Wā Collective’s innovation is rooted in the production, sale, and subsidy of menstrual cups. Their menstrual products are reusable and are ethically and sustainably produced. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals that Wā Collective’s innovations contribute to include ‘Goal 1: No Poverty,’ ‘Goal 5: Gender Equality,’ ‘Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities,’ and ‘Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production.’
University of Otago
The Wā Cup (‘Wā’ meaning season in Māori), is an alternative sanitary product to pads and tampons. It is worn internally, collecting any menstrual fluid. The cup itself is made of medical-grade silicone, so it can be reused, lasting up to 10 years. The innovations associated with the production of the Wā Cup are numerous, including the zero waste production, ethical sourcing of materials, compostable packaging, and product stewardship that allows for Wā Cups to be returned and repurposed by Wā Collective. There is a range of sizing available to ensure suitability and effectiveness for its user. The sale of Wā cups is closely intertwined with another innovation of Wā Collective, the subsidy of their product for those in need. Each unit sold contributes to the subsidy of a Wā cup for a student or others in need.
The innovations within the production, sale, and subsidy of the Wā Cup arose from founder Olie Body’s realization of period poverty, its effects, and the detriment of single-use sanitary items on the environment. A significant amount of product research was conducted around sizing, quality of materials, and production processes. The team at Wā Collective felt it important to material trace each component of their product and ensure that those involved in the production process did so under ethical conditions. Market research was conducted to gauge the interest and flexibility of Wā Collective’s potential market to ensure the Wā Cup would be an attractive and elegant solution to the societal and systemic problems encapsulated within period poverty.
Wā Collective’s sense of purpose lies with improvement for people and the planet. Their innovations enable this while also contributing to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Wā Collective’s innovations enable improvement for people through reducing the financial cost of a period, the opportunity costs of not having access to menstrual products, and the improvement of the user’s health and well-being. The United Nation’s first SDG is ‘no poverty.’ Wā Collective’s subsidy innovation allows customers that may not be financially empowered to purchase a Wā Cup, to receive one anyway. Throughout Olie’s research on period poverty, she found that a third of menstruating students had skipped class before due to a lack of access to menstrual products. The subsidy program that enables students’ access to Wā Cups looks to reverse the inequitable effect periods have on education, achieving the SDG’s ‘reduced inequalities’ and ‘gender equality.’ Wā Collective’s innovations that enable improvement of the planet through the shift away from single-use alternatives and ethical production of the Wā Cup itself. Use of a Wā Cup diverts several pads and tampons from landfills. The reduction of waste along with the ethical sourcing of materials and production of the Wā Cup displays a commitment to SDG 12, ‘Responsible Consumption and Production.’
Two different size Wā Cups.
"Period poverty is an issue that came to the forefront when I was in India."
Olie Body was first introduced to period poverty on a trip to India on which she engaged with relief activities there. On return to New Zealand, she was prompted to reflect on the prevalence of period poverty in New Zealand. Her perspective was one that held sanitary products as a right, not a luxury. Wā Collective began as an on-campus initiative that allowed those in need access to pads and tampons. The initiative led her to reflect on the method Wā Collective was using to achieve its mission. This led to further product research during which Olie was tasked with a decision between various reusable menstruation products. Once she had fully researched the options, the trade-off between each of her preferred alternatives came in the form of behavioral change. So began her market research and personal journey with a menstrual cup.
“My own personal journey with a menstrual cup and what it actually meant for the connection in my body. Looking at how we are and how we act and how we view ourselves as part of this world, we’re really disconnected. We’re disconnected from our own bodies, we’re disconnected from each other, we’re disconnected from our communities, we’re disconnected from the environment. What we’ve realized through a menstrual cup or any type of reusable menstrual product, you’re confronted with your own body. In a society that teaches us to hide, to disengage, and even to be ashamed of our bodies, that impact is massive. Through a menstrual cup and going 'Oh woah, my blood, it’s this color, it’s this consistency,' it’s pretty confronting right? If we can work through that confrontation, we start to learn about our bodies. As we start to learn about our bodies, we start to respect our bodies more, we want to nourish our bodies more. Then the things we are putting in and on our bodies are coming from a better place in the environment and it’s actually sustainable for the environment too.”
