In 2015, Olivia Onyemaobi raised a campaign against sexual abuse. She found out that some girls get abused by men who offer to help them get sanitary pads. To solve the problem, she started Pad-up Creations.
In Nigeria, some girls sometimes stay out of school during their menstrual cycle because they can’t afford sanitary pads. While some others use tissue, dry grasses, leaves and rags during their menstrual cycle. Just because they can not afford sanitary pads. Some men cash in on this, by abusing young girls sexually just to provide them sanitary pads. Pad-up Creations makes affordable, washable and reusable sanitary pads.
Pad-Up menstrual kits are super thin with high absorption rate. They are breathable, yet leak proof and has snaps that fasten beneath the pants. These pads can be used for one year and have product validity of 3 years.
Pad-Up Creations have distributed 1 million kits in 13 African Countries. And have created 93 jobs and over 15,000 businesses for her distributors. With Vision 50 in 5, Pad-up Creations hope to reach 50 million African girls and women in 5 years.
Olivia Onyemaobi, the CEO of Pad-up Creations had to quit her secure job to run Pad-up Creations. She is a beneficiary of the Tony Elumelu Foundation Funds. In this exclusive interview, she led us into how the idea of making reusable sanitary pads came about; how the pad is Eco-friendly as well as safe for its users; the challenges of doing business in Nigeria; quitting her job and she ended with an advice for other entrepreneurs. Do enjoy!
VUN: For starters, what are Pad-up Creations?
Olivia: Pad-Up Creations is a social company in Nigeria that manufactures reusable sanitary wares as a sustainable solution. We produce reusable sanitary pads, Padded pants, menstrual belt, panty liners and nursing pads. Our head office is at Zone C49 farm centre, behind CBN quarters, Minna, Niger state Nigeria. And our website is www.padupcreations.com.
VUN: What inspired you to go into producing reusable sanitary pads?
Olivia: In July 2015, I raised a campaign against sexual abuse of girls in Nigeria. My team and I discovered that after administering therapy on the sexually abused girls to help them overcome the trauma, most of them returned to the men who abuse them because the men provide them sanitary pads. It was unbelievable. Most of the girls improvise using toilet papers, dry grasses, leaves, rags etc to care for their menstruation. The need for sanitary pads to avoid bully in school when they get stained or the improvised materials fall off, exposes them to accept any offers from men. So, we started researching on the most cost-effective, yet, sustainable solution for these girls. After a year of research, we came up with the Pad-Up menstrual kits in 2016.
VUN: Who is Pad-up Creations’ target market?
Olivia: Our markets is girls and women who have limited funds to purchase sanitary pads on monthly basis. They need the Pad-up menstrual kits to stop the use of unhygienic materials when they care for their period.
VUN: Can you please talk more about the reusable sanitary pads?
Olivia: Pad-Up menstrual kits are super thin with high absorption rate. They are breathable, yet leak proof and has snaps that fasten beneath the pants. The pads can be reused for a minimum period of one year and made to have product validity of 3 years. Doesn’t cost much maintaining. After use, the pads should be soaked in room temperature water for 5-10 minutes and then washed with any soap or detergent.
VUN: From your experience so far, what are the biggest misconceptions about reusable sanitary pads and how can they be corrected?
Olivia: The biggest misconception is that the pads may not be hygienic since they are washable. This is very wrong. Come to think of it, we recently started having high incidences of cancer than in the olden days when women used rags. This may have resulted from high exposure to chemicals. Take for instance, how many people know that it is better to sun dry their undies because the rays of the sun have anti-bacterial properties? Most women will prefer to use disinfectants which are still chemicals instead of the sun rays. It is our duty to keep educating the people until the best is achieved.
VUN: Within the short time you have run your business, what impacts have you made and what’s the plan for the next five years?
Olivia: We have distributed over 1 million kits in 13 African countries. This means that missing school because of lack of sanitary pads will reduce. This invariably reduces girls exposure to sexual abuse, teenage pregnancies and early marriages. In the area of economic empowerment, we have created 93 permanent jobs and over 15,000 businesses for our product distributors. We have the vision to reach 50 million girls/women in Africa in the next 5 years. Vision 50 in 5.
VUN: What challenges do you face as a business person in Nigeria and how do you cope with the challenges?
