From A Moonshot To Reality: The Story Of MoonPads

Dedicated to a lifetime of international environmental and educational initiatives, one entrepreneur set out to dismantle period poverty by creating sustainable menstrual products.

“We can never make sustainability or living a healthy life, cheap, easy or fast. I'm not promoting this company as any of those three options. It's quality, it's dependable, and it's sustainable.”

World traveler, environmental activist, and social entrepreneur meg ferrigno (self-identified as) first found herself in the Himalayas for an undergraduate research experience. Little did she know, this study abroad trip would be the beginning of a lifetime dedicated to sustainable development initiatives in the region.

After her study abroad program ended, ferrigno returned to the States to finish up her degree, but soon found herself back in Tibet to start a nonprofit. Called the Pureland Project, her initiative focused on cultural and environmental sustainability in the region she’d called home.

An autonomous region of China, Tibet is a unique meld of Chinese governance and indigenous tradition. “I was very interested in Tibetan culture and quickly fell in love with the ecology in [the region] and felt a connection to nomadic people who are closely tied to nature and the environment, which is exactly how I was raised,” she explained.

Excited to be returning back to central East Asia, ferrigno was practicing a form of Buddhism that imagines everything as pure, which is exactly what she found in the raw, natural beauty of Tibet. “When I arrived in this very small nomadic village, I didn't feel like I had to work very hard for that meditation practice because everything was so pure and clean.”

Key Takeaways

  • To learn more about MoonPads, sign up for a monthly newsletter or follow @ourmoonpads on Instagram for the company’s latest developments.
  • If you’re a menstruator, (or close to someone who menstruates), deepen your own relationship with menstruation by joining one of MoonPads’ Red Tent offerings.
  • Check out these awesome sustainable brands looking to make your period more comfortable, safe, and affordable.

Interview by Valentina Scaife
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Plastics In The Pureland

After some time on the biodiverse Tibetan plateau[1], ferrigno realized that the same pure landscape that had drawn her in was under threat. “When I looked a little bit deeper, I recognized that there was a huge plastic problem,” she said.

“Plastics had come into their environment within 10 years of my arrival. And when I spoke with people about plastics, they didn't really understand them because [they were] brand new. So the technology was thought to be exactly the same as the technology they'd been using, which was wrapping things in leather or intestine or different natural biodegradable sources.”

Through her nonprofit, ferrigno took action—emphasizing the importance of environmental education in preserving this precious part of the world. As a part of her organization, she created an environmental club which brought local elementary school students to the river to pull the plastics out, providing a hands-on introduction into the unnatural life cycle of plastic products.

“The parents were like, what are you doing? They thought we might be upsetting the Nagas-Lu, as they call them. These are the water spirits, the protectors of the water. And they thought by, you know, shifting through the water, we might actually disturb the Lu. But instead, after a couple of months, the nomads came to me—the parents of the students—and they said, ‘Our animals are no longer sick and we think the water tastes better.’”

Over time, the local community understood that plastic waste was unlike any of the biodegradable resources they were accustomed to using. The local nomads viewed plastic as a brilliant innovation, but they had yet to realize that it was slowly destroying their home.

The Tibetan nomads saw impermanence as a fact of life, but ferrigno worked to explain the danger of the poisons of plastic to the local community. I said, “but plastic doesn't [go away]. You can't throw it in the river and think the river will wash it away. It just actually pollutes the water. So that's where this education around plastic really came to be.”

Key Takeaways

  • To learn more about MoonPads, sign up for a monthly newsletter or follow @ourmoonpads on Instagram for the company’s latest developments.
  • If you’re a menstruator, (or close to someone who menstruates), deepen your own relationship with menstruation by joining one of MoonPads’ Red Tent offerings.
  • Check out these awesome sustainable brands looking to make your period more comfortable, safe, and affordable.

Interview by Valentina Scaife

Midwife Revelations

Little did ferrigno know, she would continue to play an active hand in the sustainable development of the area, with the community requesting her support on a variety of projects.

“In Tibet, most women [spend time] together. In the region that I was living, in Eastern Tibet, women do certain types of work, men do certain types of work and you don't totally interact all that much. I was hanging out mainly with women. And when I would hear what they were going through, I was like, ‘Oh wow, American women don't have to deal with that kind of suffering as much.’”

At one point, a Lama from the region had a sister pass away from complications during childbirth, which, she says, “is quite common in Tibet.” In response to the tragedy, ferrigno’s friend and nonprofit board member wanted to create a program for rural Tibetan women to study with midwives, and hopefully lessen the risk of fatality from childbirth.

This led to ferrigno embarking on another endeavor through her Pureland Project, this time focusing on midwives in Tibet. “We had brought [in] American [midwives] because it's very hard for Tibetan women to be honest about their bodies with Tibetan doctors because women's bodies are almost always stigmatized,” she explained.

