If you get coffee from a local café chain every day, chances are, those supposedly recyclable paper cups do not get reused and eventually end up in landfills.
In 2014, Time Magazine reported that an estimate of 50 billion paper cups are left unrecycled every year in the US. The scenario is far from different in the UK, where The Guardian reported earlier this year that only 3 million out of the 3 billion cups the country produces annually are recycled.
Such staggering numbers caught the attention of then 27-year-old Audrey Tangonan who joined a 3-month social enterprise challenge in The Do School, an entrepreneurship school in New York in 2014.
“Our challenge was to come up with a sustainable cup, so while I was in that program, we researched different kinds of reusable materials. We leaned toward silicone cups because they’re virtually indestructible,” Tangonan said in an interview with Cosmo.ph.
The program prompted a light bulb moment for the twentysomething, when she came across menstrual cups while researching.
A menstrual cup is a feminine hygiene product which may be an alternative to the more popular choices like tampons and pads. The product, usually made of silicone, is inserted into the woman’s vagina to carry her menstrual flow for as long as 12 hours.
While the idea sounds new too many, it was already patented way back in 1927, but only gained popularity in recent years, thanks to young startups that produce it.
Easily hooked with the idea, the would-be entrepreneur bought her own cup to Kickstarter, the global crowdfunding platform focused on creativity.
Tangonan named her business idea after Amansinaya, the goddess of fishermen. In the Filipino folklore, she and Bathala had a fight, with the latter throwing bodies of land into the water, forming the Philippine archipelago in the process.
“I really wanted to use her as a reference because it signifies the control of flow. I like it because even though they were in competition with each other, the story presented them as equals. They had an equal playing field.”
Tangonan also saw the viability of her product in the local market that by 2015, she started knocking on doors of different business mentors for feedback.
“I got a lot of negative reviews! The mentors really wanted proof that this kind of product would work in the Philippines and I didn’t have anything with me except for my idea,” she shared.
Unfazed, the 27-year-old decided to start on her own instead and used her savings worth P20,000 ($430.20). By late last year, Sinaya Cup was born.
The move forced the budding entrepreneur to leave her day job as a sports analyst to focus solely on building the first Filipino brand of menstrual cups. A self-admitted hands-on entrepreneur, she had to fly to various countries to check for factories that can produce the product she wants.
“I flew abroad and visited the factories in November , where I got the first 100 prototypes. I couldn't risk having my manufacturer just send me the products. I wanted to establish a relationship,” she added.
Six months in, Sinaya Cup has gained a following among modern Filipinas who wish to find an alternative for their menstrual woes. Since the product may be used for as long as two years, customers can save a hefty amount from buying pads and tampons every month.
This also gave Tangonan a chance to give back to some rural communities and to help women have alternative choices for themselves while saving money.
“…For every cup we sell, we’ll donate a cup to a woman from a rural community who can’t afford menstrual products. We’ve already donated menstrual cups to almost 40 women in La Union and Tuguegarao,” Tangonan said.
However, marketing the idea still remains a challenge for the brand especially with the taboo that surrounds the product. The company draws a lot of flak on how menstrual cups are used.
Tangonan said that because the product is worn internally, people think Sinaya Cup is promoting the violation of women because of misconceptions about virginity and purity.
“We’re not forcing the product on people who believe that the hymen should be intact before you get married. That’s a choice and we respect that, but we also want women to have an informed choice,” Tangonan said.
The Sinaya Cup founder believes the product empowers women to participate in more activities without any inhibitions, especially with the product’s efficiency to keep females stain-free.
“Filipinas are pretty conservative. We always hear about things we shouldn’t do so when we’re on our period, we’re even more restricted to certain activities. We’ve all experienced someone sitting out of an activity and saying, “Ay, meron kasi ako.” That takes away too much!”
Elyssa Christine Lopez is Entrepreneur.com.ph's editorial assistant/staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @elyssalopz.