An Organic TOM
Australia’s leading certified organic feminine hygiene range
We were introduced to Aimee Marks by Danny Almagor of Small Giants – they share an office space known as the ‘White House’ in St Kilda, Melbourne. Aimee’s business philosophy is similar to that of Small Giants, in that she is mindful of creating something sustainable that positively benefits both the consumer and the environment.
For Aimee, that ‘something’ is TOM Organic – a range of Australian owned, certified organic feminine hygiene products. Despite a significant proportion of Australians reporting that chemical free products are important to them, women who can afford sanitary products are generally hightailing for familiar brands with the shiniest covers at the lowest cost. Given that every single woman uses 12 to 15 thousand sanitary products in her lifetime, it is also important to think about what the real cost is to our bodies and the environment, when these traditionally trusted products can contain an array of synthetics and pesticides.
Motivated to investigate this issue and then actually do something about it, Aimee started TOM - which stands for Time of Month. We caught up with her to find out her story.
Where did you get the idea for TOM Organic?
TOM came about when I was 18 and tired of tampons falling out in my handbag all the time. I started by redesigning the packaging as part of a high school assignment, but as soon as I studied the ingredients list - which contained synthetics, conventional pesticide sprayed cotton and other nasties - my focus changed to a disruptive business approach, and I was driven to create a concept that was available to women nationally.
At university, I studied a Bachelor of Business degree in entrepreneurship in order to best prepare me to launch my own company.
What drew you to this degree in particular? Had you always considered starting your own business?
Yes, I’ve always been passionate about creating a business or product that solved problems and I have always been quite entrepreneurial.
When you ask women “what’s in your tampon?” most actually don’t know the answer. We just assume because a tampon is white and fluffy that it is made of cotton, which is often not the case. We’re talking about a product that goes into one of the most absorbent parts of our body and we use up to 12 thousand of them in our lifetime.
It’s important to note that even if your tampons are made just of cotton, unless it is Australian Certified Organic (ACO) then it is not guaranteed to be chemical free, as conventional cotton is the world’s most heavily pesticide sprayed crop.
Our tampons and pads are made from the purest organic cotton, making them gentle on the skin, hypoallergenic and super breathable. This differs to the majority of conventional products on the market, which are often made with synthetic fibres like rayon, polypropylene (plastic) and conventional cotton.
The business started just like any other business idea, solving a problem. It was once I studied the ingredients list that I knew I needed to create an alternative. I felt a responsibility to do so, not just for myself but for women in our community, and making our tampons from organic cotton meant there was no compromising on our health or the planet.
That can’t have been an easy road though, what has been vital in making it take off?
Passion and perseverance. I’m a firm believer in writing your own story, not a business plan. Ultimately I feel that passion drives innovation and will be the driver behind your success.
It’s also important to listen to your community and always seek feedback. We have built an amazing community of passionate and educated women who are very involved in sharing with us what they want to see in their personal care products and who help us to refine and sample new product.
I have also built a company and working culture that I am proud of. I have an amazing team of people who love coming to work every day and who are also committed to challenging the status quo of this industry and drive collective change.
‘Collective change’ I like that! Can you tell me more about the overall vision?
My vision for TOM Organic has always been for every woman in the world to know about and have access to chemical free and organic feminine hygiene products. We are still in the early stages of our journey as far as education goes but it’s incredible to see the shift in our Australian female community, so many women are empowered to share our brand, so viral word-of-mouth with an intimate product makes sense and has helped to define our brand.
In terms of our global impact, for every woman TOM touches, there are kilos of pesticides not sprayed on cotton. Our tampons are biodegradable, so that’s landfill that won’t pollute for generations to come.
To make this impact, you need to get the product to the consumer. Have there been any challenges getting TOM Organic on the shelf?
Initially, getting our product ranged in Coles and Woolworths was no easy feat but I never gave up, as I knew women wanted these products and we are now stocked nationally in over 2000 of their stores. This has been a huge accomplishment as 70% of organic sales in Australia are made in supermarkets - it’s so important that we are helping to educate and create awareness in that space, and it’s allowed us to make TOM accessible to women all over the country. Ultimately supermarkets are helping us to shift buying habits to more healthy alternatives; there are some brilliant organic products now available on shelves.
TOMs has been a big part of this! What is next on the agenda?
There is a lot bubbling away. We have just launched our first two products in our new organic maternity range - maternity pads and nursing pads - and we are always thinking about the next range of products with inspiration for these mostly coming from the community. We are also looking at expansion into export markets. Watch this space!
Vinisha Mulani and Alice Bradshaw