“Female bodies are thought to be dirty. And so women often do not bring up their issues with doctors no matter if they're Tibetan, Chinese, whoever. But bringing foreigners in, they're more willing to talk because we just…we're weird—we like talking about stuff! One day during a clinical open house with the American midwives our translator was unavailable and so I had to step in.”

Helping out the midwife turned out to be an incredibly eye-opening experience for ferrigno. “Patient after patient were complaining about completely preventable infections. I turned to the midwife and said, ‘is this what's been happening?’ She said, ‘yeah, of course.’” Without access to period products, these menstruators were using unclean wool, straw, stones and dirty rags. Without access to water, they ended up with preventable infections that were causing severe pain and serious health threats that they endured for years in silence due to stigma. These insights drove ferrigno and her team to take action—buying pads, panties, and other period products and distributing them to local women. However, she realized something still wasn’t quite right.

“It took me a couple months to catch on that I had broken my previous promise to not use single-use plastics. So I was making this huge mistake trying to solve one problem of period poverty by creating another problem of environmental degradation and waste,” ferrigno recounted.

Luckily, she learned from her mistakes, and immediately began iterating and ideating to find a sustainable solution that addressed both issues. “We started trying to figure out how to do better, and that meant making our own compostable pads. And that's where MoonPads came to be,” she explained.

Period Poverty In The Pureland

About 95% of patients that ferrigno had seen when assisting the midwife had been suffering from entirely preventable infections. “My mind was blown because vaginal infections are horribly painful. To just live with it and be like, this is the fact of life—this discomfort just blew my mind and broke my heart,” she explained.

She immediately identified the situation as a case of period poverty—her female Tibetan friends simply couldn’t afford to purchase sanitary menstrual products and, as a result, were prone to higher rates of infection.

“A lot of the issue stems from stigma, right? So, period poverty isn't talked about because periods themselves are stigmatized and that causes an even larger issue when products aren't able to be bought or used by people who are menstruating,” ferrigno explained. “And that is the definition of period poverty—when you cannot either buy or access period products when you are menstruating to carry on with your normal day-to-day activities.”

According to ferrigno, period poverty isn’t unique to the faraway lands of Tibet. “It's very much present in the United States. In the richest countries, in the poorest countries, there is period poverty. I find that our bodies here in America are just as repressed and stigmatized as they are in different areas and cultures across the world,” ferrigno continued. “I have traveled and been part of families in many different cultures. And I find that people still hate talking about menstruation even though it is where we all come from.”

She raises an important—albeit little-discussed—point. While the term “period poverty” is still somewhat new, menstrual hygiene management has widened the gender gap in lower-income countries for generations.

According to a 2014 report published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 1 out of every 10 menstruating youth misses school during their menstrual cycle due to lack of access to menstrual products and resources.[2]

This phenomenon isn’t just limited to menstruators in developing nations—while period products may be more readily available in countries like our own, it doesn’t mean they’re any more affordable. In a national survey of 1,000 menstruating teens, 1 in 5 struggled to afford period products, and 4 in 5 missed class time, or knew someone who had missed class time due to a lack of access to menstrual products.[3]

“While we have [more] products here on the shelves, that does not mean that they're accessible. [Some are] privileged enough to be able to buy them, but a lot of people are not able to actually purchase pads or tampons, and that impacts every layer of our society. Girls don't go to school because they're menstruating and don't have pads to not bleed through their pants onto the desks. They don't go to work because they don't have pads or tampons to keep them from bleeding through during a meeting,” she explained.

Having suffered from period poverty herself, ferrigno passionately believes that the issue affects everyone everywhere.

“Just because the pads and tampons are on the store shelves, just because our health ed class goes through and talks about menstruation for 15 minutes out of a 12 year long education, this does not mean that people know [about] or have access to period products.”

Inspired, ferrigno set out to destigmatize this systemic issue on an even bigger scale.

Key Takeaways

  • To learn more about MoonPads, sign up for a monthly newsletter or follow @ourmoonpads on Instagram for the company’s latest developments.
  • If you’re a menstruator, (or close to someone who menstruates), deepen your own relationship with menstruation by joining one of MoonPads’ Red Tent offerings.
  • Check out these awesome sustainable brands looking to make your period more comfortable, safe, and affordable.

Interview by Valentina Scaife

The Manufacturing Of MoonPads

The path to a fully-fledged menstrual company was not always a clearly-defined one, ferrigno says. “It was full of mistakes and disasters. I learned a lot. So our very first attempt to create compostable pads, complete disaster. We contacted the people who made the movie Padman. They're an Indian company that created compostable pads in India to [alleviate] period poverty in this local community in southern India. They pointed us towards a company that could produce a machine and point us towards where to buy the raw materials that we needed to produce the pads. And we had a group of local women who were very excited to begin this small factory and start producing pads and educating others about menstruation and selling them and having a self-sustainable business.” ferrigno and her team obtained a grant and bought the necessary machines, but were hindered by the technicalities of customs.

