Affi Parvizi-Wayne is re-inventing the way female consumers approach their feminine hygiene needs. Her company, Freda, provides subscription-based packages that frame intimate female needs around themes of care instead of awkward sounding synonyms. She talks to Real Business about eco-friendly and fuss-free female care, and, of course–periods.
The feminine hygiene market has been stagnant for far too long. The widespread taboo around periods has allowed the sector to operate without any pressure for sustainability and ingredient transparency that has begun to be felt by the food and beauty industries.
The taboo around periods has been woven deep into our language and imagery and we have a multitude of euphemisms to describe a natural biological process.
I hope Freda will be remembered for dragging periods into the 21st century by ditching terms like female sanitary and hygiene products and replacing them with period care. Periods are private, but they definitely must not be secret.
Your business model:
We are currently a direct-to-consumer subscription service and are planning to introduce Freda into retail spaces. We want to get away from the shelves in the dark corner aisles of the supermarket and into spaces where we women shop, relax and work out. We also have a b2b model, offering our products to corporations.
How do you measure success?
Success for us is seeing how our message has resonated with women of all ages and walks of life. The loyalty and patience of our customers are our true measure of success. Customers who alert us when a feature on our site is not working, customers who allow and forgive us when we make mistakes because they want us to succeed.
Success is normalising the conversation around periods, enabling and empowering women to question not only what’s in their products, but also to ask their employers or their schools why they are not providing free period essentials. We want women to be themselves and not feel the pressure to wear white tight jeans whilst on their periods.
Do you plan to trade globally?
Yes. We have a distribution agreement with a UAE group to introduce Freda into the Middle East and then the rest of Asia. Our subscription model is perfect for a region that attaches great importance on convenience. Our period travel kit, is being rolled out into the first organic hotel in Dubai.
How did you fund your business?
At the very beginning, I funded Freda from my own savings. Soon, we were approached by an angel investor who allowed us to launch in January 2018.
In five years, where do you see your business and the industry?
The femcare sector is huge and there is space for more than three large conglomerates. I would like Freda to be a viable sustainable modern alternative to the legacy brands with their eco unfriendliness and promotion of period shame by the language used in their marketing campaigns.
Blue gels, ‘hush’ tampon wrappers, and a woman’s ability being dictated by the brand of pad they are wearing should all be part of a past narrative in five years time.
I would like my daughter to look back to 2018 and be shocked that offices and schools did not stock free tampons and that we scrutinised the ingredients of our food, our face cream and even our detergents and somehow went on autopilot and bought pads and tampons without questioning what went into a product.
Your highest point…
It has really been encouraging for me to see Freda discussed amongst friends, or in the press, particularly because periods are not a glamorous subject. To be voted one of Vogue’s five best beauty boxes and for the Daily Mail to demand an exclusive to cover Freda’s launch were two celebratory moments not only for Freda but for also for periods.
Your lowest point …
I was very excited for the launch of the new Freda website in January. On the first day, our system crashed and I could see on our Google Analytics people getting stuck on checkout. Thousands were in checkout but not a single sale was coming through. Our checkout screen had frozen.
What would you tell your younger self?
I have been very lucky to have had a father who made me believe I could do whatever I put my mind to, a boss who promoted me to a managing director of one of his group subsidiaries at the age of 24 because he had confidence in me to identify and learn from my mistakes.
I nevertheless felt judged all the time and I now know this was not the case. I would therefore tell my younger self to grab opportunities without fear of failure or judgement.
Your policy wishlist
Period essentials are a basic essential, not a frivolous luxury, and I’d like to see that reflected in government policy. Improved access to pads and tampons is crucial in the UK – period poverty is a real issue. Women and young girls today are being forced to go without these essentials which in turn significantly impacts their everyday lives, including school participation. The government have a responsibility to grant dignity to those in need.
Your biggest advice to other entrepreneurs
Be your own customer – would you buy the product or the service you’re selling and why?
Playing Luminosity on my phone
What would you make you a better leader?
Speak last …
The one app you use most
A day in your life
Early breakfast with family, walk on Hampstead Heath with Honey, our cockapoo puppy, work and more work and more walks with Honey. I work from home and have a very efficient assistant, Laura, and competent and flexible network of freelancers that allow me to take breaks to meet friends or do some form of exercise.
I love running and spinning. Being married to a hospital doctor makes me very organised in terms of booking restaurants, going to the theatre, or meeting up with friends as his job does not allow for much flexibility.
On your reading list right now
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and The Undoing Project by the Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman which I recommend to anyone interested in behavioral economics and cognitive psychology, or more generally, why we think the way we think.
On your watchlist right now
Bodyguard and Cardinal.