Taresa Bhong – Cups Of Joie
There must be a sustainable solution to the problem
Around the turn of the year 2020, the Thai postal service organised a donation campaign to send basic necessities, such as clothes and stationery, to young students in the rural countryside. Taresa Bhongsatiern, went to donate her clothes and stationery. There, the lady working at the post office helped Taresa repack her items for sending, while she told her a story about another lady who had come in to donate boxes of sanitary pads.
That struck Taresa. Before that moment, she had never thought about the lack of access that young female students in rural Thailand have to period products. The problem is real, and while it is widely unnoticed in the rest of the world (which may think of rural Thailand as scenic rolling rice paddies), it has even taken political undertones in the country.
In 2019, Ketpreeya Kaewsanmuang, a spokesperson for the Puea Chat political party took to social media and claimed that sanitary products are considered a luxury good in Thailand, and are subject to 40% excise tax, making them unaffordable for most people in the country. The Excise Department has clarified that tampons and pads are not classified as luxury goods and only subject to value added tax.
Nevertheless, menstruation is also still a taboo topic in Thailand, and there is insufficient data to truly understand how many women experience period poverty. Taresa relates that to date, there are no public policies to combat period poverty.
Though donating sanitary pads was the most obvious and convenient option to helping, Taresa thought the solution unsustainable. At that point, she had almost started work on a refill store, and the menstrual cup was one of the products she planned to sell.
Taresa had always known she wanted to do something with her life that could positively impact society. “For me, that is an opportunity to really do something and give back,” she tells me.
The young Thai entrepreneur was always toying with business ideas, but she was scared of failure, “I’m my own worst enemy,” Taresa says of her self-doubt, and she had not yet found the one. Like a sweet Thai commercial, her business would come looking for her at the local post office.
100% Thai made
An eco-conscious person herself, she has a recycling system at home, a compost in her backyard, and switched to a plant-based diet last year; she knew that producing her own menstrual cup and starting an eommerce with a social angle was the business that she was meant to do.
She quickly started work on the idea, and Cups of Joie was born. Thankfully a relative of Taresa’s boyfriend owns a silicone factory, and after checking with him, she was assured that they could easily produce a menstrual cup.
I tell her that that’s half the battle won; a reliable supplier is so important to the foundation of a business. Another advantage Taresa says she benefited from is that her brand could be 100% Thai-made, which was something very important to her. Since our interview, Taresa has launched another 100% Thai-made product to the brand’s line-up – a gentle foaming wash for the body and sensitive areas – that is also 100% vegan with no toxic nasties.
Cups of Joie for the younger generation
As a direct-to-consumer brand, Taresa greatly appreciates the interaction that she has with her customers. With her Late Night Conversations on Cups of Joie’s Instagram account, she finds out about what her audience thinks about certain topics around menstrual and sexual health; if they talk about their periods with their friends; and if they think the topic is shameful. To her surprise, the majority of her audience are young teenagers and fresh university graduates, and not the slightly older audience that she had prepared for before the brand launch.
Perhaps teenagers are not given enough credit. Taresa tells me of an instance when an older lady asked her how to sanitise the menstrual cup, and was visibly shocked when Taresa said that no, a separate pot does not need to be bought for sanitisation.
A PEW research paper found that teenagers describe social media platforms as a key tool for connecting and maintaining relationships, being creative, and learning more about the world. Two months since the brand’s launch, Taresa also sees that it’s the younger generation that are much more curious and hungry for knowledge.
With education, a buy-one-give-one programme, and outreach activities, I’d say Taresa has found her footing.
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