May 17, 2020 Product

TSUNO.
Natural fibre pads and tampons.

Through googling, a crowd-funding campaign and assistance from the NEIS program; Roz received her first bulk delivery – a triple garage-full of sanitary pads. The journey to create this social enterprise is fascinating. We chatted with Roz Campbell to learn more about how and why she started her biz.

Tsuno was a social enterprise idea from the start. Roz had discovered One Girl – a charity sending girls to school on scholarships in Sierra Leone. These students had no resources to manage their periods and would stay home for a week each month. That time off school, month after month, took a serious toll on their learning until they eventually dropped out. Roz wanted to provide better outcomes for these girls.

“I was motivated to do it, but I didn’t have the structure. I needed to focus on the financials, the marketing and the business plan,” explains Roz. She soon signed up for New Business Assistance with NEIS at Box Hill Institute.

“There is value in being part of a big group,” says Roz about her sessions in the NEIS classroom. “Conversations in the class about other peoples’ plans would address something relevant to my business, or spark some idea for me that I would then look into further.”

The first major issue Roz wanted to tackle was the product itself. Sourcing the materials, designing the product and getting them here was a steep learning curve.

Most commercial tampons are made from rayon and will not biodegrade. That wasn’t the type of product Roz wanted to be involved with. “If you’re just replicating what already exists, you will always be fighting to be worthy as the customers choice. Most success stories see an opportunity, or a product that’s lacking, or where something can be done differently or better to appeal to customers.”

“I didn’t know anything about production in this industry,” says Roz. “Through Google I found a factory in China producing a bamboo fibre material.” Through much correspondence, designs for pads made from bamboo fibre and corn fibre were finalised. The products are chlorine and dioxin bleach free, individually-wrapped in biodegradable film.

Some ideas simply have to start big, or can’t start at all. The minimum order required to get production started was huge. “I didn’t have $40,000! No bank would take me seriously when I told them what I wanted the money for, so I decided to try and crowd fund the idea.”

Using the crowd funding platform Pozible, Roz presented Tsuno to the world. At the heart of the business was a better product that would donate 50% of profit to girls’ education overseas. A media campaign and collaborations generated momentum to show the public this was a winning idea, well on its way.

By May 2014 about 1,200 women believed in the idea and invested about $30 each to pre-order pads. This reached the target funding to buy the first order. A shipping container arrived in October 2014. To you and me that’s a triple garage worth of sanitary pads to be landed and transported. Storage and logistics were amongst the problem-solving Roz put her mind to. “Plans that I had made, quickly had to be remade once it started running. But I was glad to have had the training to adjust and look at it again, with new costs and hidden costs I discovered with importing.”

Tsuno now had a dedicated customer base but it was hard work building the numbers to make the production cycle roll smoothly. “Generating that profit just wasn’t there for the first two years. Then a customer wrote to ask that half their order be sent directly to The Asylum Seekers Resource Centre. Before then I had not given much thought to what it must be like to be an asylum seeker arriving here with nothing, a homeless woman in Australia, or fleeing from domestic violence.”

In the last few years, more than 20,000 boxes of pads and tampons have been donated to organisations through the Tsuno website, from generous customers and matched donations from Tsuno. This became a different method for donating profit – by donating product to organisations supporting women in need. As well as achieving her initial goal of supporting One Girl, Roz has also supported the work of The International Women’s Development Agency, Share the Dignity, The Asylum Seekers Resource Centre, The Rough Period, The Asylum Seekers Centre Newtown and Essentials for Women South Australia.

There has been pressure on Roz due to the scale at which the business had to operate, in order to operate at all. “In the beginning, I would bite off as much as I could; and was really proud of taking on that challenge. Over time that can take a real toll – it took me a while to realise that. About two years in, it was exhausting. Tsuno had been growing ever since it started but it was overwhelming – I wasn’t working smartly. I had to reassess what I was doing and where I was putting my energy. I needed breaks and boundaries with my time.”

“After more than five years in my business, I’ve figured out a balance and can see what’s achievable and what’s not.”

In November 2016, after huge demand from customers, a second crowd funding campaign was launched to introduce 100% certified organic cotton tampons to the Tsuno range. It gathered $45,000 in pre-sales and was delivered in mid 2017.

Pre-orders are critical for Tsuno and Roz wanted to reinforce that her product was different. “Looking at what was on the shelf was very uninspiring,” says Roz. “If you could just change one thing and create a box that was beautiful, people would be proud to have it in their shopping cart or on their shelf and not feel embarrassed about tampons or pads. In a subtle way, hopefully it will help to break down that taboo.” For every order placed with the manufacturer, there is different artwork from local artists. To date Tsuno has featured the work of some of Australia’s most loved makers and illustrators including Evi O, Eloise Rapp, Obus, Abbey Rich, Mirador, Kip & Co and The Souvenir Society. It’s an unconventional approach at odds with standard retail practice of sticking to one design and some industry-wide notion of colour coding.

“In future there may be cool tones for overnights and warm tones for regulars to help everyone identify the two different product types. The dream is that every month there will be a new design! That will be a nice experience, especially for my subscription customers getting a package in the post.”

Roz and her problem solving will continue to bring new thinking to a fact of life.

Do you have a great new business idea? NEIS is an Australian Government sponsored new business training program, to assist with self-employment. Use the postcode finder for your local provider and contact them for a chat.

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