WITH the new ban on scandal bags, styrofoam boxes and plastic drinking straws, Jamaicans are being forced to find new ways to reuse everyday items. But a Montego Bay woman, Sabrina Campbell, did not need the ban on plastics to tell her that she could make reusable cotton pads and pantyliners for herself, and eventually turn it into a business.
It was her body that prompted her to seek an alternative to the plastic-lined disposable sanitary products, Campbell told All Woman, as she was frustrated by recurrent gynaecological symptoms.
“If it wasn't every month it was every other month that I'd be at the doctor,” she said. “I thought it was something wrong with me. My husband and I did a series of tests and everything came back negative.”
Campbell soon realised that it was the products that she used at certain times of the month that were causing her discomfort.
“The liners weren't bad, but I'd normally get rashes and itchiness from the pads,” she said. “Once I made the switch I haven't been back to the doctor,” she testified.
Campbell did some research online and found not just reusable products, but an entire community in support of them. She bought her supply online, and was so impressed by the improvement in her symptoms that she told her mother about them, who also decided to switch to those products. But online shopping was causing a leak in Campbell's pockets, and she could not find any local suppliers.
“Each time I was going to buy some more she would ask me to buy some for her too. I thought that I could save a lot more money if I could learn to sew them and make some for her too,” Campbell remembered. “My husband bought me a sewing machine, and officially I started.”
It was a tough task for Campbell to teach herself to sew, but once she started to get it right she began telling all who would listen about the products, and the orders started trickling in.
“Majority of the customers I had initially were my co-workers at Jamaica Customs,” she disclosed. “They were very supportive.”
Marketing was another challenge for Campbell. Selling that the idea of reusable sanitary products is a new one to the modern Jamaican woman, and she was greeted by a number of mortified expressions when she tried to tell women that they could use and recycle cloth liners and pads.
“But once I sat them down and told them what it had done for me, some would agree to buy one liner, just to support. Then they'd get back to me saying that they felt very comfortable, as if they didn't have anything on, and that they wanted to buy some more,” she said.
Though she makes reusable sanitary napkins by request, Campbell says the pantyliners are currently her best sellers, because many women are reluctant to wash and reuse a pad. But she assures women that her cloth pads are not lacking in protection.
“You do have a core inside, and there is a waterproof layer in the pads,” she said. “With the liners, there is just the cotton and the backing. I use different cotton materials, and because of that they're organic and cause fewer allergies.”
She shared some other benefits that she and other women have reaped from the products.
“The items are breathable, and so women, especially those who sweat a lot, you will realise that you feel much cooler than when you are using the disposables because they are cotton, and we all know that cotton is breathable. Also there are no chemicals in the products, or plastic which can contribute to yeast infections, cramps and heavier periods,” she explained.
She also boasted the environmental and economic benefits.
“It's also good for the environment,” she said. “There are millions of disposables that go to the landfill every year, and these things cannot be broken down, as there is plastic there, and the chemicals cannot be absorbed into the soil. The less you use; the better it is for the long run. You also save money, because now when I go to the supermarket I just cut my eye past that aisle. I do feel liberated.”
With her clientele expanding, Campbell is ramping up her business. She has reeled her friend Fiona Brown, who does the prep work on the orders, and then Campbell does the finishing touches on all orders. As she still works as a customs officer, she must remain focused to keep her business afloat.
“I have to push myself. I made a promise to myself that I was going to sew every single night and I have maintained that except when I'm sick or something happens out of the ordinary, because I have to remain consistent if this is going to take off,” she maintained.
On her social media pages — @simplyholisticcreationz — you will find a catalogue of liners and pads, but Campbell's goal is to produce reusable household items as well. She plans to launch another item by February.