A solution to South Africa’s sanitary towel problem

A solution to South Africa’s sanitary towel problem

We chat to Sherie de Wet, the founder of Palesa Pads, about her reusable sanitary towel initiative.

Palesa pad's ceo Sherrie de Wet
Palesa pad's ceo Sherrie de Wet/ YouTube screenshot

Various reports have shown that South African girls are still missing school due to not having sanitary towels available.

With many households struggling to make ends meet, buying pads is not always be a priority.

This struggle is the reason why Sherie de Wet came up with re-usable sanitary towels - to lower the financial burden for these girls.

“In April 2017 I read an article about girls that were missing 3 to 5 days of school each month, due to a lack of sanitary pads. I was horrified to think that their education was being compromised by something as natural and uncontrollable as a period. My research led me to discover the concept of cloth sanitary pads and how they, in fact, have been around for millennia,” says Sherie.

However, she also “discovered that good-quality, washable sanitary pads were quite costly” and she took it upon herself to come up with a “good-quality, yet affordable sanitary pad for all women” - and this is how Palesa Pads was born.

Although Sherie came up with a good idea, she says she faced a lot of challenges, including having to raise funds for the project.

“Coming up with the ideal design and fabric combination proved to be more difficult than I had expected. After six months of research and testing, I eventually launched version 12 to the market in October 2017. It wasn’t quite as grand as I had expected. At least half the people I spoke to were disgusted at the idea of washing their own blood. Some even turned and walked away mid-sentence, but there was also a lot of positive response as well and that gave me hope that I was on the right track. My first school girl donation was in November 2017 for 30 girls. But raising the funds was surprisingly challenging and made me rethink my approach,” she says.

The breakthrough came when Anglo American agreed to fund her project.

“A few months later, we had a breakthrough when Anglo American believed in our vision and gave us our first big donation which set us on track. We’ve had ups and downs since then, but we very glad to have repeat sponsorships and a growing number of loyal supporters,” she says.

When it comes to the hygienic aspects of cloth pads, Sherie says she had to do a lot of research and found that cloth pads were safer to use than disposable pads.

“I did a lot of research on the hygiene aspect of cloth pads and tried them myself, knowing how sensitive I am to infections. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my own period was shorter, lighter, and less painful than ever before. Further research then revealed that the disposable sanitary products I’d been using were, in fact, full of chemicals which many believe are the cause of irritation experienced during menstruation. Cloth sanitary pads contain no chemicals and therefore cause no irritation. What is important though is to wash them thoroughly as we do with our panties, which we wear over and over again. A vinegar rinse also helps to kill any bacteria on the pads,” she says.

Sherie says washing the pads is easy. “The first step is to soak them in cold soapy water, with the soiled side facing down. After soaking, one can then rub them gently with laundry soap to remove any marks left behind. Palesa Pads are made of stain-resistant fabric, so they are very easy to clean. The final step is to rinse the pads in clean water with a tablespoon of white spirit vinegar. The vinegar helps to kill any bacteria that remains whilst softening and freshening the fabric. The vinegar smell evaporates as the pads dry, so they are completely odourless,” she says.

She adds that a proper wash is also key to ensuring they last longer.

“Wash them properly, until they are spotless and don’t leave them in the hot sun for hours on end as this can crack the waterproofing. Rather dry them inside near an open window and with indirect sunlight. It is important not to share your pads with anyone. Treat them the same way you treat your panties and you will be able to enjoy them for many years,” Sherie says. 

She adds that with proper care, they can be “reused for up to five years. That is the length of a girl’s entire high school career.” The other advantage of cloth pads is that they can be worn for up to 12 hours.

The price ranges from R99 for a Kickstart Combo, which contains three pads, up to R449 for an Ultimate Flo Kit which contains 12 pads plus all the cleaning materials.

Sherie says the pads can be bought “directly from the factory in Johannesburg through our online channels, website, e-mail, WhatsApp, Facebook, and the like, or you can get yours from one of our resellers in an area near you. We have a number of delivery methods available. We are also hoping to be in a number of retail stores before the end of the year to make Palesa Pads accessible for everyone.”

She adds that they soon plan to have breast pads on the market, as well as child and adult nappies.

READ: Sanitary pads, white bread flour to be added to VAT free items

Sherrie de Wet
Sherrie de Wet/ Supplied

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