Emily Au-Young from Reemi on making periods positive

Emily Au-Young from Reemi

Ashleigh Howan (left) and Emily Au-Young (right), co-founders of Reemi. Image supplied.

Late last year Auckland-based not-for-profit Reemi launched a Kickstarter campaign to help them create first-of-its kind underwear that has just been delivered and is now available online. Described as the world’s most innovative period underwear, Reemi’s new underwear can hold up to two tampons worth of blood and is made using a brand new fabric technology called CottonX, a self-disinfecting fibre.

The smart fibre is environmentally friendly and biodegradable, it fuses 100% natural cotton with copper oxide to provide the ultimate in skin care and protection. It’s super soft, even on sensitive skin, and can even help reduce the risk of infections. Reemi founders Emily Au Young (non-profit Marketing Manager) and Ashleigh Howan (emergency nurse) spent more than 18 months researching and working with an ethical consultant, to create the underwear which uses sustainable Lenzing Modal – a world leader in environmentally responsible fabrics.

Reemi also want to support positive periods and has partnered with local organisations in Bangladesh to ensure 100% of their profits go towards providing much needed education and menstrual products. The brand was recently selected as a Finalist in the Tech for Good Category in the New Zealand Sustainable Business Awards 2020 for their innovative period underwear.

We caught up with Emily Au Young to find out more about Reemi, what the response has been like so far and what it means to make periods positive?

How did Reemi initially come about?
Reemi started with long distance phone calls and perfecting the art of zoom – well before it was a global norm. I was based in Hong Kong as the Communications Manager for a non-profit and Ash was in New Zealand working as a nurse. Through our regular phone calls about periods, and collective work in health care and international development, we knew that women’s health was not being prioritised.

It dawned on us that if periods were inconvenient in places where many resources are available, we wondered what it was really like for others who had challenges with access. This led to us exploring how people in developing countries dealt with their menstruation. In 2017, we went on our first research trip across India, Bangladesh and Nepal, meeting with people who were tackling these questions, so that we could understand the issue better. During this time, we discovered information that was more shocking than we realised or could comprehend. This trip was really the catalyst to Reemi.

What has the response to Reemi been like so far?
Incredible! We were totally blown away by the response to our Kickstarter last year for our high-tech period underwear. From the social side of what we do, we’ve been equally excited by the partnerships we’ve established and the response from clothing manufacturers to get sustainable period products to their workers.

Can you tell us what you mean about making periods positive?
For so many places and even my own upbringing in Aotearoa, periods have been viewed as a shameful or dirty thing to have. Research has shown that in cultures where the stigma is high, cultural behaviours are actually leading to poorer health outcomes for women. So our work is about redefining and normalising periods. By both providing sustainable and culturally appropriate products, as well as education, we’re hoping to shift the cultural stigma.

Reemi period underwear

Reemi’s innovative period underwear.

Can you tell us about your project partners for Reemi?
Firstly, they’re exceptional. We have the privilege of working alongside Change Associates – a group that facilitates education in garment factories. We have learnt so much from them! They’re well known and recognised by brands like Levi Strauss for pushing the envelope on education in factories. We also partner with iDE Global, a NGO supporting us in product design, as well as Basha Boutique – a small social enterprise that makes some of our products in Bangladesh. They employ women who are at risk or survivors of trafficking.

We’re also working with the University of Munich to complete accredited and ground-breaking research with garment workers and their menstruation.

AS Colour are huge supporters of our work and have given us access to their factories to provide education and period products to their workers, which is really awesome to see.

How important is it for women to lift each other up and what does that mean to you?
Super important! We’re big fans of Shine Theory and actively collaborate with others. The main thing to remember in our work, is that we’re all trying to work ourselves out of a job. If we’re in it to end period poverty globally, we need to do everything to help each other get the work done.

What inspires you?
I love this question, especially in light of this year. I really think people inspire me the most. I recently met a garment worker who was 18 and working 12 hour days at the factory. After work, she would then go to night classes and is working towards a Diploma in Electronics. I am always floored but just how hard people work, particularly women. Beauty has also been a big inspiration for me this year, whether it’s a beautiful silk fabric or a piece of art. I am excited that we’re all being drawn back to craftsmanship this year!

What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I’ve been very fortunate to have had lots of incredible experiences, especially while working in Hong Kong. There have been a lot of ‘big’ moments. But my favourite, most amusing exchange was a researcher sliding into my DMs on Instagram after googling, “Bangladesh Garment Worker” and my photo came up as a top pic on Google Images. We then turned this exchange into a partnership with the University of Munich. It feels like a very millennial work story!

Reemi period underwear

Campaign image for Reemi’s innovative period underwear.

How do you personally define success and what does it mean to you?
I’ve really shifted my mindset about how I define success. I really define it by seeing if those around us, be it our partners or advisors or volunteers are thriving. When those around you are thriving, you really know that you’re doing your best for people and for the planet.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received that you keep referring back to?
I remember talking to Tesh (Raglan Food Co) before her CoYo days and asking her at what point does a job feel too hard to tackle? And she said, “If I have access to the resources around me to solve this problem, I will say yes.” And I think it’s really a beautiful picture of doing things in community. Ash and I cannot solve the challenges of the fashion industry or global period poverty on our own but if we work with the people we know, ask for help and work collaboratively with others, we might actually be able to make a difference.

What are your goals for the future?
We’re keen to push the envelope on fabric sustainability and seeing how far we can take our products in this space. We’re also working on expanding Reemi into humanitarian spaces i.e. Refugee camps.

And beyond Reemi, I’m sure I will find myself working on food sustainability/food sovereignty – I really believe nutritious food should be accessible to everybody!

Reemi period underwear

Images supplied.

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