Sujata Pawar and Apurv Agrawal established Avni, a brand that creates innovative menstrual hygiene products that are chemical and plastic free. Founded in 2021, the company is led by Sujata who also functions as the CEO. Drawing inspiration from Mother Nature, Indian grandmothers, and Ayurveda, Sujata strives to create healthy products for menstruating women.
The worldwide menstrual care market is anticipated to expand at a CAGR of 5-6% between 2021 and 2026. Owing to rising awareness of period health issues and the demand for sustainable and environmentally friendly choices, the menstrual care business has been expanding over the past few years. Businesses are investing in R&D to produce goods that respond to a variety of tastes and demands, including comfort, absorbency, and environmental effect. Factors such as increased disposable incomes, urbanization, and e-commerce have also contributed to the industry’s impending growth.
Sanitary pads are known to each and everyone in urban areas but when it comes to rural areas, the awareness of such basic menstrual hygiene products is still lagging. Even in urban areas, there are women who either don’t believe in using pads or are unable to afford it.
However, the bottom line remains that women must take proper care and maintain hygiene while menstruating. Failing to do so can lead to serious healthcare challenges.
Born out of the need to help menstruating women is Anvi, a women-friendly brand that provides comfortable cloth pads. It is a menstrual hygiene company that offers toxin-free, practical menstruation care products for women.
Sujata Pawar and Apurv Agrawal established Avni to offer practical menstruation care items for women depending on their flow, body shape, and comfort. A woman on her period and the difficulties she faces served as the major inspiration for creating the start-up. Sujata who is also the CEO of the company was startled to see that none of the market's current brands took these factors into account despite the frequency of skin illnesses. She drew inspiration from Mother Nature, Indian grandmothers, and Ayurveda to create healthy products for menstruating women.
Her goal is to encourage and teach women to adopt healthier menstrual hygiene practices, and to provide organic menstruation products as an alternative to commercial products.
We caught up with Sujata to pick her brains about the entrepreneurial journey, thoughts on leadership and much more. Here are choice excerpts from the conversation.
As a woman wellness firm founder, what inspired you to start your own business?
The motivational tale behind my start-up is my own personal experience as a woman. I’ve had periods and the challenges that stem from them from the past 18 years, and I can say with certainty that commercial plastic-based pads have always caused redness, discomfort, and various types of skin infections. So, I began looking for better alternatives 8 years ago and was surprised to discover that none of the existing brands in the market catered to these considerations. With the desire to bring holistic change, I set out on a mission to provide well-researched menstrual hygiene products that are not only appropriate for intimate areas but also eco-friendly and safe for sanitation workers. After doing my research and applying my original ideas, we launched our first product- Avni Anti-microbial reusable cloth pad- Avni Lush & Avni Fluff, India’s first tested cloth pad that not only absorbs period leaks but also protects against infections. Both the products were very well received by conscious menstruators and since then there was no looking back. Investing time and effort paid off for us as we successfully reached out to 55,000+ Indian menstruators since our inception in April 2021.
How do you think women’s leadership is spurring change and innovation in the business world?
Without women’s equal involvement in leadership roles, no institution—society or organization—can operate effectively in the 21st century. It’s no longer a story that by bringing distinctive perspective, innovation, creativity, and collaboration to organizations and teams, many women-led businesses have overwhelmingly fared better than their counterparts during cycles of economic crisis. As per a Pew Research Center study on women and leadership, there are few distinctions between men and women in terms of critical leadership qualities like intelligence and creativity, while many observe that women are even more compassionate and organized than men.
Can you give an example of a time when your unique perspective as a woman leader helped you make a decision that positively impacted your business?
We at Avni recognized early on that transitioning away from traditional period products would be difficult for many menstruators. So, in order to establish Avni as a reliable women’s health brand, we provided dedicated doctors, medical experts, and a 24-hour AvniBuddy service helpline. Since every woman’s period is unique, our customer service representatives work diligently to identify each customer’s concerns and guide them towards better product application and usability. Not only does the service raise awareness, but it also aims to dispel menstrual myths and make the hygiene ritual more manageable and efficacious.
In your opinion, what are some of the challenges that women face in leadership positions, and how can they be overcome?
