Fiona McKeague & Sarah Ripper On Equipping The Menstrual Revolution & Building A Social Enterprise
Three friends from university, Fiona McKeague, Matilda Marsh, and Sarah Ripper, are now ‘cup-verted’ period preachers, bringing you Myoni menstrual cup. Free from bleaches, bpa plastic, latex, and other nasties; Myoni Cup is Australian made and owned. One cup replaces hundreds of disposables and saving time, money, and waste.
They want to live in a world where taboo and shame is a thing of the past, where people have environmentally gentle, cost effective, safe and workable ways to experience their periods and a world where the cycle is embraced as a superpower.
Myoni strives to empower menstruators and contribute positively to our planet, offering high quality, locally produced, reusable, responsible, recyclable menstrual cups that give back to the broader community.
Myoni is committed to producing quality product, responsible domestic manufacturing, a transparent supply chain, and has pledged to donate 50% of profits to their community partners.
Sarah and Fiona discuss the shift towards purpose-driven business, starting their social enterprise which tackles period poverty and the conversation and relationship society has with menstruation & women’s health.
Highlights from the interview (listen to the podcast for full details)
[Sarah Ripper] - I guess we're kind of unlikely social entrepreneurs really. We all studied different things; community development, art, I studied film and international relations, worked in the community sector of arts and entertainment, then I ended up teaching. Fiona works in rock art research, so we never really thought that we would be starting a business. But we all started using menstrual cups a long time ago when they were really a hippy thing and they were hard to access, and they changed our worlds.
We were just wondering where they were, and we just wanted them to be more available to people. I vividly remember calling Fiona, five or six years ago, saying, "Let's do some kind of menstrual cup project. I don't know what it's going to look like, but we just need to bring them to the world." She was like, "Yeah, I'm in."
Brilliant. What about yourself, Fiona?
[Fiona McKeague] - We were friends at uni, which is how we met, and although we all sort of did different things, I think one unifying theme for all of us is that we were all really interested in and committed to community development and social justice, and we were all concerned and passionate about the environment, so we had those things in common and that was a theme that ran through all of the different projects that we'd gotten up to over time.
When we discovered menstrual cups, we thought ‘yeah, this needs to be a thing and this needs to be mainstreamed as well.’ That's how it came out and turned into Myoni, and as we've gone along our journey, we've become more and more passionate and concerned about period poverty as being a really big issue and a fundamental barrier to people's participation fully in the world. When I say people, I mean people who menstruate.
It's a huge problem globally, then. Tell us a little bit more about Myoni, then. What is the vision, and where are you at on this journey?
[Fiona] - The vision for Myoni… for me as part of Impact Boom, one of the things that's made a big difference is being able to workshop and clarify our vision and purpose. We are committed to equipping the menstrual revolution, that's what we're up to. The journey and the vision for Myoni is we make quality product here in Australia, and our aim is to sell the product and donate 50% of our profits to our community partners, who are Share The Dignity, because they're doing really amazing work around period poverty, and it's really fact based work that they're doing. We're also transforming the conversation that people have around periods and the relationship that we, as a society, have to this normal bodily process that happens, but for some reason we're all still weird about it and we're still critically undereducated about it.
Absolutely. What have been some of the greatest challenges then in starting Myoni to date, and how have you worked around them?
[Sarah] - As I said, we didn't come from the business world, so there was lots, and there continues to be, lots of things that we don't know that we don't know, but it's been a huge personal and professional development journey for all of us. Some of the greatest challenges for us is that we've chosen to make everything in Australia, and that's been great and that's aligned with our values, but it's also meant that things take a lot longer unfortunately. That's been one of our really big challenges, and also because we're committed to keeping up to the highly stringent quality assurance guidelines of Australian Standards with the Therapeutic Goods Administration, which is fine, but understanding all of those systems and processes has been a big learning curve for us as well.
[Fiona] - Three specific challenges that I'm really aware of that we've had to tackle. The first one we had was finance, because we had a really great idea, but product development is costly.
