As a woman you’ve probably been using sanitary pads for a long time since you started your menstruation at puberty.
Most girls often listen to their mother’s recommendations when it comes to feminine hygiene products, and even as adults most are still loyal to certain brands that were introduced to them at a very young age.
But how well do you know your favourite sanitary towel? How safe or harmful are the products to your health and what is their impact on the environment?
Those are the questions a young Cape Town entrepreneur Zizipho Ntobongwana, 23, asked herself before she started her eco-friendly sanitary brand that is known as Sheba Feminine Hygiene.
The “womanist and self-proclaimed health guru”, who launched her business early this year admits that after curiosity got the better of her last year, she went on a research spree and would later find that sanitary products women use are not always in the best interests of the menstruators, and a sizeable number of them have the potential to cause health problems and are eco-unfriendly, containing harmful products such as non-biodegradable plastics, chlorine or dioxin, which are used in the bleaching process.
She decided to come up with a health and environmentally conscious product that uses only certified organic cotton to produce all the sanitary products. This means that Sheba is created “by menstruators, for menstruators”.
We chat to Ntobongwana about creating her range and the inspiration behind it.
Who is Zizipho Ntobongwana?
Zizipho Ntobongwana was born in Mthatha. Although I’m from the Eastern Cape, I went to a Durban primary school and later to a boarding school in the Natal Midlands.
I recently graduated with a bachelor of social sciences and honours in African studies at UCT. My thesis focused on ulwaluko (initiation) and demonstrated how it excludes women and makes the queer community invisible and subsequently creates and reproduces a problematic Xhosa hegemonic hyper-masculinity.
Tell us about your organic range?
The Sheba organic range consists of tampons, ultra thin sanitary pads, and everyday anatomical panty-liners. All these products are made from organic cotton that is breathable and allows air to flow easily through the fibres. They are compatible with the human body’s physiological PH. It does not alter the natural acidity of the vaginal mucous. There are no chemicals, chlorine or dioxin used in the bleaching process, and is 100% wood pulp free, which is a by-product of a natural tree.
When and why did you start the range?
Last year I became frustrated at the realisation that most of the things on the African continent were in fact not African at all. Everything I had been taught reiterated the fact that Africa was and still is a goldmine which the rest of the world loots from. Apart from being pained by this fact, I was also inspired by my honours degree. It was while I was completing this degree that I realised that there’s still so much work that needs to be done. This is the space in which Sheba Feminine Hygiene is born. Whilst on my period, Sheba came to me. Sitting on the toilet and reading my tampon box, I realised that there was no ingredient label on it.
Upon further research I unlocked a side to menstruation politics and the feminine hygiene industry, in the male-dominated sector. I realised that we women actually had no control over what is being put in our sanitary products or how these chemicals affect our bodies.
Why the name Sheba Feminine Hygiene?
The name Sheba is inspired by the life-story of Makeda, the Queen of Sheba. Although there are various tales of her life ranging from those told by Christians to those told by the Ethiopians throughout all of these different tales, the African queen remains optimising wisdom, truth and intelligence.
Sheba is about African menstruators and their royalty by virtue of being African. Sheba is designed and marketed for the African people.
Menstruators that are ambitious, unapologetic, innovative and are environmentally and health conscious.
What inspired your eco-friendly packaging?
Besides the fact that sanitary products take decades to decompose, we underestimate the horrible impact their packaging has on the environment. We see these generic products and forget to consider their impact as well.
This is why we insist on using recycled cardboard packaging that is also biodegradable.
We should not be a burden on our earth.
We should tread lightly so that we, and generations to come can have a chance at life.
How important is it for women to create their own products?
I believe that one of the reasons that the ingredients in our sanitary products have been problematic is partly due to
the fact that the products we use aren’t made by people that menstruate.
Once we as menstruators begin to take charge and educate ourselves we will begin to hold these companies accountable.
By starting our own companies and having our own products, we break down monopolies that haven’t had our best interests at heart and lack transparency.
* To connect with Ntobongwana visit www.shebafaminine.co.za or follow her on Twitter @shiba_faminine