Awwa co-founder Michele Wilson (Tainui, Ngāti Paoa) wants to end period poverty and help the environment. Wilson grew up in South Auckland and saw girls her age taking time off school and work during their monthly periods.
They would come back to school once their periods were finished.
“Ultimately every woman and girl, should have an equal chance to go to school and not miss out on work or education because they can’t manage their period,” Michele Wilson says.
How did the tīpuna manage periods?
Instead of making conventional sanitary products like pads and tampons, Wilson turned back to ancestral practices for inspiration. She says Māori would use plants like aniani to manage periods.
“Tīpuna would wear it, wash it, resuse it, until it couldn’t be used anymore,” Wilson says.
“Then it would often be burnt and returned to earth.”
It was this practice, Wilson says, that gave her the inspiration for Awwa. Its underwear absorbs period material and is fully washable.
The impact of period poverty on education
Being unable to afford the cost of period sanitary items like pads and tampons is termed ‘period poverty’.
Recent research showed 16% of girls in decile 1-3 schools had missed school due to period poverty. The number of girls who missed school in decile 4-7 schools was 8%. In decile 8-10 schools the number was 2%.
To help reverse the tide of period poverty Awwa donated 1000 pairs of period underwear to Dignity, a women’s charity. Dignity has partnered with 100 schools and organisations to distribute the clothing. Awwa also donates 5% of its stock on a continuing basis.
Wilson co-founded the company with Kylie Matthews (Ngāti Pākehā). Silver Fern captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio serves as brand ambassador.