The first thing we needed to do was to find a way to finance ourselves to be able to develop a product, but at a business stage where we weren't ready to take investment, because prototyping needs to happen before you can take investment.
We were very fortunate and very lucky to be successful in getting an Ignite Ideas grant from Advance Queensland. That's been an absolute game changer for us. That bit of startup cash allowed us to get our tool made and to get things really happening with our contract manufacturers. That was our number one challenge.
Another challenge, which Sarah has just described, was understanding and coming to grips with the Therapeutic Goods Administration and the legislation in Australia, because we are classified as a therapeutic good, and we're really committed to Australian Standards and making sure that we make safe, quality, transparent products. But unfortunately, those standards are really developed with large companies in mind, who are able to employ whole teams as consultants and their one job is to specialise in this field. They tell you things like what the outcome needs to be, but not how you need to go about achieving it. That's something you just have to work out yourselves. That was another big challenge for us.
Then I think the other big challenge is, which is what we've come to understand, is…
what the menstrual revolution is all about, is dealing with people's weird shame and taboo about periods. I mean, I never thought that I'd be a period preacher, I never thought that that would happen, but just somehow the more that we've gone along the journey of this project, the more that we realise that this is something that we need to talk about.
Having conversations with people about it has been both one of the most exciting bits of the journey, and also that's been a challenge as well.
Beyond the actual menstrual cup itself, I know you're really, really keen on taking the taboo out of menstruation. Do you have any other plans to really build this community and help women to get past what may be a taboo topic for some?
[Fiona] - Yeah, Tom, for sure we do. To be clear, the menstrual revolution is not about a product or any one particular product. It is about period poverty and it's about transforming our relationship with shame about those two things. I often talk to people about how, (and this is so ridiculous), but when I was a teenager, I remember leaving school and then every time that in sex-ed class they'd try and have a conversation about sex, and I'd roll my eyes and go, "Oh yeah, no, I already know about this. I've read books, I know about this." And I look back at myself then and think what a ridiculous thing. I knew nothing, and I think that that's the level that we're at as a society with this conversation, is we know nothing.
We often talk with people about the phases of your menstrual cycle, that this is something that's happening all the time, and that if you experience fluctuations in your energy levels, this is part of normal life as a person who goes through these cycles. That blows people's minds. They're like, "What? I just thought that sometimes I'm really tired." We're like, "No, this is normal." "Other times I have bunch of energy." Yeah, that's great too, and if you know this information and you're empowered by it, you can use that to work with it rather than against it. We've been really big on finding ways to deliver that information and educational material as well.
As participants in the Elevate+ Accelerator then, what have been a couple of the core lessons that you've both learned that you think would be really valuable for others who are looking to start a social enterprise?
Network with your community, find a community of like-minded people and really support each other, because I think sometimes we can get in our heads or stuck in our own ideas of what we think is or is not possible.
As participants in the Elevate+ Accelerator then, what have been a couple of the core lessons that you've both learned that you think would be really valuable for others who are looking to start a social enterprise? [continued…]
[Sarah] - Having a community around us has made the world of difference, just bouncing ideas around, seeing things from new perspectives, sharing new ways of being, nutting out strategy, vision, and innovative ways to make an impact. That's been fabulous for us.
[Fiona] - Yeah, I've found the community aspect of it has been fantastic, and the mentorship aspect of Impact Boom.
I've been really thrilled to discover just how much our local social enterprise ecosystem in South-East Queensland, how much of it is just driven by generosity.
Everybody in this sector, in this space, has been so generous with their contributions to each other, with their time, with their networking, with their help, and that's been really engaging and thrilling and a really delightful thing to be a part of.
Absolutely. There's some amazing projects happening from the region, so what inspiring projects or initiatives have you guys come across recently which you believe are creating some great positive social change?
[Sarah] - Oh, my goodness. So many fabulous things happening in a lot of different sectors.
