Transformation Textiles

Another exciting example of innovation in the Menstrual Hygiene Management (“MHM”) space that we have had a longstanding relationship with is Transformation Textiles (TT).

Rachel Starkey and Madeleine ShawMadeleine and TT founder Rachel Starkey (an Unreasonable Institute 2014 Fellow) first met virtually in the early 2000s, connecting over their shared interest in reusable feminine hygiene products. They met in person for the first time in 2003 in Vancouver, when Rachel returned back to Canada for a family visit from her home in Alexandria, Egypt. Over the years, we met up in Las Vegas as well as Egypt, every time going deeper on the idea of using mass-scale garment manufacturing to create mass-scale reusable panties and pads.

Transformation TextilesRachel and her husband Jeff founded Cotton Tales their garment manufacturing business in Egypt making washable cloth diapers and accessories in 2002. Having identified the need for underwear as a key component to the success of the adoption of cloth pad use, Madeleine and Rachel set out to create an easy-to-make pattern for adjustable-sized panties that could be made from factory offcuts. The process of using leftover wasted fabric and turning it underwear is where Transformation Textiles gets its name.

The panties have small strips of fabric in the gusset that can be used to hold simple cloth pads made of a combination of absorbent and waterproof fabrics, which can then be washed and re-used for years without creating disposable waste.

The pair got their opportunity to test their idea when the Lunagals were approached by Canadian Anna Ebert of Good Hope Ministries in 2012, who had been working for many years in Malawi and had identified the need for personal hygiene supplies and requested enough for 50,000 girls. Until that point, Pads4Girls donations had been at most 500 kits at a time.

They settled on 10,000 as an initial test run, and set out to raise funds to cover shipping a container from Egypt to Malawi. The final landed cost per kit, each of which includes 3 pairs of panties, 9 pads and a carrying purse, is $5. Lunapads reached out to its community and raised $12,500, including support from Danielle LaPorte, a highly influential author and speaker. Rachel and Jeff generously financed the remainder.

Madeleine and Rachel collaborated on making a “one-size fits most” Tie-on Bikini. As two natural competitors in the feminine reusable products sector, they choose instead to collaborate and share their “trade secrets”, making a product customizable in size and absorbency – a product that could be affordable to women in low income countries. Each happy to let the other white label their co-design as needed.

Tie fronts Madeleine Shaw and Suzanne Siemens

Designing and making the tie-ons was the easy part: creating a new category of exportable “new products reclaimed from textile waste” would prove to take four years of changing mindsets in the textile industry, establishing quality standards, and lobbying customs officials to create the needed ‘boxes’ to tick on their export forms. Many unsung heroes made this reality.

Following delays resulting from political unrest in Egypt, the kits finally reached Malawi in 2014. The First pilot result was 4379 Kilograms of fabric cuts reclaimed versus ending in a landfill, making the equivalent of 10,000 dignity kits (2 tie-ons, 2 lead-proof shields, & 6 absorbent liners). This pilot concept filled a 20’ container of 158 barrels and 163 cartons of reusable products and fabric to make more. Read about the impact of this shipment, one year later here.