Putting our weight behind International Menstrual Hygiene Day (28 May), (particularly in South Africa where so many young girls are still forced to stay away from school because of a lack of menstrual supplies), we sat down with sassy 23 year old Zizipho Ntobongwana who’s about to change the game with the launch of her own range of 100% organic pads, tampons and panty liners…
*P.S. #BossLadies, you’ll need your born-free dictionary for this one 🙂
BL: Tell us a bit about yourself?
ZN: I was born in 1994 eMthatha to the ‘rents, Fezilolo and Koli Ntobongwana. We moved to East London when I was 5 years old but I can’t really say I grew up in the ‘Dirty East’ because we moved to Durban when I was in Grade 5. I spent most of my years in boarding school at St Anne’s Diocesan School for Girls in the Kwa-Zulu Natal Midlands. Some of the best years of my life!
The UCT African Studies Honours degree student tells us how Sheba Feminine, her range of 100% organic feminine hygiene products came about;
“I was ironically on my period when it suddenly dawned on me that I know what goes into my food. I try to eat healthy, exercise and generally take care of myself, but here was this box of round bullets that I put up my vagina, with ingredients I don’t even know! Why did my concern for my body stop at one of the most important parts?!”
I then began doing research and found that the ingredients in our sanitary products are not only toxic – there are no regulations that force the feminine hygiene sector to divulge the components making up their products on the actual packaging! As someone who knows the ingredients in just about all my shampoos and toiletries, I was shocked. I honestly just felt betrayed!
I began to question who exactly is behind the products I’m using (Tip: They are trash) and realised that something had to change…
BL: Did you find it easy to secure funding for your business? Which great resources would you recommend for other budding entrepreneurs?
ZN: As black women, our entrepreneurial skills will always be questioned at every step, so it’s almost impossible to get funding for your business. The only real advice I could give black women is that they should network network network! The more people you have in your corner, the better! Of course there are funding schemes and incubators, however, these are extremely inaccessible! It’s actually pretty shocking. That said, I’d recommend She Leads Africa. They are an entrepreneurial incubator that is aimed at advancing female entrepreneurship.
BL: What’s the single biggest complaint you hear from black women when it comes to the feminine hygiene products they use?
ZN: Black women consistently complain about how disconnected the Feminine Hygiene sector is. These companies do not represent the lived experience of menstruators. They paint us as people that dance in white skirts while on our periods.
BL: How do Sheba Feminine products respond to these complaints?
Sheba, as a brand is the complete opposite of this.
“Because I, myself am a menstruator, I understand that periods are messy, they catch you by surprise, they make you feel bloated, you constantly worry about soiling your pants”
Honestly, who wants to dance around in a white skirt while on their period?! We’re relatable! We know menstruation, we are menstruators. We’ve got your back, sis!
BL: Sheba Feminine prides itself on providing ‘100% Organic cotton and biodegradable tampons, day pads, night pads and pantyliners’. Are the products produced locally?
ZN: Sheba products are unfortunately not produced locally as yet. Again, this is a funding issue. It’s extremely expensive running your own factory, workers, and distributors etc. however local is definitely lekker and giving my black women employment opportunities is definitely part of my 5-10 year plan.
BL: How is the material used to manufacture your products better or safer for women?
ZN: What a lot of menstruators don’t know is that the generic products they use are not made with cotton. They’re made of an extremely toxic synthetic material called Rayon as well as a mixture of chemicals such as dioxin, chlorine, and fragrances. The vagina is one of the most absorbent areas in your body, meaning that these toxins are absorbed through your vagina and directly into your bloodstream!
We use organic cotton to manufacture our products so the cotton hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides and herbicides to aid its growth. These toxic chemicals are again absorbed into our bloodstreams and are associated with cancer, Toxic Shock Syndrome, Ovarian Cysts, Endometriosis etc.
BL: Menstrual cups seems to be all the rage right now? Is this something Sheba Feminine could provide in the future?
ZN: These are so great especially for menstruators who aren’t able to afford pads or tampons every month as it’s a once-off cost. They are re-usable – another big thumbs up for the environment. I bought one about six months ago, but I just haven’t gathered the strength to try it yet. Sheba will move towards menstrual cups in the future. You must move with the times, babes!
BL: Which #BossLady are you crushing on?
ZN: Definitely Issa Rae! She’s the epitome of a black woman that doesn’t cuuur for people’s opinions! She opened my eyes to the fact that the narrative of the everyday black woman has been completely ignored by mainstream TV and all sectors in general. Insecure (the series she writes, produces, and is the main actor on), left me shook, in a good way! It’s what made me realise that we have to do things like this, not for ourselves, but to inspire each other!
BL: When do you launch?
ZN: Mid-June 2017 is the set launch. Period (haha, see what I did there)! The range includes
- Regular Tampons(18)
- Super Tampons(18)
- Super Plus Tampons(15)
- Anatomical Pantyliners(30)
- Ultra-thin Day Pads(10)
- Night Pads(10)
I know we haven’t launched yet but #BossLady readers are welcome to contact us with any questions – whether it be about Sheba or their periods, and how it makes them gowisha!
SPECIAL OFFER! Zizipho has offered all #BossLadies an introductory 10% saving on their first purchase of Sheba Feminine products. Simply quote ‘#BossLady17’ in your mail, to qualify. *please note that for the time being, deliveries can only be made in cape town.
Contact Zizipho & Sheba Feminine for more:
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / Twitter: @sheba_feminine