Experts Column

Fem-Tech in the Age of Sustainability: How the Face of Feminine Hygiene Products in India is set to Change

A gold medalist doctor with a degree in Preventive Medicine, Dr. Diksha is passionate about public health and is working with government, non-government and corporate houses to promote preventive healthcare.

Let’s be honest with ourselves! Whether we agree or fret the idea that climate change is real, the overall start-up ecosystem is tilting strongly towards sustainability. Any product worth its merit will not do well in the millennial market if it remotely gets linked to environmental pollution. With the average Jane and Jaya here being well aware of her carbon footprint, green products and green marketing are leading the rally to save mother earth. Parallel to this, the world has also witnessed a growth in the Fem tech industry with new found companies focusing exclusively on new age solutions for problems faced by women in their everyday life.

Leading within the Fem tech sector is the product category for menstrual health and hygiene. For anyone who has not been following the sustainable menstruation revolution, the world is gradually shifting focus from disposable sanitary products to reusable ones, such as menstrual cups, cloth pads, labial folds and more. While the women readjust to the idea that inserting a cup instead of tampons is more sensible and liberating, the disposable pads are now being replaced with biodegradable sanitary napkins in many urban closets!

In an ongoing survey conducted so far among 3707 college students in India, we have observed that while 94.6 percent women are using the commercially available pads, 82 percent of them are aware about the pollution caused by the pads they are using. A majority (63 percent) of these surveyed women also reported that they have either already shifted to greener products or are seriously considering the shift. There is enough evidence now that the market for sustainable products is increasing in young India and the industry needs to take note of the same.

The consumer today is aware and demanding for the products to be eco-friendly. They are also clearly conscious about the materials and methods that go into manufacturing, packaging and marketing of these products. This trend is clearly leading to a place where fem-tech industry in India has to give more focus to natural & organic ingredients, ecologically sustainable manufacturing units, and socially conscious organizations that bring these products to the market.

Every well-researched product must have the best naturally sourced ingredients, preferably originating from local communities. The overall objective being to make the products truly sustainable from it’s very beginning to the end. How organizations treat and value local cultures and communities is also very relevant to the overall sustainability cycle.

Gone are the days when having a GMP certificate was enough, today’s consumer is ready to question the ecological impact of the manufacturing unit itself. This will lead to a new era in contract manufacturing, where the existing questions on product quality will no longer be enough! While terms like biodegradable, chemical free and others have already become a norm, the women today are ready to hear if your products can be planted in their composting pits after use! Is your product Biodegradable or Compostable? Even though technically the two terms are used interchangeably, the ambiguity of the same has been used to label many products biodegradable, when they make take years to actually compost to soil. The women growing vegetables in their balcony compost gardens will not be forgiving to any false claims in the age of a very vocal social media, and therefore companies must ensure correct information flow.

While the consumer expects responsible production, the packaging matters too. Many sanitary products are absorbent and any moisture exposure tends to be detrimental to product quality. Hence much innovation will be needed in creating airtight, waterproof packaging that itself is sustainable and cost effective. Product packaging design and content also gives green marketing opportunities to ensure the users are aware about stories of responsibility coming from organizations.

For a minute lets now shift focus to other categories of products in Fem-tech. Whether its contraception, female urination aids, feminine pain relief solutions or intimate hygiene, most products in current ecosystem may be naturally sourced, but are hardly biodegradable. In time to come, focus will turn to make these products as compostable as possible without it affecting the cost effectiveness of the products. This development will only be possible with dedicated research and some investment on part of organizations on resources for the same.

While the expectations from consumer end are clear, the rule of competition dictates the industry to bring out the best quality products at the lowest available prices. It is an irony in itself that the most natural, chemical free, compostable options are often the most expensive ones as well. With the Indian feminine hygiene market forecasted to grow at a CAGR of 16.18 percent during the forecast period 2020 – 2025, how this booming industry will tackle the challenges of matching sustainability with cost-effectiveness remains to be seen.