Helen is the co-founder of Organic Initiative, a company who have helped "bring periods out of the dark ages and support women to take control of their own health, wellbeing and confidence."
When did you start organic initiative (oi) and what were the key factors that inspired you to start it?
I started my career running tech companies and during my time at Microsoft New Zealand, I set up an environmental registry called Markit, that ensured authentic and renewable products and energy. This went on to become one of the biggest worldwide environmental registries that tracks global carbon, water and biodiversity credits and was one of the first businesses that I was able to really scale.
In 2010 I joined the board of NIWA (National Institute of Water and Atmospheric research), which focused on atmospheric change, and all of this experience combined gave me the confidence that I needed to run my own company.
I was introduced to someone that wanted to change the feminine hygiene landscape and we spent a lot of time doing viability scoping in 2014 and 2015. I was horrified to learn that pads, liners and tampons are made entirely of plastic and synthetics and are extremely toxic. Naturally I was motivated from a health aspect as well as wanting to do good.
Organic Initiative was born in Feb 2015 and the mission was to take plastic out of feminine hygiene products. There was and is just so much greenwashing to consumers about what is organic out there – a lot of times only 8% of a product is actually organic, so this gave us lots of opportunity to leverage and change consumers perception.
My personal mantra is “Do Good at Scale”
I also had lots of learnings from being involved in the Chair for N4L.co.nz from 2012 to 2018. This was a project that I am particularly proud to be a part of, as it connects ultra broadband to all the schools in NZ. This I think is another example of “Do Good at Scale.”
What motivated you to transform this market?
Well, it wasn’t hard to be motivated, did you know that each pack of pads is equivalent to 4 plastic grocery bags! Each person uses 11 ½ thousand tampons in their lifetime, which is enough to scale the Sky Tower or do a fair few laps of the Harbour Bridge!
I believed then, and even more so now, that each of us has a responsibility to stop the impact that we as humans are having on the world.
Would you describe the category as niche?
No, I would say it was a loyal category that needed innovation. People didn’t talk about periods even though it is such a natural human condition and we are proud to say that we made periods talked about.
How would you describe your marketing language and packaging?
We use 3 words to describe our brand:
The packaging is designed to get people to think about what they are purchasing, and why.
What are some of the challenges you have faced being a female leader of change?
I grew up in a big family and never accepted bias, but that is not to say it doesn’t exist of course! I would like to see a change especially more women in Senior Leadership positions as it is so important for business as well as diversity inclusion. There is more work to be done.
What is your advice to being a female leader and entrepreneur?
Stand up and be confident and don’t let people walk over you
Be able to put your hand on your heart and say, “I have done my best and in the best intentions for the company that I work for,” and go ahead with that.
My father always used to say; “Don’t let the buggers get you down” and I live by that!
What would you say to someone wanting to take their businesses to the next level?
Channel your energy know that it is going to take 4 times as long and 4 times as much work! There will be peaks and troughs but hold true to yourself and stay the course.
I also think it is extremely important to surround yourself with good people. I have been lucky to have a phenomenal board, (actually all were female in the beginning!) but now we have some fantastic male board members too.
Start the business by thinking it needs to be and can be as big as you want it to be!
Any funny memories?
I have one picture in my mind that I recall sometimes and it is of my son who was 18 at the time, and doing a stocktake. He was at my kitchen table literally surrounded by tampons!
One of the highlights of the oI journey was when I recall an amazing conversation I had with a young male buyer in the supermarket some time ago.
He actually didn’t know what the differences were between an applicator tampon and non-applicator. So I asked him if he would like me to explain, which I did by pulling them apart and showing him in a very factual way.
He was overwhelmed and very thankful and to me this shows the importance of diversity inclusion.