Aimee Marks is a brave woman. In a society that still struggles to talk about “that time of the month”, preferring instead to use images of women on surfboards as poster girls for sanitary products, Aimee not only broaches the subject with openness and honesty, she is also holding the tampon industry to environmental account. Interestingly, the way she is doing this is not by lobbying or advocating large companies to change their practices, she is actively showing them how it’s done.
While studying graphic design at school, Aimee was investigating the design of tampon packaging and stumbled across the number and nature of ingredients in tampons themselves, many of which are known to be toxic to the environment, and some of which have been linked to human health issues.
These, and other confronting discoveries, were what inspired Aimee to found TOM Organic, TOM standing for “Time of Month”, which creates tampons, pads and liners with no chemicals, perfumes, pesticides or bleaches.
“I was surprised that so many tampons had ingredients like conventional cotton mixed with rayon. Most of the world’s conventional cotton absorbs almost 25% of the word’s insecticides, making it one of the dirtiest kinds of crops, for the most intimate part of the body,” Marks says.
She didn’t have to dig very deep to find out more about the tampon industry’s dirty little secrets, like the impact of tampons on landfill build up, the manufacturing processes used to create them and the reliance of major companies on the conventional cotton industry; an industry with one of the highest rates of child labour use. Even the plastics used in tampon production means that a regular tampon takes, on average, 7 years to break down.
When you consider that a woman uses around 12,000 of these in a lifetime, it becomes obvious that it is a product with the potential to have a significant environmental impact.
In stark contrast, TOM Organic products are cleaner and greener than most.
“Our products are clean, environmentally sound and certified at the highest levels, including through the ACO” (Australian Certified Organic), Marks says.
“We are a lifestyle company with a holistic approach. We want to show that you don’t have to make a complete lifestyle overhaul, but sometimes it just takes one product to connect with people and encourage them to make small, meaningful changes in their life.”
What makes TOM different to other organic brands, is that it is actively marketed to a mainstream audience. You won’t have to look far, or scour the shelves at health food stores to find it. TOM is now stocked in some of Australia’s largest chemist and supermarket chains, such as Woolworths. It aims to connect with a wide female audience, not just those who are already converted to environmentally friendly practices.
When asked if it is difficult to engage with a media industry, which still finds it quite uncomfortable to talk about periods, Aimee says she uses a unique approach to help break down some of those barriers.
“Our marketing approach is one of storytelling, through many layers”, she says. “We come at it from many different angles. We talk about women’s health and the environment, for example, to try to encourage a more public conversation.”
Although environmental impacts are front of mind at TOM Organic, they are equally committed to addressing women’s health.
“We don’t claim to be doctors or scientists,” Marks says, “but there are so many testimonials and anecdotes from women we are in touch with, who tell us about their allergic reactions to some of the conventional tampon ingredients. Some women have even had to stop using tampons altogether.”
Interestingly, the tampon was first created in the 1930′s to give a ballerina the freedom to perform on stage during her period, but also to give generations of women to come, the same kind of freedom.
“The fact that some women can’t use tampons because of the way their bodies react to the toxic ingredients, means that they simply don’t have the same flexibility as other women, which goes against why the tampon was created in the first place,” says Marks.
“There are also many women’s health issues that are still largely unexplained, so why would you want to risk putting foreign chemicals into a part of the body, they were never designed to interact with?”
So, what does the future hold for TOM Organic and for other industries wanting to go green? Marks says she thinks going green at TOM Organic will continue to be about “making sure people are equipped to make educated choices. It’s not always about changing your life completely, but rather being mindful of environmental and other impacts when making everyday decisions.”
Inspired by eco advocates like Stella McCartney, who has successfully brought environmental messages to the runway, Aimee hopes to do the same for the tampon industry.
“Through our work, we can hopefully influence other companies to be more conscious and aware of the environmental and health impacts of their products,” she says. “There aren’t many other organic tampon companies which are found in mainstream outlets. The day we feel threatened by competition, is the day we will know that we have done our job.”
So although our media and community might still find it uncomfortable to talk about periods, women like Aimee are achieving ‘cut through’ by changing the conversation and encouraging us to see that small decisions, like choosing which tampons to buy, can actually impact on much broader health and environmental issues.
She shows us that women want much more than to just jump on a surfboard while having a period, they also care about their bodies, their health and the world around them; something the advertising and marketing companies haven’t even come close to addressing.
Most importantly, she shows us that the best way to promote environmental consciousness and health messages, is to lead by example and simply create the products you want to use.
Aimee Marks is indeed a very brave woman, who is showing us all how it’s done.