After the original plan was brought to a halt by international red tape, ferrigno’s team tackled the problem with newfound creativity and purpose. Moving away from the idea that her company was going to be overseeing the entire production process meant that ensuring the sustainability of the factory that they chose to outsource manufacturing to was even more essential. “After some time, we discovered this one factory that's mostly managed by people who menstruate and we liked that. We did a factory check to make sure that they were producing ethically, they had good work-life balance and conditions as well as just checking [the] supply chain for what they were doing,” ferrigno explained.

“I love working with them. They're really good company. Obviously we want to do better in terms of the carbon footprint because we are producing in China, and I'm not trying to greenwash what we're doing. We're creating a very green product and then we're shipping it across the world,” she said. “So…we're moving back to that original idea where we [are] creating a small factory to create livelihoods.”

While creating a fully-functioning business model at a grassroots level is no simple task, ferrigno’s team has received a grant from an organization in Canada to give her original idea a second shot. “Our moonshot is [to create local manufacturing facilities] in these remote areas and not to overstep in any areas that already have this,” she explained. “In India they're [already] doing a ton of these local pad factories, which is super inspiring."

“We'd love to ship [machines and materials’ in a shipping container to the place where we have connections with [a] local NGO doing women's health [or] public health work,” she explained. The shipping container would be welded out to retrofit a small factory, creating a ready-to-work two-person manufacturing facility in places that are experiencing period poverty. But until this localized model is ready to launch, ferrigno says, her operations will remain outsourced to a manufacturer and distributed to buyers and communities in need.

To emphasize a connection to the natural world around us, ferrigno aims to provide products that will integrate back into the natural environment after use. Menstruation is a direct link between the cycles of humans and the Earth, she said. “Our ancient ancestors were much more connected to the moon and menstruators easily accessed that power of the moon and regulated their menstrual cycles accordingly. So generally, a healthy menstrual cycle lasts the cycle that it takes to rotate the earth. So we named our company MoonPads because our brand and our company is striving to really connect back to nature and honor it with our bodies and our minds.”

Breaking Down Biodegradability

Creating an environmentally-friendly single-use product required some innovative thinking by ferrigno and her team.

“We started searching and doing a ton of research, which means waiting for everybody on the team to menstruate and try these pads. So it takes some time. You know, we tried to bleed as much as we could, but we're under pressure!”

One nuance the MoonPads development team encountered was the greenwashing of certain terms and environmental processes. She described biodegradability as a “funny term that has definitely come out of Americans trying to make stamps and certificates for things that never existed before.” While biodegradability is a certification that a company can obtain for their products, the description isn’t quite so straightforward. Obtaining an environmentally-friendly certification doesn’t necessarily mean a product is sustainable.

MoonPads products are now all OK home compost certified. “This certification means that the product will biodegrade within six months of putting it with other materials. So you can put it in any kind of compost and it will become soil for a biodegradable product,” ferrigno explained.

“Originally we started producing biodegradable pads,” because that’s what the manufacturing facility was able to produce. I said, ‘it's really not enough. We want fully home compost-approved pads, and so can you figure it out?’ And they did, ensuring that the MoonPad product is true to its label—while a traditional plastic-based pad may take nearly 1,000 years to break down, MoonPads biodegradable design effectively decomposes in half a year, without industrial composting equipment."

MoonPads help eradicate period poverty across the world.

There are more nuances to sustainability certifications than originally meets the eye, but ferrigno has created a product that is sourced from a crop that’s found growing around the world. “The main material for our plastic is corn,” she said. Because corn can biodegrade, “This is a better option than petrol-based plastic that will never go away,” she added. “And digging for petrol is much more harmful than growing corn. So we are using corn as our base.”

Key Takeaways

  • To learn more about MoonPads, sign up for a monthly newsletter or follow @ourmoonpads on Instagram for the company’s latest developments.
  • If you’re a menstruator, (or close to someone who menstruates), deepen your own relationship with menstruation by joining one of MoonPads’ Red Tent offerings.
  • Check out these awesome sustainable brands looking to make your period more comfortable, safe, and affordable.

Interview by Valentina Scaife

Profit With A Purpose

A lifelong learner and advocate, ferrigno earned a doctorate in sustainability and hopes to use her learnings to inspire change about overconsumption. The majority of people, according to her, “prioritize comfort in the present moment.” Not many people are thinking about the comfort of “the next generation or if there's even going to be another generation after that.”

