AWWA period-proof underwear rides to global success 

By Jessica Tyson

AWWA period-proof underwear has been named a finalist of this year’s SheEO Venture Awards, a global platform that provides funding to women-led businesses.

AWWA co-founder Michele Wilson says she feels lucky to be recognised alongside two other businesses, Jobloads, founded by Candice Pardy, as well as fashion label Kiri Nathan Ltd by Kiri Nathan.

“It’s an incredible platform to be a part of. We are going to receive financial support from a lot of women but more than that, support from global entrepreneurs that is going to help us really get into the next stage of our business which is going global.”

Going global

AWWA period-proof underwear provides a sustainable alternative to all other menstrual products and is revolutionising period management worldwide.

“We’re starting our export plan. We’ve launched lots of new pairs. We’ve got lots of new collaborations ready for Christmas with a lot of wahine Māori businesses," Wilson of Tainui and Ngāti Paoa says.

Despite the impact of Covid-19 hasn’t stopped AWWA from developing its brand this year. It has also had a great response from other indigenous cultures from overseas.

“What we’ve learned from our Māori culture is that our tupuna stories of our e kura were really colonised and that has had a disastrous effect on wāhine," Wilson says.

“So, I believe there is a lot to learn and gain from what other cultures did during their period, and how they thought of their period and themselves, and reclaiming those stories and how that help all other cultures all over the world.”

To help reverse the tide of period poverty, AWWA donated 1000 pairs of period underwear to Dignity, a women’s charity earlier this year. It's also working on a New Zealand sustainably sourced fabric fibre for the underwear.

Wilson says she and co-founder Kylie Matthews were inspired to create AWWA after reading research by Dr Ngahuia Murphy.

“It taught me that having your ikura (period) was not whakamā, so really we just need to champion that whakaaro, retell out tupuna stories so that our wahine can feel empowered when they have their period.”

Preventing period poverty

In May this year the government allocated $2.2 million as a pilot to address statistics that show more than95,000 girls miss school every year because they can't afford sanitary products.

“It’s fantastic that the government is making a start with the pilot programme but I would like it to open it up to reusable products so that all women have a choice of what they would like to use to manage their period and to provide it to all tamariki in all schools and all women who need it.”

Launched by respected entrepreneur Theresa Gattung in 2017, the New Zealand division of SheEO.World has raised $906,000.

Gattung says, "I’m delighted that three of the top five Ventures were founded by Māori wāhine. I’m also pleased to see that we are continuing the geographic spread and now have ventures in Gisborne and Northland, joining past ventures from all around New Zealand."

The other two finalists were Goodbye SANDFLY and Goodbye OUCH, which makes certified natural products that protect the skin outdoors, founded by Becky Cashman and based in Kerikeri as well as Nisa, an organic cotton underwear label that employs women from refugee backgrounds in its Wellington studio and workroom, founded by Elisha Watson.

The winners will benefit from the support of interest-free loans, business mentoring and the expertise of a global network.

Full list of finalists:

AWWA - A sustainable alternative to menstrual products with latest fabric technology period-proof underwear, founded by Michele Wilson and Kylie Matthews. The Auckland-based business is opening a South Island headquarters in Blenheim in January 2021.

Goodbye SANDFLY and Goodbye OUCH – certified natural products that protect the skin outdoors, founded by Becky Cashman and based in Kerikeri.

Jobloads - a digital solution that enables collaboration and reduces frustration when people work together on temporary jobs, founded by Candice Pardy and based in Gisborne.

Kiri Nathan Ltd – the first Māori fashion industry to focus on community, ethical practice, and cultural integrity, founded by Kiri Nathan in Auckland.

Nisa - an organic cotton underwear label that employs women from refugee backgrounds in its Wellington studio and workroom, founded by Elisha Watson.