Name: Lucy Mary Athieno
Business: Eco-Pads Uganda Ltd
City, Country: Kampala, Uganda
Website URL: https://ecopads.wordpress.com
With a BA in industrial psychology and a postgrad diploma in entrepreneurship, 30-year-old Lucy Mary Athieno launched Eco-Pads Uganda Ltd, a social enterprise that manufactures re-usable and affordable sanitary pads that can be washed, dried and reused for up to 12 months. Eco-pads are menstrual kits made from very high performance fabric and provide comfort and supper protection. They are eco-friendly, affordable, comfortable and easy and safe to use. Each menstrual kit includes: 2 pad liners, 6 absorbent liners (3 winged + 3 straight), 1 storage bag and instructions for use and care.
Today, the company employs over 30 people. Lucy’s goal is to reach 100,000 girls with Eco-Pads in the first five years.
Lucy shared some of her startup insights with She Inspires Her.
How did you come up with the idea to start your business? Was there an “ah-ha” moment when you launched your company?
Growing up I had challenges going to school because I was not able to afford the sanitary pads and did not even know what to use. One day as I sat in class, my dress got stained and as I stood up to go for break time, the boys told me I had slaughtered a chicken which I did not understand but they insisted and said see your dress behind. The embarrassment was too much. So I went back home. I didn’t have anyone to talk to as I had lost both my parents, so I tied pieces of cloth to use. That experience kept me wondering what I would ever do to save a girl the embarrassment I went through. While at university I went to volunteer with Kadama Widows Association where I am the Executive Director and, as I interacted with the girls, learned they had similar challenges and that’s is when I started saving part of my stipend and we started making the Eco-Pads.
Give us some insight on how you raised investments and funds to start and grow your business.
The first monies we used came from personal savings. Shortly thereafter, we applied to the US-African Development Fund and received $25,000, which helped us kick off real production with better materials. As Eco-pads is a new product we are still looking for more grants to increase our production, reduce the prices, and market the product to women.
Building a business needs a lot of planning and funding until it’s launched, what has been your biggest challenge to date?
Our biggest challenge has been in marketing and getting recognition for the product, convincing customers that it’s a good. We haven’t had the funds we’d like to invest in advertising because we’ve had to use our grant money to buy equipment and materials. Another challenge has been the high cost of production which affects the price.
What do you know now that you wish you knew before you started your business?
I wish I knew that a social business can also make money!
What have you learned from your success and failure that you’ve experienced during your business?
I have learned to get all the team on the same page and make them accountable to each other. I’ve learned how to get better by watching competitors and I’ve learned that for a business to be successful, you have to be on top of the game, get “dirty” sometimes.
Tell us a little about yourself
Although I had a happy childhood, when I was 12 years old, I lost both my parents in the same year and had to take care of my three siblings. My friends and family helped me get where I am today, but I also work hard, am a go-getter and willing to learn every day even in my business.
What advice would you give to women in your country who are interested in starting a business
I would give them five tips that have helped me to date:
- Believe in yourself, avoid excuses and start now with whatever you have.
- Be 100% independent.
- Be resilient and ready to compete for the market.
- Remain a learner and humble.
- Above all, have passion.
Watch this video to learn more about Eco-Pads: