In 2016, news about a girl from a low-income family who had to use shoe insoles for her period shocked the whole Korean society. On average, a Korean woman spends 20,000 won (US$17.65) per month to buy sanitary pads, which costs more than 300,000 won (US$264.74) a year. Since affording sanitary pads can burden some women, there is a company that sells sanitary pads at good prices and use part of their profits to support sanitary pads for women in vulnerable groups. It is “29days.” The Argus met Hong Do-gyeom, the CEO of 29days.
The Argus: Please introduce yourself and 29days.
Hong Do-gyeom (Hong): Hello, I am Hong Do-gyeom, CEO of “29 days.” Our company is a social enterprise founded in 2015. We are trying to solve feminine hygiene issues in a financially sustainable way. Our company’s name means the average period of women’s menstrual cycle.
The Argus: Why did you start your business?
Hong: While I was studying in Canada and the United States, I did not know the significance of how women suffer from their period when I talked with female friends. But when I came to Korea, things were different. The first job I got in Korea had a high percentage of female employees. I there watched female workers who suffer from their period but not want to mention it. Therefore, I became interested in women’s issues in Korea. Through that interest, combined with my desire to become a social entrepreneur, I started a women’s sanitary goods business.
The Argus: Could you tell us about what 29days does?
Hong: In 2016, we launched the half-price sanitary pad through crowdfunding. We focused on lowering the price of the pad, which is too expensive in Korea. We sold a pack (16 pieces) of medium-sized for 2,500 won (US$2.2). Thanks to many positive responses, we can still sell it. Since then, we are trying to increase the type of products such as large and small-sized pads.
We also visited universities and conducted campaigns. We promoted the fact that sanitary pads are not necessarily expensive products and informed consumers about the information related to sanitation.
Moreover, we are working on a project to donate a day’s worth of sanitary pads to vulnerable women, especially women in near poverty, every time pads are sold. Consisting of two medium and two large-sized daily sanitary pads, about 9,000 days of sanitary pads have been prepared since March this year.
The Argus: What were the difficulties in running your business?
Hong: To lower the prices while maintaining the quality, we reduced promotions such as marketing and additional discounts. As a result, it was hard to promote our company compared to others.
Another difficulty we faced was getting a couple of potential candidates involved in the interview, as many of them were hesitant to talk about the issues. Nonetheless, as we needed to pay attention to the details such as scent and design, we did our best to have 300 women for interviews. Based on information we got, we could make many samples. Then we repeated the process of getting feedback again.
The Argus: Why did you begin to care about women in the near poverty among the vulnerable?
Hong: When we were doing quantitative research to help vulnerable women, we found that women in the near poverty group were also in serious trouble. Though women in absolute poverty could be supported by the government, women in the near poverty class are not eligible for aid. Therefore, we became more interested in helping women in that situation. In 2017, 15 million won (US$13,228) was donated to women in that group. We are also working with the government on ways to help them.
The Argus: How was it possible to sell sanitary pads at half the price of ordinary ones?
Hong: The pads we provide are an average price in the U.S. and Canada. I think the problem is that almost all firms in Korea sell at a higher price than this. The consumer price of sanitary pads in Korea is randomly fixed, making it difficult for consumers to understand the exact price. Therefore, I thought we should apply fixed price system to female hygiene product pricing.
For this, we reduced distribution and marketing costs as much as possible. Nearly 60 to 70 percent of our product sales accounts for production costs and delivery costs. It does not mean distribution and marketing expenses do not cost at all, but we minimized the costs by explaining the situation that our margin rate is not high for manufacturers. We are also working on what we can do online within the possible range of marketing costs.
The Argus: What is the difference between the sanitary pads of 29days and ordinary ones?
Hong: I think it is different in terms of design rather than the function of sanitary pads itself. In interviews and surveys for product development, I came to know that there is a perception that “Sanitary pads should be put in the black bag” in society. I always wondered why women had to hide pads. I thought it seemed that women were not able to carry sanitary pads publicly because a sanitary pad’s photo is explicitly printed on the package of common products. Thus, we did not add photos to the products so that women could carry them anywhere without the need to hide them.
The Argus: What are your specific plans and goals for the future?
Hong: We are going to continue to provide products related to sanitary needs. The goal is to keep offering high-quality products at a more reasonable price than market products’ price. Until now, we have provided pouches, large and medium-sized pads and sanitary pad liners, and we expect to release sanitary pads attached with clean tissue by the second half of next year.
We sometimes say that we wish our company would disappear after solving social problems related to women’s sanitary pads. However, even if such problems are resolved, we will continue to search for what we can do to solve issues and broaden our scope for consumers.
The Argus: Do you have any messages you want to convey to The Argus readers?
Hong: We think a social environment that does not burden people should be engendered. For this, it is important to explain to many people that these discomforts are serious and should be improved. Also, if you participate in the activities of social enterprises or social ventures, the good influence will be able to help people in the future.
The menstruation that women experience once a month exhausts their bodies and mind. Considering that, imagine the pain for those who cannot afford sanitary pads. The extent of their pain is indescribable. To protect them, 29days is stepping in and will be the cornerstone for changing our society. Bear in mind: the driving force to a better society is not so tremendous. The reporters hope that a heartwarming society will come when a little attention and participation are given.
By Kim Tae-young and Jang Yu-jin
Staff reporters of National Section