“I grew up in Nepal, where shame about periods was widespread. Nachune is the Nepalese word for period which basically translates as ‘untouchable’”, explains WUKA founder Ruby Raut when asked about what inspired her to create a range of period pants.
“When I started my period, I experienced a form of ‘chapaudi’, now illegal in Nepal. During menstruation, I was sent to my aunt’s house and wasn’t allowed to go out in the sun, look at men or touch plants – as it was believed that I would kill them – just because I was having a period”.
Ruby then continued to struggle adjusting to life with periods because of the products used. “Like other girls, I was given old sari rags to use for the bleeding, which happened to be reusable and eco-friendly, but not hygienic. They weren’t leakproof or comfortable and didn’t work for me when I played sports”.
When she first moved to the UK, Ruby thought her problems were solved because of the wide range of menstrual products available. She quickly realised, however, that pads and tampons were neither comfortable nor leakproof too.
Ruby later learnt that the products available in British supermarkets were not eco-friendly either.
“When I was studying for my Environmental Science degree”, she explains, “I discovered that more than 200,000 tonnes of tampons and pads were sent to UK landfill every year, contributing to the mounting tide of plastic pollution”.
“This was basically my lightbulb moment and is how WUKA was born”.
Supplanting single use plastic
From the outset, Ruby was clear about her vision for WUKA and encapsulated this in the brand’s name, which stands for Wake Up, Kick Ass.
“We believe that nothing should hold you back when you’re on your period”, she says. “We’re on a mission to smash taboos and create the world’s most comfortable and sustainable menstrual products”.
Ruby’s goal was, and remains, nothing less than removing single-use tampons and pads from supermarket shelves.
Achieving this required rethinking the alternatives.
“There were already some pants in the market, but they were just leakproof, definitely not classified as period pants and were not all that period pants were meant to be”, she recalls.
“I wanted to make underwear that was specifically designed for periods, breathable, comfortable and reliable”.
Reducing periods’ carbon footprint
The first product, in 2017, was WUKA Heavy, which holds at least 20ml of period flow (equivalent to about four tampons) and remains a top seller.
Three years later, progress is impressive. As well as being able to buy WUKA online,
“This year alone we have stopped four million tampons and pads going to landfill and find that every year this number goes up”, says Ruby.
“We are also super proud in that we have reached supermarkets, including 214 branches of Sainsbury’s, Whole Foods, Ocado and Planet Organic – the first period pants to sit in the feminine care aisle next to disposables”.
“This is a huge achievement which means that we are getting closer to our mission of removing plastic disposables from supermarket shelves”, she continues.
“We have also begun building and growing a zero waste shop network to support other small, sustainable businesses as well as encouraging people to shop locally.”
“Every step that we take, we want to reduce not only ours but everyone’s carbon footprint.”
Campaigning for sustainable periods for all
Ruby and the WUKA team have also begun focusing on making reusable menstrual products more accessible in terms of cost.
They launched WUKA Basics,, a more affordable option designed to absorb a medium period flow (equivalent to two to three tampons). “We believe neither sustainability nor periods are a luxury”, says Ruby.
“You can grab a pair of WUKA Basics in a set for as low as £10, costing you just 42p per period. Not only are you doing your pocket a favour but also the planet”.
At the same time, Ruby is determined to see more fundamental changes that would make reusable menstrual products become more affordable.
“All our customers are currently paying 20% tax on their period pants”, she points out. “Periods are not a luxury, but the government are profiting off them when things like helicopters and Jaffa Cakes are tax free”.
“This is a social justice issue”, Ruby continues.
“The taxation of period pants is an important cause that needs to be heard as a lower price point would not only make them more accessible but also reduce the huge amount of waste that single-use, disposable period products create”.
“Right now, our biggest goal is to get 100,000 signatures to bring this debate to the parliament floor”, says Ruby.
“Periods are not a luxury, but the government are profiting off them when things like helicopters and Jaffa Cakes are tax free”
“We are committed to do whatever it takes to get VAT removed from period pants. We stand firm in the belief that a lower price point for sustainable options will encourage a larger number of people to move away from single-use tampons and pads”.
And although Ruby promises to lower the price of WUKA underwear to reflect any VAT reduction, this campaign isn’t about commercial interest. “For us, this is not just business”, she says. “It is a way of educating people and making change together”.
How you can support WUKA’s campaign?
We can all get involved in this campaign by adding our name to the petition and getting it to the crucial 100,00 signatories. Sharing the petition is also vital.
“The problem of disposable period products affects us all, whether you have periods or not”, says Ruby.
“Around 6.2% of beach litter in the UK is from period products, something that can clearly be avoided if we switched to reusable options”.
“We also ask that you write to your local MP and share your views on the matter with them”, Ruby continues.
To make this as easy as possible, there’s a sample letter available to download on the WUKA website: “It takes a couple of minutes, but if we all do our bit, the change we can create as a collective is huge”.
Alongside these efforts to tackle the problems of single-use menstrual products and make reusable options more financially accessible, Ruby retains big ambitions for her brand.
“I want WUKA to be a household name for period pants”, she says.
“I want to create a sustainable planet for future generations and to continue to do this while empowering people who wear WUKA”.
“One day, we hope to live in a world where no child misses out of school due to period poverty and where everyone has access to comfortable, leakproof period pants”.