Olie Body is an indigenous individual that found a large disconnect between the way her culture and her society treated menstruation. The disconnect between her body and the environment posed a huge challenge her reflection enabled her to tackle. From which, the Wā Cup and subsequent innovations flowed.
Since Wā Collective launched its Wā Cup, there have been a number of attributable successes. These victories have come in all shapes and sizes, including the growth of operations, generation of assets, mission progression, partnerships, and awards. Distribution of the Wā Cup has also had a number of benefits for its users and the environment.
Wā Collective has gone from being a small-scale campus initiative to a business that distributes products internationally. They now have 3 full-time employees, 10 people in their outreach team as well as a large number of people keen to get involved with the organization in a volunteer capacity. Olie sees Wā Collective’s current size as a real strength saying, “We’re small and agile and can move our feet.”
As of August 2020, Wā Collective had distributed over 4,000 Wā Cups to those in need and had sold 3,000 units through general sales. Throughout the journey of these distributions, Wā Collective has secured capital, capabilities, and customers that enable continued innovation of its products, processes, and business model. There are several things still on the to-do list and Olie Body shows no intention of slowing. She attributes Wā Collective’s success to their ability to embody their vision as it proves to be “a huge motivating factor for the team.”
Wā Collective has launched and operated many successful partnerships with other companies, including their most recent partnership, a collaboration with The Body Shop. Body notes that these collaborations were invaluable to the growth and reach of Wā Collective.
The Wā Cup and subsidy program has provided the employees of Wā Collective “a very rewarding work role, we show up each day and are really passionate about what we do.”
Wā Collective’s success has not gone unrecognized, with Wā Collective receiving many nominations and finalist placings for a range of business and social change awards. Most notably, Olie Body was revered with the title of ‘Millennial on a Mission’ by the Sustainable Business Network in 2018.
The average period would require the use of 25 single-use sanitary products per period with the average women having 480 periods in their lifetime (Kerr & Forrester, 2017). In 2017, the average cost per single-use sanitary product lay between $0.29-$0.58NZD per unit (Kerr & Forester, 2017), meaning periods will cost of between $3,480-$6,960NZD in a lifetime. $3,480 seems an exorbitant amount compared to $162 it would cost one customer to purchase 3 Wā Cups at full price and have shipped to them over their menstruating lifetime.
The 4,000+ Wā Cups that have been distributed for free through Women's Health organizations or subsidized through student associations represent the possibility that 4,000 women have been alleviated from the struggles of period poverty.
Wā Collective does a lot of work through its own operations and collaborative work to reduce the stigma around periods. Through market research, Olie Body discovered that 50% of women are embarrassed to talk about their period openly. Collaboration with clothing companies, women’s health collectives, student associations, and platforms like AIM2Flourish and TEDX provide a means of destigmatizing periods and providing women better connection, understanding, and respect for their bodies. The proof of this outcome can be seen throughout customer testimonials.
"Thank you for breaking the period taboo. Thank you for creating an amazing product that decreases waste, is financially responsible, and convenient to purchase. Thank you for providing women with a product that gives us [the] confidence to walk around knowing we don't have to worry about how many tampons we have or where the nearest bathroom is." ~ Jennifer (Customer)
"My Wā Cup has changed the relationship I have with my body. I understand and appreciate it so much more." ~ Tam (Customer)
Since its launch, Wā Collective has diverted over 2.3 million disposable menstruation products from landfills. Each disposal product represents a decrease in strain on the environment, as the packaging, materials, and chemicals associated with the sanitary items themselves are removed from the equation completely.
Olie Body, Founder
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Wellington, Wellington, NZ
Business Website: https://wacollective.org.nz/
Year Founded: 2017
Number of Employees: 2 to 10
Wā Collective is a social enterprise based in New Zealand that is looking to end period poverty. They engage with their mission by selling premium reusable period cups and partnering with other organizations to break the taboo nature of menstruation by facilitating the discussion of periods. Each period cup sold subsidizes a period cup for those in need.