I know that sometimes it gets discouraging for people about what's happening globally, but at grassroots and community levels I think we're seeing amazing things happening.
I used to live in Melbourne and there were so many amazing projects. We used to run projects getting the kids out of the detention centres for the day and having exciting activities, and then partnering with different charities like the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Friends of Refugees, heaps of grassroots organisations that are even smaller than that doing amazing things and really connecting communities to one another. That's amazing in those spaces, and I know that there's initiatives like that happening all other Australia.
Fiona and I have been part of projects like the Hamlin Fistula Foundation, and they're doing amazing things in women's health, and in helping women who have obstetric fistula and training midwives. There's amazing things happening in the food system, so obviously we have Food Connect in Queensland, Sovereign Foods, and the food cooperative movement becoming more prevalent. Community gardens that are popping up all over the place.
I'm also loving the shift to social enterprise or impact or purpose-driven business becoming more commonplace. That's really refreshing to see.
I also dwell in the world of holistic wellbeing and meditation and that personal development space. I'm also loving seeing that coming into the business world and those sorts of ideas and concepts that I think previously would have been seen as a bit out there or woo-woo being seen as tools of productivity and tools that can help people to collaborate in more effective and more compassionate and more expanded ways. They're some of the general things that I'm seeing that I think are really exciting.
There's some great points and projects there. Thanks, Sarah. What about you, Fiona?
[Fiona] - Two or three Australian projects that I have been really inspired by recently, one hyper-local project is the Buy Nothing Project, and this exists all over the world, but there's local chapters everywhere. It's about sharing community resources and reducing consumption lifestyles, and it has the wonderful outcome of connecting people at the same time. That's one that I really, really love. And then two other Australian projects, which are not so much social enterprise, more in the charity space, but one is Share The Dignity, who we're proud to call our partners. They're fantastic and they're doing really great work around helping young people stay in school, especially when we know for example that in Australia a lot of young girls miss out on school because they don't have what they need to manage their period, which is crazy. They're amazing. Then another one is One Girl, who has projects in Africa about keeping girls in school, and the longer you can keep girls at school, the better the outcome will be for them and for their whole communities. There's a few things that I personally am really inspired by.
To finish off then, what about some inspiring books or some other resources that you might recommend to our listeners?
[Fiona] - For me, I've actually been finding that, for where I'm at now, resources on productivity in general have been really good for me, just in order to develop sustainable work habits where I can keep things moving along with everything that needs to happen and keep being productive without driving myself into the ground. One of the earliest ones I read was The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod. Very, very simple strategies for getting the most out of my mornings. That's made a big difference for me. Then another one that I only just recently picked up, so I'll have to report back to you on is Deep Work by Cal Newport. I've only just started it, but it’s all about how deep work is something that is easy to give up on when your life is full of emails and getting back to people, but that's one of the most valuable practises that you can put in place for yourself. Those are two that I'm onto at the moment.
They sound great. What about you, Sarah?
[Sarah] - I think I'm going to take the period angle and encourage people to learn a bit more about their cycle, or the cycle of those that they love. A really great one is Woman Code. It talks about your cycle, fertility, and really how we can, I guess people are really into hacking things, so how can you hack your body to get the most out of it?
How can you cultivate the full phases of your cycle, how can you look at the foods that you're eating, the work tasks that you're choosing to do, the kind of exercise that is either going to propel you forward or maybe get in the way of how you want to go about day to day life?
I would encourage people to, I mean, there lots of other resources out there, but starting to get curious about that.
They sound like some great books! What should people do then if they would like to learn more about Myoni and get their hands on one of these menstrual cups?
[Sarah] - Visit our website. You'll find a link there to sign up to our newsletter to be in the know about what we're up to, and of course to purchase pre-sales, which will be closing shortly. And obviously you can follow us also on Instagram and Facebook. If you have any other questions feel free to reach out and be in contact. We'd love to hear from people and hear what they're up to.