“Consumers can only choose what they’re offered. If consumers demand something, companies will listen.”
— Kristin Kagetsu, Saathi
In this episode
Kristin Kagetsu of Coralus Venture Saathi joins Activator Bryn Bamber to talk about her business, tackling period poverty, and how this creates a ripple effect in other areas of the lives of menstruators.
They also discuss:
- The taboo of menstruation and why the reusable options don’t necessarily solve all the problems
- Kristin’s start in mechanical engineering and her journey to Saathi
- The company’s manufacturing process
- Their new program for plastic avoidance credits
- Challenges they’ve faced + overcome in the past year
- Stories of impact in the local community and beyond
- Their role as a systems change business and what’s coming next
- Saathi’s ask for the Coralus community
We invite you to join us as an Activator.
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The podcast is being transcribed by Otter.ai. (there may be errors, run-on sentences and misspellings).
Kristin Kagetsu 0:00
Consumers can only choose what they’re offered. Yes, consumers do need to have some behavior change. Because if there’s like an expectation of instant gratification, well, then it’s going to be a little bit challenging to meet that demand. But at the same time, if consumers demand something, companies will listen.
Danielle Cadhit 0:19
Welcome to the Ripples of Radical Generosity podcast, by Coralus, a global community of women and non-binary people making real progress on the World’s To-Do List. Together, we’re transforming the world to become more equitable and sustainable.
Bryn Bamber 0:31
My name is Bryn Bamber. I’m an Activator and I’m a Trauma Informed Witch. And what that means is, I struggled with anxiety for a long time. And I found core energetics, which is a mental health modality, but it also works with the body and with energy. And that really helped me. And so that is now what I do with my clients. So I’m super excited to be here with Kristin from Saathi. And I’d love if you could just start by introducing yourself and introducing Saathi to everyone listening.
Kristin Kagetsu 1:14
Thank you. Thanks for having me on the podcast. Basically at Saathi we make 100% biodegradable and compostable sanitary pads from banana and bamboo fiber. We’re based in India, our operations and are in our facility and all of that. And we started Saath in order to address lack of access to menstrual products. And we wanted to do that in a sustainable way. So trying to figure out how not only can we provide the sanitary pads to women in underserved areas, but also make sure that we weren’t creating a plastic pollution problem at the same time.
Bryn Bamber 1:55
And I was reading a little bit on your website about period poverty and like how that is one of the issues Saathi is tackling. So can you maybe explain to those of us who aren’t familiar what it’s like in India and and why you decided to create this company?
Kristin Kagetsu 2:16
Yeah, so at the time, when we started, only about 18% of women had access to menstrual products. And so we were looking at that as a huge issue. But at the same time, looking at where the women were that don’t have access, and it was mainly in villages, and there isn’t any waste infrastructure there to deal with the pads that are being discarded if if we were to bring in pads, and therefore I thought, well, maybe there’s something we can do, kind of to address both of these issues. So having something that is biodegradable, which means that we could provide access to this product, and also ensure that the product can be like composted or, whatsoever. And so it doesn’t have to create, like pollution problem or waste issue. And in terms of period poverty, we’re looking at, you know, the these are some of the more stark statistics that that you will see here in the US and that sort of thing, but it has a lot of other effects as well. So not just on, like having access to a pad does mean that you have better period experience less urinary tract infections, or reproductive tract infections, or securitisation, or rashes, things like that. But also it means that you can see more girls going to school, about 23 million girls drop out of school annually due to lack of menstrual hygiene facilities and things like that. And so being able to stay in school or at work means that you can kind of have a little more control over your future, in a way.
Bryn Bamber 4:01
It’s so interesting, I hadn’t thought about the kind of ripple effects of not having access to pads or other menstrual products and how also in the blog post, you’re sharing how there’s some stigma around it. And so it really, if you were to have a leak or something like that, while you were at school, that is really not going to be a good outcome for you.
