We asked the vivacious Zizipho Ntobongwana, founder and owner of Sheba Feminine Hygiene about her range of incredible, organic sanitary products. She talks about her journey, sheds light on the harmful ingredients that go unmentioned in generic products, and tells us about her plans for The Feminine Revolution - To crush stigmas around what most of us experience on a monthly basis - PERIODS.
What was it about the state of the feminine hygiene industry (globally and locally) that inspired you to start Sheba?
Both globally and locally, I think that the lack of transparency in the industry egged me to begin my own research, which then led me to Sheba. In both spheres, feminine hygiene brands are not legally obligated to disclose the ingredients of their products. It is in this climate that Sheba is born.
After researching the manufacturing process of sanitary products, I realised just how necessary ingredient labels are on products that go in and on our bodies. This is because it is not divulged that harmful chemicals such as chlorine are involved in the processing.
The second issue I had with the state of the feminine hygiene sector was the fact that most of the people that are behind the companies and brands that produce sanitary products do not menstruate themselves. This then means they are disconnected with the lived experience of menstruation.
It is in this space that I found it necessary to create a brand for menstruators, by menstruators, that is considerate to both the needs of the body and those of the world.
We can't quite believe that you're only 23! What has been your biggest challenge with regards to starting your business at such a young age?
Being taken seriously and ironically, believing in myself and my vision as legitimate. Because how can I fear people not taking me seriously if I still struggle to believe in myself?
People kind of assume that because of my age, I’m still quite unsure about who I am and what I want, which may translate into being a wishy-washy entrepreneur. However, I am the exact opposite. In fact, you consider 23 as young and yet I consider it to be old. I often feel like I'm in a constant existential crisis. I feel like I still have so much to do, with so little time. I think that because of this, I worry about not doing enough.
One thing's for certain: I know what I want and I know where I'm going. And I am going after it unapologetically.
You say that you want to strongly unhinge the taboo surrounding periods. How do you want to use Sheba to empower women and men to move away from these taboos?
I created Sheba as a platform to share how menstruators feel when on their periods and their experiences with regards to menstruation. I think that we sometimes want to make menstruation something that it isn’t. We want to make it clean and able to fit into this cute box, but it isn’t. It’s blood stained sheets, etc. I want to use Sheba as a mouthpiece to make menstruation ok. Just the way it is.
Sheba uses social media to start conversations that normalize and destigmatize menstruation. It’s necessary for brands to be true to themselves.
Who are some of your top female role models?
Obviously my mother. And not just as my mother, but as a businesswoman as well. Her resolve is extraordinary. She was the first black woman to own a petrol station in East London. She’s a bulldozer!
Others include my sister, Zenande. She’s taught me that there is strength in being quiet and minding your own. Thirdly, of course, the glorious Khanyi Dhlomo. She revolutionized a whole industry in South Africa. This is what I aspire to do.
What rituals do you have that make you feel like a divine, badass warrior women?
My life is full of rituals, but I have one that I’ve realized I take for granted, and that is getting up every day. This makes me feel like a divine, badass warrior woman. I think we sometimes think we need to do more than survive and be happy to be badasses. But damn, I’ve realised that every day I live balanced, happily and self-aware, that I’m a damn warrior.
How do we get our hands on Sheba products?
We have an online store where you can get all of our products delivered to your door, and you can set up a monthly subscription on www.shebafeminine.co.za
Many women are unaware that the sanitary products that they're using on a monthly basis, are actually incredibly harmful for their bodies. Please can you shed some light on the chemicals and nasties used in mainstream products and the negative consequences of allowing them into contact with our bodies. And please tell us how Sheba differs.
The ingredients in generic sanitary products are so dangerous.
Please see below:
This is the number 1 ingredient of generic sanitary products. Rayon is a synthetic material that is associated with the increase of the likelihood of TSS (Toxic shock syndrome).
This cotton is not only mostly genetically-modified (GMO), but it has also been sprayed with large amounts of pesticides and herbicides in order to aid the cotton's growth. The residue of these substances is then present in the cotton used in your sanitary products. Cotton needs to be organic!
Fragrance chemicals can be extremely harmful. Sanitary products with fragrances are laced with artificial colours, polyester, adhesives and many more dangerous chemicals.
Generic sanitary products are bleached using chlorine to obtain the stark white look.
Dioxin is created when tampon and pad fibers are bleached. Dioxin is a serious public health threat and has no "safe" level of exposure. It's linked to abnormal tissue growth in the abdomen and reproductive organs, abnormal cell growth, and immune system suppression.
BPA Plastic and other substances.
A lot of these substances are linked to cancer and have hormone-disrupting chemicals. The dangers of plastic exposure in sanitary products is underrated.
In closing - We have the right to know what's in our menstrual products. And that's why Sheba products have an ingredient label. What sets us apart is that we give you full disclosure and transparency. Shouldn’t this be mandatory for any product that comes into contact with human bodies?
We want you to make an informed decision when it comes to the products you buy. Let's revolutionise the feminine hygiene industry and demand transparency. Knowledge is power!