Vanessa, Duchess of Tampons:
Her passion, changed a 1/4 of Taiwanese women’s lives
The young entrepreneur Vanessa got her name “Tampon Duchess” when she started to share her tampon experiences on her personal blog with many ladies out there who are constantly troubled by the “periodic visits”. Besides constantly promoting and giving speeches, she single handedly went to Israel and imported the more modern and advanced tampons despite all the restrictions the government had. It is because of her persistance; Taiwanese women now have another option to battle the troublesome time of the month with confidence.
It all started back in college….
To understand the starting of Kira, you first have to understand the founder’s background. Vanessa majored in Education, and was the Chairman of the “Women’s Awareness Association” back in college. She recalls that the one most important thing she learnt was women’s self-awareness. She says, “It’s lets me understand that us females can be independent just like men, to a a woman who knows what she wants and get what she deserves, and creating happiness for other women”.
The Chairmen before her were all on the track on how to be more of a feminist, by conflicting and battling the stereotype men’s ideology and the restrictions imposed on women. That is the reason why many members were often pretty hostile to the opposite sex. But she changed that. It then started to be, how the two sexes can live in harmony. Given that the ratio is 50/50 in this world between the two genders, why is it that males has to be outcasted from many things? Because of the change in mentality, the juniors were less hostile towards each other and had a better bonding relationship even till now, after ten years of graduation.
Because of women’s self intuition of their own bodies, she understands the menstruation cycle correctly. To avoid the discomfort which the menstruation pad brings to women, such as stuffiness, odor, leakage etc, she tried tampons at a really early stage. But given that the insertion process was awkward and was often hurtful (plus when us ladies gets nervous we tend to stress and squeeze in, and the more we squeeze the more it hurts…a tampon-phobia slowly creeping in). Then it was when a friend who brought back tampons with an applicator from the States, a new door has been opened. It was until her senior year when she went to the States as an exchange student; she realized that these type of products are actually so easily obtainable. She was shocked. She says, “At that time I felt so sorry for Taiwanese women. You cant find tampons with applicators, but here in the States, there a shelve full of it at any supermarket you go to!”
Start the dream, Finish it!
When she started using tampons, she felt that her life has dramatically changed. It was after using tampons, she could sleep in any position she wanted to, she could wear skirts when she’s shopping, she didn’t have to worry about odor or stuffiness. From then it was a life turning point. It felt as if her life has changed from gray to rainbow. She was happy everyday. So she wanted this for all females, in 2003 she started her e-news and blog on tampons, sharing information and knowledge with other users, it’s even until now there are new discussions on everyday. “Slowly but surely more and more are asking about tampons and thus gave me the idea of bringing it in to Taiwan so that more females can use this product!” she says.
So she contacted Playtex about distribution rights, at first it all started really well, even the product launch dates were all set, but then news was that the Playtex brand was sold to another Corporation.
After considering the impact this will bring to the market, Vanessa had to give up everything she has worked for. She then thought, this will happen if you continue to be a distributor, but what will happen if she started her own brand? This is when she started contacting the world’s leading manufacturers, which is the Israeli company she is working with now.
She says: “It feels like there are so many coincidences in life. Linking me up with tampons, for instance, given that I majored in education, I know how to change text to multimedia, or when I do research on papers or articles from abroad, or statements from the FDA, these are a piece of cake for me. Plus my family is in the trading business, it wasn’t hard for me to handle the trading process by myself. And it was also after when I flew to Israel to see it for myself, I was really relieved.”
Exploring Israel, opening the market
Hearing her speak about her experience in Israel, one cannot believe that in that small country, where we often link it with the image of wars, has the most advanced medical systems in the world. Thanks to all the wars going on, the government highly supports the developments of computer science and biotechnology. Tampons belongs in the medical technology department, thus the manufacturers have to undergo strict procedures to get an ISO approved before mass production. Israelis are a nation who demands precision and quality. It also establishes a good commercial foundation. “It is often that they solve the problem even before I discover them. It’s for these reasons and these types of work ethics and manners that keeps me confident in working with them, as a long term business partner.”
She has to manage everything during her journey, as well as coping with accommodation, food, and language barriers. After her return to Taiwan, all her family and friends felt the change in her. “Maybe its because i completed a mission, did something that everyone thought I couldn’t do, and still managed to come back in one piece” she said.
But the challenge doesn’t end just here. After striking the deal with the manufacturers, now she has to face the more difficult application process. Given that each country has different cultures, thus it made it hard for the paperwork process. Tampons, a very regular sanitary item had to undergo strict inspections under this more conservative environment before it is brought in. The market is also not very welcoming and this explains why after so many years, all these existing major brands refused to spend time on doing this business.