Kristin Kagetsu 4:28
Yes, yeah. The taboos affected multiple ways. So one of the things is that in some villages, whether they’re using old bags or old saris or something like that, and though, you know, people today are purchasing cloth pads to use, I think, you know, it’s not necessarily that cloth is not safe, but it’s the way you use the cloth. So if you don’t have a way to wash the cloth properly, and dry it and all of that, then there’s more chance for bacteria to grow. And because of the taboo, you know, the best way to use these products, if you don’t have a drying machine or that sort of thing is you put it out in the sun. And if you don’t want people to know that you’re on your period, then you’re not going to put it out in the sun, you’re going to dry the house. And then you don’t get that to affect like UV sterilization as you would if you put it outside. So the taboos can affect in other ways, which are not as obvious, I think.
Bryn Bamber 5:30
Right? So even having access to a cloth pad isn’t necessarily a solution. If if there if there is a big taboo, and you’re worried about even using that publicly.
Kristin Kagetsu 5:44
Yeah, and I think one of the other things, so we’ve looked at, you know, sometimes people are saying, well, the sustainable options include cloth pads, and menstrual cups and things like that. But both cloth pads and menstrual cups do require washing. Sometimes in some villages, there isn’t enough water to drink, and therefore they wouldn’t have the water to wash these products. And so it’s something where, you know, if we can say, well, okay, here’s a disposable option, you can use this and it’s all sustainable, then it’s kind of a happy medium in in between, for people to have access to. We, we kind of talked a little bit about, like, you know, if you look at the pharmacy, right, if you go down the aisle, like for some products, you know, let’s say for like toothbrushes or something like that you have, you know, 50 different options for which kind of toothbrush but it’s like, what is the real difference between all those different toothbrushes, versus if you’re going on the pad isle there’s pretty much like three major brands. And they’re also like, pretty similar in terms of what they offer. And where are all your sustainable items? And today, maybe you see more sustainable items, but they’re still like only as many as you maybe count on two hands. So that’s still kind of absurd that we have all this choice in terms of like which style toothbrush we want to get. But for our intro products, we only have one, it’s a one size fits all.
Bryn Bamber 7:22
Yeah. So I’m curious about you in how you found this issue and found the solution like what’s your story of starting this company?
Kristin Kagetsu 7:32
So I studied mechanical engineering, and I learned about product development. And I always knew that I wanted to do something in, in engineering, but that kind of impacts people, but I didn’t necessarily know exactly what that would like what form that would take, I guess. And then I had a chance to go to India, as part of as my, well I guess my first experience was, I had worked on a waste management and recycling project at Pico. And so I was starting to understand a little more about what is what are some of the ways that people are dealing with waste today. And then the second experience is going to India for the first time and working on a different projects but with an NGO in the Himalayas, and I worked on developing a set of all-natural crayons for them. And so that was kind of a sustainable product. And in a way Saathi kind of combines both of those two things. And one is in looking at waste management, but also at product development and impacting women. So I think it was like what Saathi is today is kind of a mix of all of these interests in a way that I had. And it’s kind of looking at how we can have as much impact as possible while still building a profitable business, as well. And so we’re looking at how we can build this model for sustainable manufacturing, for absorbing products and kind of build that for the circular economy so it’s built to last.
Bryn Bamber 9:18
Mmm. Yeah. So how is it going? Like? Like, I’m curious about so many things. I’m like, do people buy it online? Is it in stores? You know, are you all across India? Are you only in certain region give us an update of where the company is?
Kristin Kagetsu 9:35
So people can buy our products on our website, or we’re also selling like in Amazon India, Flipkart, things like that. So we do have direct to consumer channels. We also have a few distributors in India, like eco stores and that sort of thing. And we have a couple of distributors outside of India, Middle East, in Southeast Asia and the UK, we have one website that delivers like direct to consumer to multiple countries. So that one has the farthest reach, I would say.
