw and Siemens first met in 1999 at a community leadership course held by Volunteer Vancouver and the Vancouver Board of Trade. While working on the same project together and learning about poverty, social investment and politics, they began to develop a shared passion. And after much encouragement from their spouses and loved ones, they went into business together to create Lunapads, a company that produces a line of reusable feminine products.
How did Lunapads begin and how has the company / product evolved since your beginnings?
Madeleine: I was an aspiring fashion designer, and I became allergic to tampons. Feminine hygiene products are something we take for granted. When I came to a place where I couldn’t use them anymore, I needed to find something else. Making this product made me question all of our cultural dialogue or lack thereof around our periods. I realized much of this had to do with the product and I felt really inspired to remake the products and sell them.
The values of Lunapads have always been a social based business and that’s where the mojo comes from. It’s a social revolution that has adopted a business to give it a vehicle in the world.
What has been one of the early challenges you've encountered?
Suzanne – While it was pretty tough in the early years, I think that now is our time, [because] there is this awareness among women looking for healthier choices for their bodies, whether it’s the food or the cosmetics they choose. That [awareness] extends to their feminine hygiene products. The Internet has been our channel of delivery to our customers. The rise of social media has been a success factor for us.
Some may believe that selling a reusable product is not the most profitable way to do business but your company goes beyond the typical business! How else does Lunapads as a product and as a company differ from its competitors?
Madeleine - Most people aren’t aware that people have a choice. Our task from a business perspective is that once we have a customer we have to find a new customer! We become focused on story telling and building a community, finding ways to engage our consumers to do the marketing for us – word of mouth.
Suzanne- We acknowledge that the market is so big, and the biggest task is how do we reach more women and let them know that there is a choice.
How is the feedback from your customers who have made the switch to your products?
Suzanne – There’s no shortage of stories, and we are launching a video called the Luna Revolution. In general, people are happier to find something that makes them feel better about their body, and they are saving the environment and saving money.
Madeleine – It’s such a powerful experience, it’s empowering and you get to know yourself better and it’s odd, because it’s something that women fear. What are the other consumer choices that I’ve been brainwashed to think I need?
Suzanne – When we first started, our business model was more to be in contact with stores and our stores were the customers but we realized that thinking distanced us from the ultimate end use consumer. The success does lie in having a relationship with the ultimate end use consumer.
Lunapads is making some philanthropic efforts around the world. What can you share about these programs?
Madeleine - We are working with a garment manufacturing company in Egypt and one of the problems with garment manufacturing is waste fabric. What we are doing is taking that waste fabric and making it into pads and underwear kits and we are sending 10,000 kits to girls in Malawi, It’s an innovative example of what we are doing. It’s cool because you’re taking something that would otherwise be garbage and you’re making it into something amazing. It’s low cost and eco friendly but the impact is huge because garment manufacturing takes place on this massive scale. [Production is] currently overseas, because the kits can be produced on a larger scale [and is] more proximate to people who need the products. [We also run] Pads4Girls, (based on the issue that girls are missing school during their periods). We send our products down to developing nations and we are helping a business in Uganda because they are the ones making the product. It’s so much better because it’s creating local employment.
Suzanne – [When we went down to Africa] it awakened this notion of development. It’s not about donating money or products, which are super important but [it's about] changing the model of development. Let’s give these individuals a way to get themselves out of their own poverty and tools to help them improve their lives.
A lot of people in the developing world have some money, and it’s more important for them to participate as consumers rather than passive recipients of charity - seeing that first hand is incredible.
Our next project is the One for One Campaign, launching within the next month. For every Lunapad that is purchased, one is given to a girl in East Africa through our sister company, Afripads.
How do you see the future for social entrepreneurs / social innovation? Any advice to those looking to adopt a similar mission-based model as yours?
Madeleine – I think we are having a bigger impact than we realized. Going to Uganda has been a tipping point. People are now interested in this new idea of social enterprise. We are part of this incredible community of mission based and socially environmentally aware businesses and have been for many years. It’s juts getting more influential and growing like crazy.
Suzanne – it’s a concept that is getting attention and helps that we get these speaking gigs. It’s partly our ability to be able to relate to these causes in a practical way. [Our advice to other businesses] that are aspiring to adopt the same model, [is to] do it in a way that makes sense for your business. You don’t have to travel to the other side of the world to make an impact; you can have an impact locally.
You just have to think about what you are doing and how it can have an impact. It’s not about taking a stretch, it’s expanding what you are already doing and making it accessible. We aren’t doing something that isn’t beyond our knowledge and means. It’s making people aware that they can have a social impact and that’s why people want to hear what we have to say.