In order to obtain the approval from The Department of Health, it took almost a year and a half before all was set. She has a stack of paper piled up to 30cm high, about the size of a doll house! Just on the translating papers, and the description of every detail such as absorption degree, cotton origin, string pull, and also even trade secrets as well as even shareholder structure had to be explained. “If it wasn’t because of the strong relationship and trust I had with them, it could have ended right there!” she says.
Luckily for her, God helps those who helps themselves. Two years later, Vanessa received a call from the DOH informing her that her application has been approved. She remembers that day when she held the approval to see her dad, she even asked him “so what do we do now?” He replied “Now you start selling! Don’t you know you are in a huge debt already?” After that she started contacting all the distributors.
Face the challenge, not fearing to sow for others to reap
After successfully unlocking the gates to Taiwan’s tampon with applicator market, follows a group of competition feeding off her hard work. “I often get questions asking me about the problems with other brands on the internet, or questions about how to buy tampons from overseas online” She feels that a healthy competition is a good thing, and Kira started off by serving those who don’t have access to but tampons from abroad. If this could help more women, why not? She smiled and said, “Although I would like it for them to support Kira Kira more, but then it is because of her being unbiased, that’s why she has so much support on the internet, thus she will do her best in answering all the questions.”
Many who has asked Vanessa in the past didn’t even know that they actually have “3 holes” down there. They often ask questions like, how do they urinate if a tampon is inserted? Even more didn’t know that the hymen is a circular muscle, and there is a hole in the middle, and mislead themselves thinking that it will break the hymen if its inserted. In order to let the girls have a better understanding, she started doing speeches at different schools and colleges, and the feedback was great! At many occasions, the male teachers will do the opening and then many teachers will ask her for samples to use. This change made her really happy. And she felt that she is doing something right. “This is knowledge sharing, if i have a daughter in the future, I’m definitely gonna teach her the correct way of using a tampon.”
As for the gender wars, she never felt that conflicts and discrimination should be the key to elaborate women’s freedom. “Why is it like that? We need each other!” She thinks that a bridge of communication should be moving forward hand in hand, grow together. “This is why when we make out trips to schools, we often tell the boys, don’t think that the girls sanitary items have nothing to do with you, its because of the correct ones, your partner will feel more at ease, and that is the key to your relationship. If they are happy during the period, you will be happy!
Virgin Yes, Hymen No!
The hard work Vanessa has done over the years resulted that Taiwanese women can now easily obtain tampons with applicator products at various distributors. Not mentioning the prior complications of getting it here, now the real challenge is, how to convince the conservative Taiwanese culture.
Taiwan has this misconception about hymens, which can be seen/heard from some factual stories. There was this very conservative lady who once wanted to keep her hymen until she meets her husband, was shocked and embarrassed that she didn’t bleed when she had sex for the first time. These type of stories are often heard, and there are still many out there who cares about the hymen more than themselves.
Vanessa believes, if you cant really determine the hymen being broken or not, then why is it that one has to be bound by from being a virgin for the sake of virginity? Even if you have a perfect hymen, it doesn’t guarantee you that you will meet the right person. If your hymen is no longer perfect due to many reasons other than sex, and during all this time, while you could have an option, you didn’t make the right decision for being free, by being yourself, and have the freedom of wearing or doing what you like?
She states: “Of course I believe in the hymen theory, I also believe in trusted love, but I don’t believe is the bleeding because since it (hymen) can’t really be inspected, and it can be faked! Because I was in the Women Awareness Association back in college, therefore I understand more about the right to make decisions for themselves (women). I may have lost some blood, but I won’t regret it because I made a better decision.”
She believes “virginity” should be based on sexual intercourse, and not on insertion into the body. If you are really ill today, and needs medical attention, does that mean you will reject medical help just to protect your hymen?
Being happy throughout the entire process!
All this time, she has been like a marathon runner, not being afraid of what lies ahead, hurdling obstacles, reaching for her goal of making Taiwanese women happier than ever.
After Kira was established, they did market research for a year and a half on women sanitary products and found that there was not a direct impact on other tampon brands, but it actually had a impact on the padding market. This means that consumers are changing. More and more are now trying out tampons, choosing to have a better life without hassles during the menstruation cycle.
She is very pleased with this result. She recalls: “When I was a kid, I wanted to make a change to this world. Until now I have taught many on tampon usage and changed many peoples lives, I realized this is what I wanted to do – let the girls be free from waiting for the cycle to be over, and to be able to have the freedom of wearing clothes they love, and hug the outdoors with a huge smile!”.
Her enthusiasm, is just like what the late Steve Jobs said: “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition”. It is because of her, many Taiwanese women lives have changed, and their lives are more fulfilled.