It is primarily cultural biases and social conditioning that favour men over women in leadership roles. It’s such a strong structural setup that even women regard other women as incompetent. Maintaining a work-life balance is another significant barrier to female leadership. Even when both spouses work full-time, women continue to carry the majority of domestic and childcare responsibilities at home. Women in this setting are at the receiving end to strike the perfect balance between home and work demands. Moreover, as women professionals advance up the corporate ladder, more time spent in the office is viewed as a violation of family values. To determine the standards for common competencies for leadership positions, we must value both transformational leadership of men and women without bias. There is a need to devise women-friendly policies that encourage women to run for leadership positions as well as to thrive independently.
How do you ensure that your company is creating a supportive and inclusive environment for women and other underrepresented groups?
To educate people about the dangers of poor menstrual hygiene, we have been conducting informative sessions, particularly in rural India, under the DAAG project, in which we collaborate with local NGOs for their support, to promote conscious environmentally friendly menstrual products and to make it a mainstream discourse. Through this social outreach project, we have donated organic menstrual health kits to resource-poor menstruators such as sex workers, waste pickers, and college dropouts who rely on low-quality products such as rags and toilet paper during their periods. Our menstrual healthcare sessions have had a significant impact on the environment and the lives of these women by filling in the void of knowledge in society. Furthermore, each cloth pad purchased by a customer is hand stitched with love by our tribe of amazing women spread across rural India. 8% of our profits are dedicated to uplifting women and girls through education and high-quality products. So, with each pad purchased, one woman takes a step closer to financial independence.
What advice do you have for other women who are looking to start their own businesses or advance in their careers?
When starting a business, you must first determine your purpose. Do your homework and be prepared before going after tasks. Be part of workshops, seminars, intellectual forums and make efforts to reach out to the contacts you need to build your business because no one is coming to knock on your door. Make decisions without fear, and make mistakes without remorse. Be open to new experiences, whether it’s introducing a new product or targeting a different customer demographic. Most importantly, never underestimate your competencies.
What initiatives or programs do you think are necessary to support women’s leadership and innovation in business?
For the all-around growth of women and for making them fit for the leadership position, a congenial and secure social environment is an utmost necessity. At the very start, women need the unconditional support of family and the society in which they live to realize their potential to the full. To promote women’s leadership, businesses and organizations also should conduct a thorough analysis of their workforce composition and take immediate measures if gender imbalance exists. Women-friendly policies and initiatives which can ensure a smooth journey for a woman to pursue her dream career as well as enable her to access resources and connections are more important.
What steps are you taking to ensure that your company is staying ahead of the curve in terms of innovation and creativity?
We have realized that the most effective way of staying ahead of all, constantly innovating is by staying in touch with our customers on a regular basis. Once they start believing in the concept, in the product, they come up with unique and interesting ideas that probably we tend to miss. For example, our concept of having double buttons was inspired by our customers, launching a period wear wash was from our customers.
How do you prioritize work-life balance for yourself and your employees, and why is this important for women leaders?
We always insist our team to take regular breaks, we ourselves take regular breaks from work. As a policy we ensure that there are no official calls or agency calls post 6:00 PM on any day. We do not interact with any of our colleagues. It gives them time to unwind and relax on a daily basis. Being in Mumbai, the most tiresome part is to travel on a regular basis. We have adopted a hybrid work policy which ensures the high productivity levels of our employees.
Finally, what are your future goals for your business, and how do you plan to continue driving positive change and innovation in the industry?
At Avni, we believe that organic hygiene products are a necessity for all menstruators. Therefore, we intend to target every pincode of the country via our online and offline models and do not want to be restricted to a particular geography. We simultaneously seek to create a world where menstruation is not considered taboo anymore, where period poverty is non-existent and every menstruator is proud of bleeding. In rural areas, we are keen to increase menstrual hygiene management awareness while also creating job opportunities. We hope to reach 10 million women through our products, ambassador network, and micro-entrepreneurship initiatives as part of our ongoing efforts to improve women’s lives. Simultaneously, we are working tirelessly to broaden our product portfolio and strengthen our team in order to meet our business objectives.