The winner of the new category ‘Best CEO – Organic and Natural Feminine Care Industry’ spoke to Business Worldwide Magazine about the company’s achievements so far, and why its work is so important.
The Business Worldwide CEO Awards are all about identifying pioneering leaders who challenge perceptions and inspire others to achieve similar successes. One of this year’s winners, Sinja Stadelmaier of The Female Company, has made huge strides in what has been traditionally considered a notoriously challenging business area – period products.
Periods affect around 50% of the world’s population. Yet women’s sanitary products, and menstruation itself, are still seen as taboo; an embarrassing subject that’s whispered about and replaced with euphemisms like “Aunt Flo is coming to visit” or “The painters are in.” Important issues such as the tampon tax and the increased use of plastics in feminine hygiene products have highlighted the fact that periods are an unavoidable part of life with a far-reaching impact, so women like Sinja Stadelmaier are leading a revolution that’s all about challenging the way we think about them.
As the co-founder and CEO of The Female Company, Sinja is a trailblazing leader on a mission to redefine female health. Born and raised in a small town just outside of Stuttgart, Germany,
she had always dreamed of moving to a bigger city and making an impact on the world. Self employment was uncommon in Sinja’s family and neighbourhood, with stability taking priority over finding a fulfilling, happy career. But when she met Ann-Sophie Claus at University, she decided to take a gamble and give up a steady job in Berlin in favour of following a dream.
Travelling together through India after their studies they fell in love with the wonderful, vibrant country. But this was more than the average gap-year journey of self discovery. They discovered an incredible number of taboos about menstruation, with women becoming isolated during their periods and girls being considered so “unclean” during this perfectly natural process that they were kept away from school. Returning to Germany they realised that things weren’t actually so different back at home. Tampons were hidden in fists or up sleeves, with requests for sanitary products spoken in hushed tones. The more they read and researched, the more problems they discovered, such as:
- Tampon manufacturers are not required by law to show the ingredients of their products on their packaging
- Tampons were taxed at a huge 19% VAT, that’s 12% more than a bunch of flowers
- Many women in Germany (and around the world) are unable to afford suitable sanitary products, adding to the shame and discomfort associated with periods
Appalled by the knowledge that so many women were unable to afford basic necessities that kept them comfortable, clean and embarrassment free, Sinja and Ann-Sophie knew they had to do something. So, at just 23, Sinja found herself as CEO of The Female Company; a groundbreaking business that’s changing the lives of women all over the world.
The Female Company is entirely new in its approach to periods; making cool and sexy products for modern women. In just two years the company has gone from bootstrapping to employing 25 motivated employees, with millions of products sold. The Female Company’s publication “The Tampon Book” was part of a major political campaign that led to the reduction of tampon tax from 19% to 7% in Germany, representing an important shift in the industry.
The company delivers period and postpartum products on a subscription basis, meaning women always have access to them when needed. It has led a global social media campaign, with hashtags including #tampontakeoever and #supersexy. Bold, attractive boxes have been designed by unique artists to change tampon packaging to a design feature for modern bathrooms, rather than an embarrassing essential that’s tucked away in a drawer.
The environmental factor
The harmful environmental effects of plastic has been well documented, but many people don’t realise how prevalent it is in feminine hygiene products. Since the middle of the last century, tampons and pads have been produced with an increasing amount of plastic. From applicators to wrappers, it’s become a standard ingredient in the vast majority of period products, but because these items are classed as “medical waste” it’s been hard for campaigners to prove exactly how much damage they do to the environment. Rough estimates, however, are alarming. With the average woman menstruating throughout 40 years of her life and using between 5 and 15,000 tampons during that time, that’s a huge amount of plastic to end up in landfills.
The Female Company is committed to making female sanitary products kinder to bodies and the environment. Their period products, that include tampons, bandages, panty liners and menstrual cups, are made from certified organic cotton, with no harmful chemicals or pesticides, and produced to high social standards.
The organic cotton tampons are soft, absorbent and up to 98,4% compostable, and the company is already replacing plastic in sanitary pads with organic maize starch. The tampons are also packed in paper instead of plastic wrapping, dramatically reducing the amount of female hygiene products ending up in landfills. And for every subscription or one-off sale that’s taken out, a woman in India is provided with a washable cloth bandage, releasing her from the embarrassment and isolation that periods have previously represented.
Sinja explained, “We believe in the new generation of strong, modern women! Together we want to break taboos, make the period sexy and ensure that every woman, at all times, has tampons available in every place.”
The award Best CEO – Organic and Natural Feminine Care Industry is the first of its kind. Sinja told BWM what it means to her to be the outright winner in the category. “Our vision is to empower women to be proud in their womanhood and I honestly could not be more proud to be the first to win the award in the category of feminine hygiene industry with The Female Company. I would like to thank my nominator and hope I can be a role model for all the women who want to kick-ass besides all the second-guessing and the enviers and inspire them to make use of their voices.”