#NewsBytesExclusive: IIT-Delhi engineer, whose start-up focuses on female-hygiene, gets candid
It's no secret that menstruation invites frowns and tight-lips. No one really wants to talk about it, but there are some who are not only starting conversations but also taking it to another level. Meet Archit Agarwal and Harry Sehrawat, two IIT-Delhi engineers, who make products around female hygiene. In an exclusive chat with NewsBytes, Agarwal spoke about his company and more. Read on.
With their start-up Sanfe, Agarwal and Sehrawat hope to change how female hygiene is perceived. The company's reusable pads, made of banana fiber, can last up to two years. Apart from that, Sanfe also makes roll-ons which relieve women of menstrual cramps. A stand and pee device has also been devised which allows women to use public restrooms without any fear.
We were curious to know how two boys started a company focusing on female hygiene. When asked, Agarwal said that idea dawned on them when he went on a trip with his friends. On the trip, his friend contracted Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). "I was shocked that most Indian women have suffered UTI at least once in their lives due to dirty toilet seats."
"We realized that many women face this and Harry and I decided to start a company. We developed a "stand and pee" product and later commercialized it. Now, women don't have to sit on toilet seats and the whole revolution happened," he told us.
Their second invention also happened after they saw a friend in trouble. Agarwal disclosed that a friend cried during the examination as period cramps kept her from studying. "Then we developed a period pain-relief roll on," he said. After this, they developed reusable pads made of banana fiber. Agarwal and Sehrawat's textile background turned out to be a boon in this innovation.
Naturally, the company's founders faced many challenges when marketing their products. He said the real problem is that society doesn't want to talk about periods. "We have to make women aware of menstrual hygiene and also counter the taboo. The formula which we use is: Dekh lete hain, pehle kon sharmayega, tum ya main," he said when asked about the roadblocks.
Further, Agarwal said IIT-Delhi gave technical support to their idea, and surveys helped them understand female hygiene better. He credited "user-friendly" products to his company's success. "For example, women have an option to take medicines during cramps, but it has side-effects. Similarly, one can't carry a hot-water bag everywhere. So, the roll-ons we made serve the purpose," he went on.
When asked about who took care of the medicinal aspect of roll-ons, Agarwal said, "This has been approved by more than 15 gynecologists across India. Some have recommended it to their patients. A board of doctors is also with us on this product."
Now, some women might have apprehensions about using reusable sanitary napkins. On questioning Agarwal about it, he said these pads are meant for women in tier-2 and tier-3 cities. "Women in these places often use a cloth. They wash and reuse this cloth after 2-3 hours. Hygiene takes a backseat and this causes rashes. We are targeting these women," he explained.
He also said pop culture has had an effect on starting conversations around periods. "If we talk about numbers, female hygiene is a huge market and is growing at a compounded annual growth of 9.3%. When we started our company 1.5 years ago, not many women were discussing these products, but there has been a 300% jump in conversations," he asserted.
On being asked about future plans, Agarwal said he is eyeing "foreign expansion". "Why can't a home-grown Indian brand cater to western markets? Our brand is highly innovative. We are the first ones to make period pain relief roll-ons and reusable pads comprising of banana fiber," he said. The company has already supplied products to Nepal, Bhutan, and the United States.
As it turns out, things are going on the right track for Sanfe. The company is now raising funds. "Initially we were funded by HPCL and BIRAC (Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council), and now we're in process of second fund raise," he revealed. The company is surely on a roll. And the fact that Agarwal is yet to graduate makes his achievements even more commendable.