London-based entrepreneur Martha Silcott was tired of dealing with tampon taboos; to flush or not to flush? And where to dispose of sanitary products in inconvenient situations? After doing some research, Silcott was shocked to find out the horrible impact flushing sanitary products down the toilet has on our oceans and was even more surprised that someone hadn’t come up with a solution yet – so she did. Silcott created FabLittleBag to help the environment and allow women to feel relaxed about the disposal of their sanitary products every month. Today FabLittleBag is growing; they’re available nationwide in UK supermarkets and the female athletes of Team England even brought them to the Commonwealth Games.
Silcott’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
Tampon disposal is the taboo within the taboo; no-one talks about it, everyone does it. The choices are either to be a flusher or a binner, flushers are either ‘gobsmacked’ thinking there’s nothing wrong with flushing tampons, or ‘guilty’ and do it anyway. Neither realizes each other exists, everyone assumes everyone does what they do; such is the proof of the taboo! Binners are left to their own devices and it often feels awkward, stressful or embarrassing; will there be enough toilet roll to wrap it in? Will there be a bin to put it in? What if it is a white lace frilly bin at my Mother-in-Laws, or my new bosses house? I will have to do the handbag smuggle? Now where did I leave my handbag?! FabLittleBag, as well as preventing aquatic pollution empowers women to feel relaxed and in control of their disposal of their sanitary products, replacing awkward with awesome, replacing clingy with confidence. Providing women with the best solution. Period.
Most women have periods for a large chunk of their lives. For most it is not an experience that they look forward to or feel good about. Disposal is often an awkward hassle-y part, sometimes a nightmare, adding stress and angst to an already unpleasant time. Women are often expert jugglers and carers for people other than themselves. It is important that women feel lifted, supported, and FabLittleBag provides a comfort and reassurance to an experience that they are not sharing or discussing with others. In a way it is a private uplift, a way of making something difficult seem easier, more relaxed, and confidence can then flow. These kind of reasons are why the Team England took FabLittleBag to the Commonwealth Games in April for all female athletes so they could totally focus on preparation to perform at their highest level, knowing that where ever they were, disposal of their period products was taken care of and going to feel good. Instilling confidence is a fundamental priority of FabLittleBag
I think it’s important to have a culture of sharing ideas; communication is everything. Yet people communicate differently so having different channels of communication open at once is healthy for all employees. The more employees feel valued the more engaged and committed they are, so understanding what drives your employees and having a range of ways to acknowledge people is important. Allowing employees to develop their skills in a way that helps the business directly helps to grow not only the business but the confidence and performance of the employees.
The best way to deal with harassment and inappropriate behavior is firmly, immediately and clearly. Sometimes the context of certain actions or words, mixed with individual perceptions, make it a grey area so it is important that the set down processes are followed. There will be a process to follow for anyone to raise a complaint and that process needs to be clear, simple, widely known and understood. Individuals may wish to address the issue head on themselves and if they do the process would also be followed for the record in case a pattern emerges. People are entitled to their opinions but when lines are crossed it needs to be clear what the consequences are.
Why did I start my business? Sitting on the toilet a friends house changing a tampon in a panic: only a few pieces of toilet roll left and no bin to put it in, too scared to risk flushing, so I had to wrap in loo roll and smuggle it into my handbag to deal with later- this is the reason I started FabLittleBag. First I was a gobsmacked flusher (thought it was fine to flush tampons) but then I read about how they can end up in the ocean and on the beaches so became briefly a guilty flusher before deciding never to flush again and become a binner. Being a binner I had two choices: wrapping in reams of toilet roll, or use a typically ‘bad’ plastic nappy sack, both were horrible and often awkward experiences (sometimes no bin, or not enough loo roll…). I researched, there was no solution, so I invented one. I wanted to prevent the aquatic pollution and give women and girls a relaxed, confident feel good disposal experience. Being opaque, sealable and made partly from corn starch and biodegradable materials, FabLittleBag makes binning feel good.
“I wanted to prevent the aquatic pollution and give women and girls a relaxed, confident feel good disposal experience.”
– Martha Silcott, Founder of FabLittleBag
I define success as feeling a sense of real achievement, getting genuine positive feedback from your customers, feeling like your product makes a positive difference to how other people feel, achieving your targets/goals, making healthy profits, inspiring and encouraging others, turning an idea into a physical reality, feeling good about yourself and what you are doing and being able to support charities in the way you want to because your profits are high enough.
Some of our biggest successes include actually getting FabLittleBag manufactured. Nine different UK companies said they couldn’t make it and we had to build a machine from scratch to make our first million bags. Launching into Waitrose was a huge achievement. Working with the UK Water companies to help stop flushing is huge. Winning the London Business School Innovation Award was fab! More recently Team England taking FabLittleBags to the Commonwealth Games made me feel immensely proud.
Manufacturing is our greatest challenge – we have to manufacture in China as we are a low cost high volume product and we cannot make it work financially in the UK. Even working through a UK intermediary the communication is tough and the time delays are stressful and frustrating. We do not have the “answer ” or perfect solution, however by trial and error you learn so the the next time you avoid certain issues etc, so each time should get easier as experience grows and relationships deepen. Having a clear sign off process and providing detailed info and presuming nothing all helps. It seems this is a common if not endemic issue with manufacturing and no-one yet seems to have come up with the answers!
In terms of famous people, I admire Anita Roddick the most – she was ahead of her time, fighting against the establishment for what she passionately believed in and struggled to get any bank to lend her money, but kept going. She was hugely principled, intelligent and compassionate and ignited a massive change in the beauty industry and put the concept of “profit with purpose” on the map way before it was fashionable. I admire a whole host of other people who have risen up agains the odds, who are disadvantaged yet find a way, those who remain positive when on the face of it they have very little. I find their achievements hugely admirable and inspiring.