We have witnessed people leaving high paying jobs and starting something from scratch that has the power to disrupt the entire business ecosystem, ideas that have changed the human behaviour at the very grassroots level. In India, when it comes to starting a business or an enterprise with the sole agenda of promoting feminine hygiene, particularly menstrual hygiene, there are a lot of questions asked and fingers raised before people start believing in it. Soothe Healthcare, a company started by the wall street honcho Mr. Sahil Dharia and its subsidiary brand Paree has a similar story.
In an exclusive interview with MediaCatalyst, Mr. Sahil Dharia shares his journey from Wall Street to running a women hygiene products company, how he and his team are changing the people’s mindset and menstrual leave policy that has initiated a fierce debate globally.
Here are the excerts from the interview.
1. From Wall Street to running a women hygiene products company. Tell us about your journey and what motivated Sahil Dharia to leave Wall Street and start Soothe Healthcare.
Having run a large MNC & even a stint teaching at a leading MBA college (Symbiosis), I realized that I wanted to spend my life building & investing in either Health or Education. In 2012, I decided to quit my job at Wall Street to follow this dream. Subsequently, I came across a few facts that really drove me to invest in healthcare especially feminine hygiene, which was – only 12% women used hygienic means of menstrual hygiene protection (Plan India NGO study), now it’s close to 18%. 23% of girls drop out of school at puberty as parents don’t know how to manage her cycle (UNICEF data). 75,000 women die of cervical cancer in India with an additional 150,000 diagnosed each year (Min. of H&FW data). Almost immediately it turned into my endeavour to bring a change in the women’s personal care space in India and address women’s hygiene issues, and that’s when I set up Soothe Healthcare & launched Paree sanitary pads in 2015.
Moreover, I believe that the perception of sanitary pads in the feminist domain should focus on Women’s Health & productivity. Did you know, if Women’s workforce participation rate matched the men’s, our GDP would jump by 26% (Booze study)? This is significant and there is a huge REAL cost to society of not including women in the workforce. I am constantly motivated by these numbers and strongly believe that investing in women is the greatest investment in our country.
2. Periods are still a taboo subject in many parts of the country. How does the team at Paree persuade women to come out and adopt this change from cloth to pads?
Paree is a progressive Indian brand that believes in normalising and having a candid conversation around periods. We understand the varied avatars of Indian women and uphold their wellbeing. At Paree, our aim is to address the real issues faced by women during periods, be it through our innovative range of products or being vocal about the importance of menstrual health and hygiene. Through various progressive steps, we advocate the importance of menstrual hygiene and persuade women to take the right steps toward maintaining their personal health. We voice and bring every menstrual-related issue to the forefront, be it heavy flow, period cramps, PMS, or hushed conversations.
Taking our messaging forward, we initiated the #SheFirst campaign during the lockdown and unmuted every conversation on menstruation, by championing how Pads are as essential as food and the importance of putting her needs and requirements first. Paree reached out to 2,00,000 women in this time of need and encouraged them to prioritize their personal health by distributing pads. Our belief that pads are essential for every menstruating woman drove the dialogue that at a time of crisis, she comes first. We ensured menstrual hygiene products were available for women to maintain menstrual health in a dignified manner as they are more susceptible to infections during this time.
We associated with both government and private organizations – CII-IWN, Rasoi-On-Wheels, Punjab Police, Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights- the Govt of NCT and Municipal Corporation of Gurugram, to urge women not to neglect their health and to ensure every woman had access to sanitary pads. Paree also got unwavering support from women heroes such as Saina Nehwal, Garima Avatar, Gurpreet Singh Deo, IPS, ADGP, and Punjab Police who helped us amplify our efforts and create awareness about menstrual hygiene.
This led to a nation-wide movement which was soon followed by all leading brands, wherein they also realised the importance of the subject and joined the initiative.
Furthermore, to make women aware of her menstrual needs and to encourage her to uphold her wellbeing, we also set up Free Health Check-Up Camps for Women in Walmart & Metro stores in various states and distributed free samples of our products.
Thus, Paree provided the thought leadership to the industry by being ahead of curve in its thoughts & campaigns and persuaded women to put their menstrual health above by using pads.
3. Menstrual leave policy has initiated a fierce debate globally. You have introduced the policy in your company. Do you think this policy can deter the progress of women at the workplace and strengthen the prejudice that menstruation makes women unfit for work?
We believe that women are the nucleus of our socio-economic environment – and their mental and physical health should be an absolute priority. The initiative of Period Leave was a call to action for Paree, as an organization, in order to begin a change in thinking across industries and sectors. We want to platform the larger, unspoken issue of menstrual health and hygiene of women at work and how as a society we need to start taking cognizance of it and start adopting measures to help our women workforce navigate it with ease.
We are the pioneers and a step ahead in terms of innovative & progressive decisions. It is easy to talk about empowerment & being progressive, what requires real thought leadership is to walk this talk.
4. Do you plan to launch other feminine hygiene products in the future? What are your expansion plans?
Paree manufactures premium hygienic sanitary pads, but we plan to expand and widen our market as we will soon be other personal hygiene products to our portfolio. We are an innovator company and invest in R&D to ensure we provide customers with better products for their hygienic needs. We are growing rapidly and with the increasing awareness of health and hygiene, will take this as an opportunity to continually develop our products as per the needs of our consumers.
5. Feminine hygiene products are slowly and steadily capturing the market. Women are now coming out and not shying away from exploring this area. What is your take on this?
That is true! Awareness of health & hygiene is on the rise, especially attention to personal hygiene has increased by manifold. In lieu of this, menstrual hygiene has also become of utmost importance as women are more susceptible to infections during their period. Women have become highly conscious about cleanliness and maintain hygiene within themselves and their environment.
As a brand, we have always believed that women should prioritize their health and hygiene over everything else and we have spoken extensively on this with our #SheFirst, Pads are Essential campaign. Women not shying away from focussing on their needs and being vocal about them without any guilt are a sign that our society is on the path of progress.
We believe that the Paree girl is empowered and we just need to get out of her way to let her have her moment in the sun.
6. There are many alternatives to sanitary pads today in the market like sanitary panties, menstrual cups, tampons, etc. Do you see them as a threat?
For us, a woman’s health and hygiene come first so any product she uses for menstrual protection is good with us as long as it’s hygienic. And in the future, we ourselves might include these products in our portfolio except for menstrual cups which are very high on hygiene maintenance and we believe the Indian mass market is not ready for it yet.
7. Being the opposite sex yet promoting period leave is commendable but does it provoke reverse discrimination or brands every woman who menstruates as ill?
As stated earlier, at Paree we have always addressed real issues when it comes to menstruation. We believe that women face physical and emotional discomfort during periods, especially during their heavy flow days. And they might not feel like donning the proverbial white pants and go mountain climbing as most of the communication in the category has been so far. And we think it’s absolutely fine if they want to take it easy for a day without feeling any sort of guilt. With our period leave policy, the choice is complete with the woman, whether she wants to avail it or not. And taking it easy does not make her weak or ill. So whether she wants to go about conquering the world or take a day off, it’s completely her choice.