Despite their best intentions, many social enterprises fail to balance the demands of the market with that of the demographic(s) or cause they’re aiming to help. For ferrigno, it’s not all about the money. Focused on implementing the famous triple bottom line concept, her goals are threefold—aiming not only to turn a profit, but also create a product that benefits people and the planet.

With over 1.8 billion menstruAnoators worldwide, who use an average of 8 pads per cycle, ferrigno’s potential market is, simply put, astronomically large. Not only does she want to create a more sustainable alternative to many of the products that are on the market, but she prioritizes working directly with the communities that inspired the company in order to create a product that fits their needs. “We actually designed the pads with the beneficiaries in mind,” ferrigno explained. Her design process featured close collaboration with the beneficiaries, the Tibetan nomadic women she works for, to design the optimal period product.

Originally, she had zeroed in on creating a zero-waste product. As someone who had regularly utilized the menstrual cups, ferrigno thought it was the perfect solution. Yet the feedback she received from her Tibetan community sent her ideations in a different direction. “They were like, you put that inside, first of all, no, no. And second of all, you need water to wash the menstrual cup. These people are carrying water on their backs all day long. They're not trying to wash a bloody cup. The other thing we tried were washable pads. That was also a no-no because they didn't have water and they didn't feel like hanging them outside to be seen.”

Based on her demographic’s critiques, this caused her to pivot towards a solution that offered the best of both worlds—a line of single-use pads, tampons, and pantyliners that were entirely compostable, eliminating the plastic waste problem that had continued to plague Tibet. “They said, no, no, no, this needs to be longer. No, we want it to be wider. We want it to feel like this. And we went with what they needed and wanted and remade our pads over and over until our beneficiaries were happy with them. So they're getting exactly what they want in terms of pads,” ferrigno said.

“This brand exists to help eradicate period poverty. So for every box that we sell, we give one away to somebody experiencing period poverty. We are priced competitively—we are still able, with our price point, to afford to give a box away,” she explained. “At this point, that's all in Tibet because then we don't have to pay for transport.”

MoonPads one-for-one business model, employed by companies like TOMS shoes and glasses retailer Warby Parker, addresses the social side of entrepreneurship that is so often forgotten. “We want to encourage people [to pay] it forward by still providing a product that's at the same price point as other organic products.”

Striving For Sustainability And Smashing Stigma

Ultimately, ferrigno believes that cultivating a sustainable lifestyle is achievable for anyone regardless of income status or geographic location. “That's the biggest part about living sustainably is living a mindful life. Being a conscious consumer is hard and it's not always comfortable, to be quite honest.”

For consumers that have the means to adopt sustainable solutions, this means that they might experience an adjustment period.”While I am very proud of my product, some people might not find it as comfortable as a plastic product. These tampons have nothing but cotton, and I'm proud of that. But a lot of people are using plastic tampons, like they're actually sticking plastic up their body and wearing it for eight hours at a time, seven days out of the month. It's between six to nine years of our lives putting plastic up against our vagina or inside of our vagina,” ferrigno explained.

“A lot of us think when you put on a pad, like, oh, it's just going to be eight hours, then you replace it and it's another pad. You know, these things all add up. And I think that's the key to thinking about sustainability. It's not just a little thing when you buy a box of plastic tampons. That tampon will be here for a thousand years. You have to think that way.”

An attempt to minimize the effects of period poverty by offering a sustainable menstrual product is similarly multi-pronged. MoonPads is also “ trying to educate everybody. So when we distribute pads in Tibet, or in India, we do educational campaigns. We do a whole piece on anatomy and physiology—what is happening when blood comes out, and then what happens when you stop bleeding when menopause comes on. The whole process—what happens when you become pregnant and you don't bleed and then you start bleeding again?”

MoonPads has also designed a virtual menstrual education curriculum for customers by offering New Moon Red Tents. “Red tents are something that were used in ancient times to hold space for menstruators to share the energy that is menstruation. The cycles of our hormones give us things like creativity, insight, wisdom. Our new moon red tent is really that encouragement not just to sync up with our bodies, but with our minds, with our spirits… to educate, because a lot of people don't have [a] safe space to talk about menstruation.”

Through her products and assorted educational initiatives, ferrigno is trying to start a long-overdue conversation about menstrual health and equity, in Tibet, the United States, and everywhere in-between. “Talking more and creating these safe spaces is what shatters stigma, and that's what promotes health and wellbeing.”

Key Takeaways

  • To learn more about MoonPads, sign up for a monthly newsletter or follow @ourmoonpads on Instagram for the company’s latest developments.
  • If you’re a menstruator, (or close to someone who menstruates), deepen your own relationship with menstruation by joining one of MoonPads’ Red Tent offerings.
  • Check out these awesome sustainable brands looking to make your period more comfortable, safe, and affordable.

Interview by Valentina Scaife