This story of rags to riches is quite literally that - the account of change in menstrual products from old cloth rags to high quality, super soft and comfortable sanitary pads.
No matter how much we complain about the itchiness or the scratchy surface of the pad, we surely must be grateful that we didn’t belong to a generation that used sawdust, ash, sand or leaves to absorb period blood. A sock filled with sand, ash or a cloth filled with sawdust was earlier used by women to absorb blood during periods. It was tied with herbs around the waist to mask the odor of menstrual blood. This was also a time when women were married off young and the wisdom of menstrual hygiene was not scientific. Devotion to God was made out to be the only purpose of a woman’s life and hence, a genus of God-fearing people made the perception clear that a menstruating woman is unclean and impure.
Therefore, throughout the times, women followed this doctrine and meekly hid behind chambers when mother nature paid a visit. But with the inroads of colonialism and the import of Western culture, India not only saw a revision in trade, commerce and law but also a change in social practices. In 1885, India witnessed its first advertisement for a sanitary product - for South Hall pads that targeted the rich and the upper middle class. The product being a sanitary pad was far too contemporary for its time and hence was only initially distributed to retailers across urban provinces like Bombay, Calcutta and Poona. It wasn’t even marketed as a hygiene necessity product then, but only as a luxury one that provided both ease and comfort.
Gradually, as revolutionary movements against colonialism began, it gave women the monumental push they needed to seek a place for themselves and they realized that they need not limit themselves to the household. With time, as outgoing, independent women revolted and refused to stay isolated at home during their menstrual cycles, the sales in sanitary pads witnessed a boom since they were travel and work efficient. The first sanitary napkin to be marketed in India was Kotex, in 1929. It eventually began changing its size, shape and design to cater the needs of its clientele. In 1954, they created an advertisement that provided value of association to the modern Indian women that helped boost its sales in India as well.
Commercialization of Menstruation
The last epoch of the 20th century and the dawn of 21st, witnessed the birth of capitalists and their respective brands trying to convince women which menstrual product they needed to buy and why. It started small with newspaper listings and radio broadcasts and has now turned into a million-dollar industry ranging from sanitary products, vaginal health care supplements and more! In the late 20th century, the organized sector in India started producing pads, like Ahmedabad-based Softouch in 1981 and Chandigarh-based Carewell in 1992. As economic liberalization saw the broadening of a consumer base, so did the use of adhesive pads. Sales of these witnessed a significant growth (by 60%) in the year 1990. The industry leaders during that time were Johnson & Johnson with Carefree and Stayfree with their adhesive pads, which was quite a revolutionary fix. However, that was to change as P&G introduced Whisper in 1992. With its innovative campaigns and an aim to reach rural areas, specifically to eliminate the period stigma, the brand gained popularity and momentum and thus began India’s Menstrual Product Industry as we know today. Today, we have a plethora of products and variations to choose from, in the form of eco friendly sanitary napkins, menstrual cups, tampons, period panties and much more.
According to research, only 12 percent of menstruating women in India use a sanitary napkin, which proves the fact that multinational corporations have still not been able to reach rural India to end period poverty completely. Awareness about menstrual health and eliminating period stigma is the need of the hour. At Carmesi, we believe that it’s important to eliminate the stigma around menstrual health and therefore, have launched our Unified in Red initiative that works closely with non profit organizations to create awareness and access around menstruation among those who need it the most!