Bryn Bamber 10:11
So if people are listening and they want to try out the products, is it available in the US and Canada?
Kristin Kagetsu 10:19
Yeah. So this one site called Distacart where I believe they have all kinds of Indian products. So they just ship them all over the world. So I think they reach hundreds of countries. So yeah, the US and in Canada included that.
Bryn Bamber 10:35
Cool. And is the manufacturing done in India itself?
Kristin Kagetsu 10:40
Yes, so we do our manufacturing in Ahmedabad, which is where we’re based. We have our manufacturing unit there and our tea business there. And we are selling also direct to consumer in India.
Bryn Bamber 10:56
And can you tell us a little bit about your new program for plastic avoidance credits?
Kristin Kagetsu 11:04
Yeah, so one of the things that we’re exploring is, you know, right now, big companies are looking at carbon credits as a way to kind of offset or to to meet some of their carbon emission goals. And similarly, there are plastic credits, which some companies are purchasing to meet kind of plastic neutral goals as well, or address some of the plastic waste they’re creating. But right now, plastic credits are primarily focused on supporting projects that are collecting plastic waste, or recycling plastic waste, then what we’re proposing is instead to focus on plastic avoidance. Because with our product, we’re replacing plastic product, one for one with a biodegradable compostable alternative. And in that way, we can make sure that instead, our credits are actually kind of changing the status quo instead of maintaining it. And really making some kind of impact on the overall plastic and the environment.
Bryn Bamber 12:14
So cool. So are you looking for folks who work at a corporation to kind of make an invitation for you to talk to someone? Or how how can the community support you?
Kristin Kagetsu 12:27
Yeah, so, so we’re looking to speak with sustainability managers at big companies that would be purchasing these credits, and having an opportunity to present kind of how our credits work in that sort of thing, because we have kind of layout right now of what the, you know, what additional benefits we can provide with our credits, depending on the company’s interests. And it’s industry agnostic, because credit is relevant to whichever company is kind of looking looking to purchase. But the benefits for the community. And also the environmental benefits are also fairly universal as well.
Bryn Bamber 13:13
Maybe in the notes, we can put your email or something like that, so people can connect to you directly that about
Kristin Kagetsu 13:20
Yeah. Yeah, we should definitely do that.
Bryn Bamber 13:23
Cool. So you’re a Coralus Venture. So can you tell us a little bit about your experience, being a part of Coralus? And how that’s going?
Kristin Kagetsu 13:33
Yeah, we’re really excited to have been selected this year as Coralus Venture because I think we had kind of a challenging year, last year in terms of trying to find the right support and kind of helping it scale and all of that. And so what we’ve been doing in so far, it’s kind of we’ve, we have regular meetings with our mentor, and then we’re able to kind of work on some of the more operational challenges that we’re facing, which is, I think, fairly unique. A lot of different programs gonna focus more on like higher level goals or achievements and things like that. And this is much more like being getting to a lot of nitty gritties, like, you know, building relationships and understanding communication skills, versus just saying, kkay, well, you know, we need to find this many partners to boost our sales or something like that, which is also helpful, but just the focus is more personal, I think. And so that’s been really helpful.
Bryn Bamber 14:47
And can you share, I don’t know if we’ve already covered all of this, but I’m curious about the impact of Saathi on India and and people getting access to menstrual products, I mean, obviously, you’re not going to if it’s only 18%, you’re not going to totally as one company, you’re going to be able to solve that. Or maybe you will in time, you know, hopefully. But how is your company shifting the landscape?