Olivia: The major challenge we face is an inadequate supply of electricity. Imagine when we run 24 hours shift and the electricity supply is just 6 hours in 24 hours. We will definitely use an alternative power supply, which will increase the cost of production. The roads are also too bad. If the rail system is working; it will reduce the cost of movement of finished products to the distributors.
VUN: Pad-up Creations is one of the Nigeria brands that operate with the consciousness that whatsoever we do can have an impact on our ecosystem. In what specific ways have you been able to do this?
Olivia: We are helping to reduce the number of pads that would have been burnt or buried. Our pads have helped to keep more girls in schools during their menstrual days while women get involved in economic activities without seeing the period as a limitation.
VUN: You are one of the beneficiaries of The Tony Elumelu Foundation. How has the experience and funds helped you in building your brand?
Olivia: The TEF Fund was the greatest encouragement I could imagine. At the time of being selected for the 2016 TEF entrepreneurship program, I had just an idea. Tony Elumelu Foundation made it a reality. They are not the only support we have gotten. We have also won grants from the British Council Business Grants, Business and Entrepreneurship Training in the US by the US government, etc.
VUN: Regardless of how much Nigeria brands are doing, people still have the mindset that Made-in-Nigeria brands are substandard. How has this mindset affected the purchase of reusable sanitary pads made by Pad-up Creations?
Olivia: Yes! But frankly speaking, people have not had issues buying our products because it’s the pioneer and substitutes do not exist. We have made our products better than what you will seek to buy outside Nigeria. In terms of quality, quantity and price.
VUN: What could be done to correct this mindset?
Olivia: Correcting this impression should be a collective effort because it is like an infection. Where we believe that white is better than black. We cannot continue saying negative things about Nigeria and expect Nigeria to be better. I think everyone can be the best in what they do and that can also be a better conviction without much marketing and advertising. A good product they say sells itself.
VUN: In what ways did your experience at your paid job help you in building your brand?
Olivia: In every way, absolutely everything. Experience is something you cannot buy with money. I really do encourage everyone working for any organisation to give in their best. Do not feel that it is not your business. Take it to be yours, because, all you are doing is learning. Even if you don’t start the same business as your current employer, the experience you acquire today may be needed tomorrow.
VUN: You left a paid job to start Pad-up Creations. Talk about having to make the tough decision; the things you considered; how you got convinced that it was the right choice; the possible feeling of going back to paid employment. Provide enough information that would guide a young ambitious Nigerian youth torn between getting a paid employment and the following passion?
Olivia: Exactly 23rd December 2016, I was on my table in the bank as a control officer and I heard the voice telling me, the work I want you to do is not a part-time job, you must give in everything. I knew it cannot be a part-time job. But, I needed the conviction. So, I put my resignation. I never consulted anyone, I put my resignation right there. I had several people calling from the head office to ask me to withdraw that and consult to be sure I know what I was doing. But, I refused. I didn’t even consult my husband, but I convinced him that it was God who spoke to me and I didn’t want someone to make me think twice about it.
Now the first thing in business is to be sure that you have a commission from a supernatural. There are so many social needs in Africa. But, if you are doing that which is not for you, it becomes difficult to excel on it. Currently, I have nothing ever that will push me to think of a paid job.
Passion is good for whatever you are doing. Passion is the calling, but, passion fails you when profit does not come. For every business you do, YOU NEED comPASSION to keep you moving; even when you have no profit. When I say profit, I mean that time when you have finished production and there is even no one to buy. For instance, you may have a passion for making affordable shoes for students, but what if you make the shoes and no one buys for the first 2 months? So many people will be discouraged and close the business with the excuse that it is not viable. But the compassion from knowing that if you stop making the shoes or if you stop pressuring for the shoes to be bought, there may be a time in the near future when students may walk barefoot to schools may keep you pushing until you have success. Don’t ever give up! Keep pushing, do not allow someone to convince you, convince them to believe in your idea and we will celebrate you soon.
VUN: Advice to other entrepreneurs in Nigeria.
Olivia: DO NOT GIVE UP! Yes, the country may not be favourable for business. The state may not support you. And others may even tell you that your idea is not viable. PLEASE DO NOT GIVE UP! I had the most difficult experiences, 98% of everyone who met me believed it is not possible to sell washable sanitary pads. But I believed the possibility. Believe in what you are doing, be convinced that your business is adding value, get a successful business mentor, and surround yourself with positivity at all times. Talk less about the people who have failed to help you, convert the energy to work, when things work for you, many will chase you to help you. Success attracts people. You will make it!