We chat to Tsuno founder, Roz Campbell, to learn how small businesses can make a big difference – Tsuno rather than later.
Tsuno is a small business making a significant impact. Founded by change-making superwoman Roz Campbell, the company is a social enterprise on a mission to change how we look at periods by creating more sustainable period products. Tsuno also donates 50% of its profits from the sales of its sustainable bamboo fiber sanitary pads and organic cotton tampons to charities focused on empowering and supporting those without access to menstrual products and funding girls’ education in developing nations.
Tsuno has created a safe, supportive online space to empower women, educate its audience on issues impacting women and girls worldwide, and remove the taboo around periods. Their products are also beautifully presented, with much of the brand’s packaging designed by talented creatives within their community.
We sat down with Tsuno founder Roz to learn how Tsuno came about, how the business balances purpose and profit, and how other brands can start making a difference – Tsuno rather than later.
Hey Roz, tell us about Tsuno! What’s its purpose and mission?
Tsuno is my small business. It’s a disposable and sustainable period product company. Our pads are made from bamboo fiber and biodegradable films from corn starch, and our tampons are made from certified organic cotton. Reducing plastic in disposable period products is something I’m passionate about, as is reducing menstrual stigma, and supporting menstrual health.
The business is set up as a social enterprise to donate 50% of profits to charities supporting girls’ education in Sierra Leone and Uganda, along with donating our products to charities in Australia that help people experiencing hygiene poverty.
What inspired you to create sustainable pads and tampons?
I was shocked to learn about the chemicals used in manufacturing many pads and tampons. From the plastic packaging – which ends up in a landfill for hundreds of years after being used for a few hours – to the pesticides sprayed on the cotton to the chlorine used to bleach them – I knew the industry needed an alternative.
Around the same time, I heard about an Australian-based charity, One Girl, which provides scholarships to women and girls in Sierra Leone. They identified that many students missed up to a week of school every month due to their periods. These students would fall behind at school, struggle in exams and eventually drop out. I was gobsmacked – I’d never thought about what people do when they can’t afford or don’t have access to sanitary products. I definitely didn’t think that something that wasn’t a second thought for me could affect someone else’s education.
In 2013, I decided to participate in One Girl’s yearly charity fundraiser and challenged myself to use the methods women use when they don’t have access to affordable sanitary products. I used rags, newspaper, kitchen sponges, and leaves. I was even going to use bark – yes, bark from a tree – but when I got to the tree, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. This challenge lit a fire within me – if women were in a position where bark was their best sanitary option, something needed to change.
I felt compelled to do something to help, and Tsuno is how I decided to do so.
How did you make your vision a reality?
I sourced products from a manufacturer creating disposable sanitary pads from corn fiber and bamboo. Bamboo is a fantastic material – it grows quickly, and the harvesting process doesn’t erode the soil. It’s cut like grass and keeps growing rather than being ripped out at the roots like most plants. It’s naturally pest resistant, meaning no chemical fertilizers or pesticides are needed to produce it. The fiber structure is quite hollow, so it easily absorbs moisture, which is perfect for pads drawing moisture away from your body.
My manufacturers and I worked together on making a version of our pads that no longer require a polyethylene underlayer (the leakproof part) which we have replaced with a biodegradable cornstarch-based film. They’re individually wrapped in biodegradable plastic sleeves to keep them clean, packaged in a recyclable cardboard box, and are free from chlorine and dioxin bleach. While not 100% biodegradable (they contain a super absorbent inner layer which makes them work very well), we are working to find a suitable, renewable alternative.
How did you get Tsuno off the ground?
I needed just over $40,000 to buy my first order from the manufacturers. I didn’t have $40,000, and no bank would take me seriously when I told them what I wanted the money for, so I decided to crowdfund my idea. In May 2014, about 1,200 women believed in my vision. They invested $30 each to pre-order some of these pads until I reached the amount I needed to buy my first shipping container. In October 2014, the pads arrived, and the rest was history.
In November 2016, after huge customer demand, I launched a second crowdfunding campaign to introduce 100% certified organic cotton tampons to the Tsuno range. It took $45 000 in pre-sales, and thankfully we made it!
How is Tsuno hoping to empower others and make a difference?
We donate half of the profits from selling our products to help fund girls’ education in Sierra Leone and Uganda. We also want to achieve a shift in what other brands are selling in the market – this is happening slowly. As a result of the emergence of smaller brands such as Tsuno, more prominent brands have been influenced to adjust their product offering, focus on sustainable materials, and tackle period poverty. This is a wonderful indirect result of bringing our products to market.
How did you build your strong brand identity?
The brand has come from within me, so until recently, I had never done a ‘brand guide’ – it was all just in my head and heart. Originally the branding was a reaction to what I saw on store shelves. I wanted something fun, colorful, and eye-catching – not too medical or overtly ‘girly.’ I wanted to encourage people to display their sanitary products on the shelf and carry them with pride instead of hiding them away with shame or embarrassment.
How did Instagram help you grow your brand?
Because I’ve bootstrapped Tsuno to get it started, I’ve relied heavily on Instagram to grow my community of customers. I have also connected with many incredible artists, menstrual equality advocates, health professionals, like-minded business owners, charities, and retailers – all because of how easy Instagram makes it to communicate and relate to people worldwide.
How are you fighting for a cause and putting activism into action both online and beyond the screen?
We’re tackling the stigma around periods by collaborating with visual artists via our packaging. Our box designs are split in half to represent that we donate 50% of our profits and share half the packaging space with our ever-growing community of artists. As a result, our boxes feature beautiful graphic designs that people want to display in their bathrooms rather than hiding away in a cupboard. We also create opportunities for people to discuss periods, period products, and period poverty in a different setting while allowing artists to share their work with our community.
A few years ago, Tsuno collaborated with Melbourne fashion label Obus. They displayed our products in their stores, counters, and window displays and even promoted the collaboration in their email and social media marketing. I didn’t believe a collaboration like this would ever happen with a fashion brand.
What’s the hardest thing about running a start-up?
The most challenging part of being a solo businesswoman is keeping on top of all the tasks required to keep the business functioning. I’m constantly wearing many hats – from graphic design, sales, and marketing to warehouse operations, logistics, and accounting. Focusing on one job from start to finish can be a considerable challenge.
What other ways is Tsuno striving to make an impact?
We’re always looking for ways to add value to our customers – whether directly or indirectly – beyond just providing them with a practical and comfortable product. I’ve recently identified an opportunity to help in another way regarding period health and cervical cancer screenings. We have a unique, generous community of people who have periods, and something people can sometimes struggle with when facing problems with their period health is finding a great GP or specialist who can help them.
In collaboration with Get Papped, we’ve created a crowd-sourced map of GPs our customers have had positive experiences with regarding cervical screenings or period health-related support. We want to encourage women to get cervical screenings and help them get diagnosed sooner for period-related conditions such as Endometriosis.
What’s your advice for creating and launching a business that advocates for a cause? How do you balance purpose and profit?
It’s pretty simple – people want to work for and buy from ethically, socially, and environmentally responsible brands. My advice is to have a go, start small, and pursue something you’re passionate about.
Tsuno isn’t a huge business – it’s still predominantly run by myself and one part-time employee – but we’ve still managed to impact the world positively. We donate products to local charities supporting people experiencing hygiene poverty and funding girls’ education through One Girl. We also make an impact indirectly by being part of a collective of brands pushing for social change and influencing more prominent multinational brands to adjust their product offerings and social efforts. Just try to make an impact in any way you can.