Kristin Kagetsu 15:17
I would say in terms of impact, like our impact is relatively broad as well, like we cover different areas. So we’re addressing about nine of the UN sustainability goals. And we are working with farmers to supply our raw materials so we are able to increase them. We have an all women staff at our manufacturing unit, so kind of looking at power supporting those women to have disposable income. And we also are looking at how we are measuring the number of women that we reach with our pads and also in underserved areas. So last year alone, we were able to distribute about 700,000 pads, which is pretty cool considering at the beginning, like when we started, we had set a goal of reaching 1 million pads distributed as though we were able to achieve that milestone, which is really exciting. And then the other two kinds of metrics, we measure are amount of plastic avoided and amount of CO2 emissions reduced. So these are kind of the high level overview of the metrics that we can measure. And then qualitative things are a little bit, you know that like they’re more kind of stories and things that we hear. So in terms of women that work in our factory, they tell us about how now that they have the disposable income, they’re able to only to kind of make other decisions, financial decisions, or have financial freedom, but they can send their daughters to school. And that’s, like a generational change, which is really amazing to see. And then in terms of the women that were impacted in rural areas that have less access, we’ve seen very, very quick adoption to our biodegradable pads because of the understanding that they’re going to degrade very quickly as opposed to regular pads, and therefore the animals won’t dig them up and that kind of thing. And that’s another goes along with the taboo, probably as well, for like, where they grew up that they’re all over the community area. And yeah, it’s it’s not great. So. So like, this is kind of another one of those things which solves two-in-one.
Bryn Bamber 17:40
Yeah, sounds like you’ve been really thoughtful with every component of the company to be making a positive impact everywhere. Like on every level.
Kristin Kagetsu 17:51
Yeah, we kind of wanted to make sure all of our impacts are built into the supply chain business model, because then as our business grows, all of these impacts will grow. And it doesn’t have to be like something that we have to think of later, like, oh, did we, you know, did we do this? Or do we do that? It’s all part of the business. So it just will grow with a lot of effort. But like, as in it has to work, because this is how the model was built.
Bryn Bamber 18:18
Right? And it’s like, as manufacturing gets bigger, there’s a bigger positive impact in a sense that there are more jobs for women in that area. So it’s like, growth is not going to be creating more pollution or that kind of thing, but actually creating more jobs as well as more of these environmentally friendly products. And I’m curious about how when you’re selling in a rural area, is it a subsidized price? How do you make a profit or how does like the money all work together?
Kristin Kagetsu 18:58
Basically, with our rural sales, so we do it such that our urban sales are subsidizing the rural ones, kind of like a one for one type of model. At the same time, we also do a number of projects. So we have done kind of CSR programs and things like that, with companies as well that are interested to distribute pads in certain areas because of their like in India, there’s a mandate from the government that every company has to spend, I think it’s 2% of their budget on CSR activities. And so in that way, like, you know, trying to give back to the society, that type of thing, and so we’re able to do programs like that as well to help women in underserved areas that the disparity is that like, even though we have kind of the 50-50 model, like there’s more than 50% in rural areas, and so therefore, we need to have these other programs kind of running simultaneously to actually reach all the women is kind of how we see this, because it’s just the number of like, even if you did one for one everywhere, you still wouldn’t be able to reach all the women that need access. That kind of like, we have to have both models running so that we can actually try try to reach as many women as possible and faster too because we’re still small in comparison to like big multinationals.
Bryn Bamber 20:30
Yeah, and I’m, I’m gonna ask you, about your ask for the community. But before I ask that, is there any part of Saathi that I didn’t ask you about that you think would be interesting for people to hear about?
