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sherie de wet

Sherie de Wet: Entrepreneur Aims To End Period Poverty 

#DidYouKnow? Many girls miss three to five school days every month because they cannot afford sanitary pads. Founder and CEO of Palesa Pads, Sherie de Wet, has helped over 100,000 school girls, and made over 100 million pads since she founded the company in October 2017! These sustainable, eco-friendly pads are reusable and lovingly made with only the best quality fabric available.

In episode #13 of the Future Females Show, hosted by Media Personality & Transformational Coach, Susana Kennedy, and Co-Founder & CEO of Future Females, Lauren Dallas, Sherie talks about the business she created to end period poverty. 

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What led you to start Palessa Pads five years ago?

My background is actually in finance. I am an accountant by trade and I started as a maths teacher, believe it or not. After that, I ended up in the corporate world where I worked in software development. I was travelling all over Africa selling software and it was during my travels that I really discovered poverty on another level. It was really getting to me and I just felt that I needed to do something with purpose and change it. While I was trying to research to find out what I could do, I actually discovered that girls were missing school because they did not have sanitary pads. I was horrified. I started looking into what I could do to help and I thought disposable pads just do not make sense because you have got to constantly donate, and constantly deliver, and what do you do if a girl starts her period and you are not there at that moment? It would be disappointment after disappointment. That was when I came across reusable sanitary pads. I remembered my grandmother talking about them and telling me that she used to make her own. I started researching it and I found out that they made a big comeback in a lot of the first-world countries. I started making my own (it was also my granny who taught me how to sew) and tested it out on myself first. After about six months I started my company, quit my job, and here we are today. I am a big champion for female empowerment!

How have you grown in the past five years? 

The first thing I wanted to achieve was to make the product really easy to make, specifically for mass production because I knew that I wanted to go big. If you look at what you find online and watching tutorials, it was more about people making pads at home. There were a lot of changes that I had to make to get it ready for mass production, but the biggest thing was the cost. Most people will take the cost of something and double it to get their price, but if I had to do that it would have been unaffordable. I took a different approach. I looked at the pads and asked myself: What is the price that somebody would be willing to pay for this, thinking that is affordable but not cheap? I started at the selling price and I worked backward. I decided to make the best quality products that I can, and figure out later what the selling price would be. 

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Do you have some stats around how many pads or tampons women use normally in a monthly cycle versus now having the opportunity to use one of your pads?

We work on about 16 pads per cycle because, if you change your pad every six hours (which is stretching it quite a bit with disposable pads) you are still looking at four pads a day on a four-day cycle. It works out to be between 9 600 and 11 000 pads over your lifetime – assuming you did not get pregnant and had your period every month. 

Each one of our pads can be used up to 200 times. A bucket like ours (check it out here), which contains six pads, replaces 1 200 disposable pads. To date, we have produced and sold over 650 000 pads, which amounts to 130 million disposable pads we managed to keep out of the environment. 

I am excited to dig a little deeper into your business model, if you are comfortable with that. How did you build it in a way that is sustainable financially as well as scalable to the extent that it has grown?

Let me be honest, it was not easy. First of all, I had a very good job before I started my business. I had a lot of money, savings, and no debt. I did not take a salary for the first three years of the business. I put quite a lot of money in and I was taking it out bit by bit. It took the company three years to pay me back and only then did I start taking a salary. I can tell you that the business could feel the pinch in just having to take my salary – and my salary today is still less than what I earned seven years ago. We had a lot of hardships. I lost my house, nearly lost my car twice and I went from a beautiful credit score to nobody wanting to touch me. But, I managed to keep my car and I found myself a new house this year. 

Also, having a second income makes such a difference. I am single, so I did not have that luxury of a husband helping with a second income. 

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What is the best advice you can give other business owners?

For me, it is to do what you love. Do what you would be willing to do for free.

How do you define success for yourself?

Success is happiness, peace and completeness. It is also about making a difference. If I look at the ladies who work for me – most of them had never touched a sewing machine before and we taught them how to sew. We have a very big culture of love in our company. Our principles are love, forgiveness, support, encouragement, complementing and helping one another. I have noticed that the ladies have changed, not only in their professional lives but also personally. There is empowerment and people’s lives have been changed because of that. 

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Where do you see Palesa Pads growing into in the next few years?

I want to make the product more accessible, and I would love to expand our product range. I would also love to be the household name for sustainable pads. 

Tell us about your zero-waste strategy? 

Zero-waste is a duty, it is something that you do all the time – from reusable shopping bags, coffee cups, pads, face wipes, composting at home, etc. There is so much that you can do all the time. I take it very seriously and I made sure that our packaging is biodegradable. Zero-waste is a mindset. It is a case of reusing things wherever you can. 

How can people start approaching a zero-waste strategy? What would be your best tip?

Start with what you use the most. If you are somebody who drinks coffee every day and you go to coffee shops a lot, get yourself a reusable cup. Reuse things wherever and whenever you can. 

ALSO SEE: Oyama Botha: How to Practice Radical Self-Love

What is the risk to the environment if we do not swap (disposable pads) for a sustainable solution?

Do the math: let’s say 4 billion people times 11 000 pads… that is insane. And there are a lot of problems with that. For example, pads end up in and pollute the ocean because they do not break down, and they contain a lot of chemicals. In South Africa, particularly in the rural areas, there is no municipal revenue collection. It is the community’s responsibility to deal with their own waste. It becomes both an environmental and humanitarian problem. 

Is there anything else you would like to say and leave our audience with?

Fall in love with your body. Do not listen to the nonsense that period blood is dirty – it is nature’s original fertilizer. It is time to give periods, and us women who have them, the respect it deserves. 

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If you want to give back through Palesa Pads, your donation can change lives! Please consider donating a Palesa Pads Kit to a girl in need. Whether you help one girl or 1000, your gift of reusable pads translates to worry lifted, dignity restored and the opportunity for each young lady to thrive. Click here for more information. 

Watch the show episode video here: 


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