Sublime: Ruby, we can’t wait to know more! Can you share some more about your background and how you got to creating period underwear? Was there a key point in your story that inspired you to WAKE UP KICK ASS?
Ruby Raut: It all started after my graduation from Open University in Environmental Science. I was very passionate about the subject and was determine to get a job in the field that I studied. Whilst in the process I joined a few charities and all of them worked in menstrual education and womens empowerment. Whilst working with one of the charities, I volunteered to coordinate an 'environmenstrual' project in one of the high schools in St Albans. Speaking with the girls we found out that many girls were not aware of reusable menstrual products, they were just using what their family members used and the reusable options were very limited. I grew up in Nepal using Sari rags for my menstrual products, which was super 'sustainable', however, they were very uncomfortable and constantly failed. This led to me (and other girls like me) missing school - creating shame and embarrassment around periods. I told this story to the girls in St. Albans and while I was doing so, I had a eureka moment... Why not create pants that also absorbs flow whilst being super comfortable? And why not create a brand that gives a positive message about periods? Hence WUKA (Wake Up Kick Ass) period underwear was born.
S: Impressive story! And what do you hope to achieve through providing period underwear for women? Is there an end goal?
RR: We want every single woman to have a sustainable choice for their period. In the past 50 years there has been little innovation and we believe by creating WUKA means we are creating more choice so that women don't have to rely on disposable menstrual products which are bad for our health and the environment. Our goal is to reach as many women as we can in the years to come. Our first year's goal was to stop 1 million tampons and pads from going to landfill, but within 8 months of shipping out our first WUKA we have already stopped more than 1.3 million tampons and pads from going to landfill, all through enabling women to switch to WUKA. The goal has doubled and by end of May we would like to stop 3 Million disposable from going to landfill.
S: Wow, so you consider your range to be revolutionary?
RR: Yes we have been called revolutionary and those who try us love our pants, we also have many customes who call themselves #WUKAconverts. WUKA is a simple idea executed with a combination of our unique super absorbent fabric so that you are confident on your heavy days, with a super comfy cut and a timeless design. We choose one of the most sustainable, luxurious fabrics made from beech trees for the inner and outer layer while the central layer (the absorbent layer) holds 200 times its own weight in liquid - perfect for your flow! As I mentioned above very little has been focused in development of menstrual product since tampons and we believe this is the beginning of a femtech era in which we are creating a product designed by women for women. We have also been recognised by as "Innovation Entrepreneur of the Year” by the NatWest Great British Entrepreneur Awards and Best New Business in the Best Business Women Awards, we are incredibly grateful for this recognition.
LUXURIOUS UNDERWEAR WITH A SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL TWIST.
S: It seems that you are passionate about social change, can you tell us how your products target the problems we are facing in the world today - from personal, social, to environmental and beyond?
RR: It’s in our name: WUKA, which stands for Wake Up Kick Ass. The name we created to stand out and break the barrier of embarrassment and shame. We hope our message helps girls and women feel supported and find their inner strength to keep breaking taboos.After all, the human race exists in this world because of female fertility, this is itself very empowering.
S: Were there any challenges you faced when designing and producing your range?
RR: Starting a new product from scratch is always a challenge. The most important thing question is "do you enjoy overcoming those challenges?" Yes, I have loved every single step of they process, from designing the underwear to choosing the fabric, suppliers, packaging and then sending them out to customers. The best part is when a customer writes to you expressing how happy they are because they have found us and wish we were around when they were younger! Leading a startup is never easy, and we are thankful for the small community that supported our initial Kickstarter to help us raise funds for our first production, without them we wouldn’t be here. There are also lots of unglamorous parts about running a startup, we have had trouble convincing banks that our business is worthy; which has been a challenge to just get basic banking services, another sector that needs changing to be more customer focused! We have made mistakes but without them we wouldn’t learn, so my advice is that its okay to make them as long as you learn and of course don’t repeat them.
S: How did you eventually manage to find a material that was eco-friendly and suitable for periods too?
RR: I am a very passionate environmentalist. Before I started WUKA, I was always a conscious consumer, I always read my labels to see what materials they are made from. One day I came across Lenzing fabric and fell in love with the touch and feel of it. Then after researching, I found that it was also one of the most sustainable fabric in the world. The fabric is made up of beech tree which means they don't compete with crop plants unlike cotton, they also don't need any kind of pesticides and the production process is carbon neutral.
S: Is your range a work in progress? Could the materials change and evolve or are you happy with your finished product?
RR: We believe in continuous improvement and every aspect of the business will be scrutinised and improved continuously. The pair you buy today will be better that the last batch and since our first production we have made many improvements based on customer feedback and our own research, from a straight cut pad to a curved one for more absorbent surface area and increasing the height at the front of the underwear to be better for ‘front bleeders’. These aspects can be: comfort of the underwear, placement of the absorbent material in the underwear, sustainability of the product, size and fit of the underwear to our range of customer and improving packaging. Most importantly sending out the consistent and correct message of who we are and what we stand for... this is very important for us as a brand.
S: Lastly, where can we find some WUKA? And do you have any plans to expand into more retailers in the future?
RR:You can buy WUKA online at www.wuka.co.uk. Our customers get a 100% satisfaction guarantee so they can try them and exchange for another size or get a refund if they don’t feel they are right for them. We are happy to say less than 1% take us up on that offer - a testament to quality of the product. Our customers love our pack of 5 where you buy 4 and get one free at the price of £99.99. We also do free shipping to the UK and so the price you see is the price you pay. As for the future plans, we will be touring all around UK through events from fashion to eco-living events... so you will see popping us here and there. Do follow us on all social channels: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @wukawear where we will share our where abouts.