Kristin Kagetsu 20:46
I think one of the things that we’re trying to do are like the kind of business are trying to build this kind of business around system change. And I know people talk about that a lot. And so I’m trying to kind of figure out how to explain it. But I think it’s the kind of business model that we have designed where we have all those impacts and everything, it does make it a little bit more complex than maybe your standard manufacturing business so that sort of thing. And then at the same time, we’re also looking at expanding kind of our reach and impact on the waste side, so let’s say someone uses our product, so how will they upcycle it right? So can they upcycle it as compost, into biomass energy systems, bio toilets, things like this. And so seeing like how we can kind of close the loop within this system that we’re creating, and, and not necessarily doing it all ourselves, we’re open to working with other partners on these aspects. But see how we can kind of build that system for the long term is kind of our goal, I guess, you could say, and then looking at the vision, so we want to have this model for sustainable manufacturing. It’s also like a responsible manufacturing model. And part of the reason that we’re here I guess that we started is because we wanted to kind of make our mark in manufacturing, which is where you have all the choices of, you know, what materials do you use, what are the inputs into the product, and therefore what you expect after the product is used, and what it can be upcycled into. And that’s something that we see like, all manufacturers kind of have that or should have that kind of responsibility as to what it is you’re putting out there. Because a consumer can only choose what they’re offered. Yes, consumers do need to change because they need to have some behavior change. Because if there’s like an expectation of instant gratification, well, then it’s going to be a little bit challenging to meet that demand. But at the same time, like everyone has to play a role in our current shift to a circular economy. So consumers have to have some sort of behavior change, you know, understand the expectations as to what I can or cannot expect to have delivered to my door tomorrow. But then at the same time, if consumers demand something, companies will listen. And so there’s kind of that push. There’s also the company’s role, which is to provide a safe and responsible product that’s made in a safe and responsible way. And then there’s kind of like the investors and all that, like, where are you putting your money? Do you put your money into this, like, get rich, quick kind of scheme? Or are you putting your money into something that’s going to be long lasting, and kind of create this impact in long term, and will give you back your returns, but may not get you rich tomorrow? So so it’s kind of like everyone has a role to play? You could say maybe governments have a role to play in terms of regulation, that sort of thing. But yeah, so I think just looking at the big picture, and seeing how we can kind of be a model that in the future that can help others, you know, do this in different industries.
Bryn Bamber 24:10
Totally. Yeah. It’s an I feel like it is a template in terms of, okay, how do we even make the manufacturer, how do we make the product a sustainable product that is hitting a need, but then also, even the manufacturing is also hitting a need and, and supporting farmers. And so it’s really, you can see that the company has, like, really thought through the whole picture. And I think it’s such a beautiful example of, you know, social entrepreneurship or the circular economy, but it’s this example of how, actually, you know, creating a business that does create a profit can also have a positive impact. And, and yes, it does take a little more thoughtfulness and working through. I’m sure this, this took time and a lot of thought and care to figure out how to play all of these things together. So you’re making a positive impact on every level. But it is such a such a cool example. So what what is your ask for the community? What can listeners do? I mean, they can go to your website to purchase the pads, if they want to try it themselves, and they can, if they know someone in corporate and sustainability, they can connect with you. But what what else can listeners do to support Saathi?
Kristin Kagetsu 25:45
Yeah, um, those are two great things. And then we’re also currently fundraising for our bridge round. And so we’re open to connects to funders that are potentially fairly foundations or we’re looking for equipment and equipment load. And we’re open to raising some funds on safes as well. So those are kind of the specific funding type of connectors that we’re looking for. And very much want to have values are like long term alignment with the with the funding, because we do have this big picture goal that we want to achieve. And so a lot of you and that is very important.
Bryn Bamber 26:31
Yeah, yeah. Well, we’ll make sure to put everything in the notes so people know how to connect if they have a connection for you on any of these levels.
Kristin Kagetsu 26:43
That’s awesome. It’s been great to have an opportunity to talk about this stuff. And I mean, sometimes, you know, like, we get stuck in the day to day, nitty gritty, but it’s nice to have a chance to share about the bigger picture as well.
Bryn Bamber 26:58
Thank you so much for sharing about Saathi and your story on the podcast today.
Kristin Kagetsu 27:05
Danielle Cadhit 27:08
Thank you for listening to the Ripples of Radical Generosity podcast. Let us know what you thought of the episode, and share this podcast with your friends. We invite you to join a global community of radically generous women and non binary folks at www.Coralus.World.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai