Chatting with UK-Based Vegan Feminine Care Brand WUKA
WUKA is a UK-based PETA UK certified vegan feminine care brand. It provides products including period underwear designed in a range of sizes, bralettes and a washbag (made in Nepal). Founded by Ruby Raut in 2017 in her home city of St Albans, Hertfordshire, England, WUKA (which stands for Wake Up Kick-Ass) is built on a mission to smash taboos around periods and tackle environmental issues. Raise Vegan had the opportunity for an exclusive interview with founder Ruby and WUKA.
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Chatting with UK-Based Vegan Feminine Care Brand WUKA
Here are the excerpts from the interview.
I’ve read all about Ruby’s background in charity work, “environmenstrual” projects as well as a background in Nepal & how this all contributed to founding WUKA, but can you just share a bit more with our readers about the inspiration to WUKA period underwear?
WUKA: The WUKA journey all started after Ruby’s graduation from her Open University degree in Environmental Science. Ruby was very passionate about the subject and determined to get a job in the field that she studied. To start she joined a few charities that worked in menstrual education and focused on women’s empowerment. During this time Ruby volunteered to coordinate an ‘Environmenstrual’ project in one of the high schools in St Albans. In group discussions with the girls, she discovered that many of them were not aware of reusable menstrual products; they were just using what their family members used and the reusable options were very limited.
Ruby grew up in Nepal where there are still deep-rooted social and cultural taboos around menstruation. In fact, the word for the period, when translated literally means ‘untouchable’. Growing up in Nepal, Ruby had her first Chaupadi where she was sent to live in her aunt’s house for 7 days during her first period, and forbidden to touch plants or men – because they would die! Chaupadi varies in different parts of Nepal; it is now illegal, but the tradition still continues in some areas where girls and women are sent to live in a cowshed or menstrual hut every month.
Like other girls of her age growing up in Nepal, Ruby had been given sari rags to use as menstrual products:
“They were super ‘sustainable’, but they were very uncomfortable and constantly failed. This led to me (and other girls like me) missing school – creating shame and embarrassment around periods. I told this story to the girls in St Albans and while I was doing so, I had a eureka moment… why not create pants that also absorb flow whilst being super comfortable? And why not create a brand that gives a positive message about periods?”
Hence WUKA (Wake Up Kick Ass) period underwear was born.
What is Ruby & WUKA’s perception of the current menstrual education & awareness? What changes are you looking forward to seeing for girls & women across the world in terms of menstruation justice, sustainable female hygiene products & women empowerment?
WUKA: WUKA’s mission is both about smashing taboos and tackling environmental issues.WUKA stands for Wake Up Kick-Ass and this is what we want women to do. Wake Up Kick-Ass, getting rid of shame and taboos around periods.
There are some amazing charities working to support school girls and refugees with period poverty issues however, we believe the way to end period poverty is through education and smart and sustainable solutions.
Periods often have very negative connotations. A period is often seen as pain: physical, emotional, social and environmental. We wanted to bring a positive approach to periods and how we have conversations about them. The best way to improve this is by raising awareness and bringing informed choices to people who can massively benefit from a product like WUKA. More awareness means girls and women have a better attitude towards periods. There will be less girls missing school and sports. Women will be more productive with a reliable menstrual product.
We are also keen on working with local communities, schools, and government so people can have better access to a sustainable menstrual product rather than free disposable products.
Having the conversation is already a first step to being period positive. And of course, our main message is to reduce the huge amount of plastic filled menstrual products going to landfill. With every WUKA you will stop 100 tampons and pads from going to landfill. So far with raising awareness around the plastic-free menstrual product, convincing women that WUKA is a healthier and environmentally friendly option, we have stopped more than 2 Million tampons and pads from going to landfill.
In December, Ruby was invited to her home country to talk about WUKA and how she has created an alternative, comfortable solution to disposable menstrual products, much needed in many developing countries like Nepal and India.
We hope that through retail and wholesale growth we will be able to fund additional education and period poverty prevention initiatives around the world. Everyone who menstruates deserves to have better, more sustainable, and healthier options to manage their period, so making WUKA available globally is a very important mission for us.
We were very pleased when the UK Minister for Women and Equalities, Penny Mordaunt, reached out to us to collaborate to tackle period poverty all around the world.
In the growing space of innovative feminine hygiene products, it is female founders often leading the way, with personal experiences lending insight to product development, design as well as increased needs for advocacy and awareness. What are the thoughts at the WUKA team about this synergy of female insight and business development?
WUKA: Absolutely, women are disrupting every work industry more than ever and certainly Femtech is one of them. There are some amazing women in the UK working in this industry, bringing their creativity and life’s experiences to the period positive movement.
Ruby’s personal experiences have been at the core of her business, providing the energy and rationale behind WUKA, and you can often find this with female entrepreneurs. WUKA is not just a product – we want to smash taboos around periods, reduce plastic pollution in menstrual products, and develop workaround period poverty – it’s a massive shift in entrepreneurship away from profit-only based companies to work that engages in ethical issues, women’s issues and environmental concerns.
Women’s skills at networking are key to their good practice, together with an ability to ask for help and advice.
When Ruby started out she was keen to get the period underwear off the ground but she was very aware of the need to reach out and build a community of women who would help test and refine the product before it went to market. Ruby says:
“Ego is your enemy, be humble. Validate, Validate, Validate. Anything you plan to do you need to validate it first. Be Lean: build, test, learn. Network – make connections! This is so important because of there so many people who can help you and give advice to you at no cost. Try and reach out to them”
What is your brand doing for women ( for example with an innovative feminine hygiene product or with philanthropic work, social causes, etc)
WUKA: WUKA smashes taboos around periods and offers the first reusable period underwear that completely replaces pads and tampons.
We appeal to women who are keen to support environmental sustainability. Not only do we support women to reduce plastic pollution from menstrual products but WUKA is also a vegan product and has been approved by PETA UK and is currently waiting for approval from the Vegan Society.
We are proud to support the Coppafeel breast cancer awareness charity based in London. Together we will encourage women under 30 to regularly check their breasts through the #BraHijack campaign. For every Bralette sold we give £1 to fund their much-needed work.
We produce ‘Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Periods’ leaflet for our younger customers.
We publish ‘All About Periods A-Z’ – educational blogs on all subjects relating to menstruation.
So far we have stopped more than 1.3 million tampons or pads going to landfill.
WUKA contains 90% less plastic than disposable pads, whereas conventional disposable menstrual products such as tampons and pads contain 90% of plastic in them.
WUKA states that “WUKA Wear is the world’s most luxurious, eco-friendly & comfortable period underwear”. What are the qualities & design aspects that make it the most luxurious?
WUKA: It’s the fabric that we use. The inner/outer fabrics are made of soft, breathable, moisture wicking and luxurious Lenzing ® MicroModal fabric. We use one the softest and sustainable fabrics which are only used in high-end luxurious lingerie and clothing brands.
Lenzing ® MicroModal fabric has twice the absorbency of competitors and is sourced from beech trees and is CO2 neutral – making it a high-end, effective, luxury product with anti-bacterial properties, that is also kind to the planet.
What is the eco-friendly beauty & feminine care community like in the UK?
WUKA: We have friends across the UK Fem Tech community – an inspiring and creative movement. In 2018 we had great fun organizing the Red Wave Talks event in London. We invited 12 speakers all about periods to come together for an amazing unique evening. This included the Women’s Environmental Network (WEN); Ella Daish who got nearly 200,000 people to sign her petition to manufacturers to remove plastic from menstrual products; Byrony Farmer from Precious Pads and Manjit Gill from Period Positive working to improve sex education in UK schools. The evening ended with Chella Quint a researcher and comedienne talking about her #periodpositive campaign in schools and getting everyone up to dance the Period Mambo!
What is WUKA doing on a local, community-based level in terms of brand awareness?
WUKA: We join in local events whenever we can: we joined a discussion panel at a local film screening of A Plastic Ocean, and this month has a stall at the St Albans Sustainability Festival market event. We regularly attend talks and events in London, which is 20 mins away by train – including a talk for the International Day of the Girl Child, the recent Vegan Life event at Alexandra Palace in London, and the St Georges Day festival in Trafalgar Square.
What is it like working at WUKA?
WUKA: It is exciting, learning new things every day. Whether we are planning a new promotional campaign, making films with one of our charity partners, or zipping off to Nepal to take part in a conference about periods, there is always something new to learn.
We get so much positive feedback from customers it makes the work feel so worthwhile.
Have you used WUKA products before? How was your experience? Let us know in the comments below.