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AWWA has created a range of high-quality, reusable, and sustainable underwear for all people who menstruate or who have minor incontinence issues, effectively replacing the need for single-use, disposable menstrual/incontinence products. AWWA contributes towards several SDG goals but most notably, 1: no poverty, 5: gender equality, 8: decent work
AWWA has created an innovative, sustainable period care product, suitable for all shapes, sizes, and gender identities. The underwear itself is made of organic cotton/tencel modal and recycled nylon and uses non-toxic dyes. Innovative fabric technology allows AWWA to bring four layers of highly absorbent, moisture-wicking, and anti-microbial fabric together into a slim fitting, leak and odour-proof pair of underwear, capable of holding up to 25 ml (equivalent of 2 tampons) of blood. The result is a hassle-free pair of underwear that can be worn all day and for all activities. However, innovation has not been confined to the design of their product. Innovation is also encompassed in the way their products are created, by whom, and the responsibility that AWWA takes for operational externalities.
AWWA has intentionally partnered with suppliers and garment manufacturers whose ethical and sustainable values align with their own. AWWA uses a supplier code of conduct that, as well as addressing worker rights, also identifies specific environmental goals “around waste minimization and reducing air pollution”. This results in a supply chain that pays workers a fair wage, and ensures safe working environments. Within Aotearoa AWWA is a living wage accredited employer. Product materials are sustainably sourced, using organic, hand-picked cotton (reducing reliance on fossil fuels in machinery), sustainably sourced tencel modal (a fabric made from beech trees), and recycled nylon from used plastic bottles. Furthermore, AWWA has committed to full transparency across their supply chain, from their growers to their ginners, spinners, dyers, and sewing teams, to their Aotearoa-based warehouses, and this information can be found on each of their product pages on their website. This commitment to supply chain transparency helps to increase consumer awareness of supply chains and the social impact of their purchasing choices and contributes to developing standards and benchmarks for the garment industry more widely.
AWWA was born out of CEO Michelle Wilson’s journey of reconnecting with her Māori roots, where she learned about how her tīpuna (ancestors) viewed and managed their periods. She wanted a sustainable and reusable period product that did not cause harm to Papatūānuku (the earth) and found nothing available on the market in Aotearoa. She pitched the idea to her good friend Kylie Matthews who was eager to be involved. For Michelle, AWWA represents much more than a pair of absorbent underwear. It is a movement towards decolonizing periods, breaking down stigma and narratives of shame, and reconnecting people with their natural cycles and connection to nature.
Both women are mothers and Kylie shared “The thought of giving my daughters pads or tampons when they started their period really didn’t sit well with me. … We wanted something different”. Kylie had other motivations to bring the period underwear to life too. For one, she was passionate about sustainability, noting that the product enabled them to play a part in “reducing the number of single-use pads and tampons ending up in landfill”. In addition, in her previous career as a social worker, she saw firsthand that those in poverty, struggling to provide food or housing, “certainly couldn’t afford period products”. She wanted to be part of a business that gave something back to communities in need. Specifically, she was passionate about providing a product that helped stop the widening gap between genders resulting from women missing out on school or work because they are menstruating and don’t have access to period products. This has formed part of their ethos of giving 2% of revenue in product donations to communities in need.
Over the course of a person’s menstruating years, they will use an average of 11,000 tampons or 11,400 pads. These single-use products can take 500 years to break down, including organic cotton tampons which are prevented from decomposing in landfills. Disposable sanitary products are responsible for 5.3kg of CO2e per person, per year. AWWA's reusable period underwear eliminates the need for disposable sanitary products. AWWA's commitment to donating 2% of its revenue in product donations has also had a significant positive impact on reducing barriers for people menstruating to attend school and work. Its advertising campaigns, which use an inclusive and diverse range of models and feature realistic representations of periods, have contributed to breaking down social stigmas of shame around periods and opened up opportunities for dialogue.
AWWA started on Kickstarter, meeting its funding goal within 48 hours of going live and raising $48,000 above its target. It was clear that a significant demand for reusable period underwear existed. Indeed, what started as a side project resulted in both Kylie and Michelle selling their prior businesses to focus on building AWWA full-time. In 2023 the company has grown to seven employees within their Aotearoa-based operations, and their product is sold globally. Their underwear range has also grown, with an inclusive size range spanning 3XS through to a 6XL, and inclusive styles such as a boxer brief and neutral packaging enabling their product to be used and loved by all menstruators, not just women. The success of their products has also allowed them to expand into other sustainable materials such as tencel modal. AWWA achieved their B-Corp certification in 2021, something they had worked towards from the outset, making them just one of 85 Aotearoa-based companies to do so. The certification represents a commitment by the business to continue to engage in socially and environmentally responsible business operations.
AWWA has focused on creating high-quality, long-lasting underwear that will last users for many years, removing the need for single-use menstrual care products. Even the packaging is home compostable. As of the end of the 2023 financial year, 35 million single-use period products have been averted from landfills and waterways since 2018, and this number will continue to grow over time and with every new customer. The reusability of their product fosters sustainable behavior change on an individual consumer level, and a societal level by normalizing reusable period care products, both of which have a positive and lasting environmental impact, keeping harmful plastics and chemicals out of waterways and landfills.
Considering the externalities of their business operations more broadly, AWWA offsets operational carbon emissions (currently encompassing scope 1 and 2) and have a net climate-positive certification (also known as carbon negative), meaning they offset beyond net zero to create an environmental benefit by removing additional CO2 from the atmosphere. This is achieved through a partnership with Ekos, as they specialize in planting for regeneration and conservation projects. AWWA has specifically focused on projects that support Indigenous-owned or operated projects.
A key part of the company's ethos is around tackling period poverty in Aotearoa and the surrounding Pacific Islands. This is achieved through product donations to communities in need, an initiative that is built into their business model as part of their B-Corp certification. To measure impact, recipients of AWWA donations are sent a follow-up survey to determine how AWWA has impacted their lives. Data from this impact survey shows that over half of respondents before receiving AWWA products struggled to access period care products, with 12% of those struggling every month. Prior to Aotearoa’s initiative to fund free period care products in schools (effective as of 2021), 60% of AWWA survey respondents stated that they missed at least 1 day of school or work every month as a result of not having access to period care products. Post the government initiative’s rollout, this has dropped to 30%. These figures show that AWWA, in conjunction with the government initiative, is having a significant positive impact on increasing gender equality by ensuring that girls do not miss out on education opportunities due to lack of access to period care products. Better educational outcomes also have flow-on effects such as access to employment opportunities, and informed decisions around reproductive health, that can help increase the ability to shift individuals out of poverty.
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Kylie Matthews, Pou Manawataki (Chief Operations Officer)
AWWA, founded in 2018, is an indigenous-owned period care company based in Aotearoa, New Zealand. The female-founded company offers reusable period underwear that is sustainably and ethically made, and suitable for anyone who menstruates, no matter their gender or size. The company's indigenous roots are reflected in its name, AWWA, derived from the Māori word ‘awa’ meaning river or flow, and a nod to the traditional Māori name for menstruation, te awa atua, ‘the divine flow’. AWWA is committed to doing its part to end period poverty, change the narrative around periods (breaking down shameful stigmas and decolonizing periods), and ensure net positive social and environmental impact.