In Andhra Pradesh, kenaf or ‘Gongura’ leaves find a steady use in the local cuisine. The plant is also well-known for its other subsidiary uses in ropes, twines and some coarse fabrics, similar to jute in texture. But student duo Niveda and Gowtham from Tamil Nadu has upgraded the indigenous kenaf fibre to a whole new level, by manufacturing a super-absorbent, biodegradable sanitary napkin from the edible plant. Both of them are pursuing their Masters in Apparel Technology at Kumaraguru College of Technology in Coimbatore.
The product has earned accolades at a number of national scientific conventions and is being locally marketed now under the name ‘Bliss’.
What makes kenaf fibre ‘Bliss’ pads a true bliss for users
Commercial sanitary napkins which contain Super Absorbent Polymer (SAP) and other harmful chemicals are raising health concerns among many women who suffer from side-effects like rashes, itching or even hormonal disturbances. Also, the ultra-thin, heavily scented pads which we find on our supermarket shelves contain around 80% plastic which makes them non-biodegradable. A single commercial pad takes around 500-800 years to decompose completely. Many organisations are coming up with alternatives like cloth pads and menstrual cups, but those also find a number of drawbacks.
This is the first time an eco-friendly menstrual product has been made which is nearly similar to the commercial pads most women are accustomed to using. As per feedback from the regular customers of ‘Bliss’, the kenaf fibre pad has truly been a bliss in their lives.
From a delicacy to a necessity
So how did the two students come up with such an innovative idea? Talking to Efforts For Good, Niveda shares, “An NGO from Andhra Pradesh approached our college for finding a viable solution to use discarded fibres of kenaf, a crop which is produced in bulk in their state. We started working to create wearable fabrics, but our research revealed that the kenaf fibre has amazing absorbance and antimicrobial properties. That’s when the idea of making sanitary pads out of it came up.”
Kenaf is produced as a crop in over twelve states in India, and feature heavily on the regional food plates. The crop’s ability to reduce greenhouse gases as well as its versatility as a fibre is much lesser known. It is quite popular in Tamil Nadu as well, where it is termed as ‘pulicha keerai’ and used for making chutneys and pickles. So, sourcing the raw materials was a cakewalk for Niveda and Gowtham. The hardest challenge was perfecting the final product – complete with adhesive and wings, similar to any commercial pad.
Niveda and Gowtham subjected the kenaf fibre to a series of laboratory tests, to check its viability as a sanitary napkin filler. They found that 1 gm of kenaf fibre can absorb up to 22.78 ml of thick synthetic blood. The organic pad has a very soft top layer and is coated on the underside with bioplastic made from cornstarch, which prevents leakage. The makers have not added any artificial chemicals or fragrances to the pad as kenaf itself has quite a pleasant natural odour. One pad can last up to eight hours and causes no itching or rashes. The product has already received a patent.
Soon to be marketed online
Curated in 2017, the product was commercially marketed from September 2018. “As of now, we are selling our products locally in and around Coimbatore. We have set up some stalls in the city and also take part in exhibitions,” Niveda informs.
Many housewives are volunteering to be sales agents for ‘Bliss’ pads and popularising the product through word of mouth. The good news is that ‘Bliss’ pads will be marketed soon on a pan-India basis through their upcoming website as well as e-commerce platforms.
The team also frequents local colleges to spread awareness about sustainable menstruation.
As a student start-up, Niveda and Gowtham’s ‘Bliss’ has won a number of awards and recognitions, including three awards at the 2017 India Innovation Initiative. The team of two hopes they help more women realise the benefits of opting for sustainable menstruation.