Body + Wellness

Malisse Tan of Bobble on what *actually* goes into your period products


By Redzhanna Jazmin

Malisse Tan of Bobble on what *actually* goes into your period products

National Geographic estimates that a single woman will use anywhere between 5,000 to 15,000 pads and tampons in her life. Given that one sanitary pad can take anywhere from 500 to 800 years to decompose, it’s safe to say that the environmental impact of our period choices is significant. Further, the ingredients that go into our pads have bearing on our own bodies too—from the bleach that makes your pads so uniformly white to the fragrances in your tampons.

READ: The Science of Women: Your Guide to Women’s Health

That’s where Bobble comes in. Launched in 2020 amidst the pandemic, the new feminine care brand is addressing the staggering issues within our current period care market, offering game-changing, eco-friendly alternatives. With a lineup that includes period pads, tampons, panty liners, and menstrual panties, Bobble urges you to rethink your period routine.

We spoke to Bobble founder Malisse Tan to find out more about her line as well as the core philosophies behind the brand—ahead, find the full scoop:

What is the philosophy behind Bobble?

“Bobble is South-East Asia’s first period wellness company offering eco-organic period products, available on subscription. We focus on providing safer and planet-friendly period products, giving menstruators peace of mind with what they’re using.

“Education is a big part of our purpose, too—we are empowering girls and women with knowledge so that they can make informed decisions when it comes to their period health and menstrual wellbeing.

“We are also an inclusive and thoughtful brand, journeying with menstruators from puberty to peri-menopause, while aligning ourselves to do our part in achieving five of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals.”

Where does the name, ‘Bobble’ come from?

“While I was doing research, I needed to name my files on my laptop. My daughter, Aleya, was one at the time, and was trying to speak. What was supposed to be ‘bubble’, sounded like ‘Bobble’. I took the word to name my files and the name stuck ever since. I figured it was easy enough to say and quirky enough to remember!”

What inspired you to start a sustainable period care brand?

“After giving birth to my first child in January 2017, I was diagnosed with Stage II Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and went through six months of chemotherapy. It was during this time that I started to become more conscious of what we were using at home in terms of household cleaning products, body care, and personal care products. We started to switch to plant-based, natural, and eco-friendlier alternatives. This also included looking into my period products. I’ve been a user of tampons and pantyliners for most of my adult life and we only had one brand option available in Malaysia. After doing some research about what generic period products were made of and packaged in, I became concerned. Did you know that generic brands contain toxins, perfumes, dyes, and plastics that can take between 500 to 800 years to decompose?

“It was scary to think that this is what I had been putting in my body—and what my daughter would be using once she hits puberty. So I started to hunt for safer and eco-friendlier alternatives. Unfortunately, organic cotton-based period products were not available in Malaysia (or South-East Asia) at the time and brands from overseas did not ship here.

“Now with this second chance in life, I told myself I wanted to do something that had a purpose. Realising there’s a big problem to solve in access to safer and sustainable period product alternatives and education in menstrual wellbeing, the idea of Bobble was born.”

Could you tell us more about Hodgkin’s lymphoma?

“Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer that affects the infection-fighting cells of the immune system, lymphocytes. If left untreated, it will cause your immune system to shut down and ultimately spread to your organs. Although it is not as common as breast cancer, it is one of the more curable cancers when treated early enough. It could go undetectable until it’s at a late stage; however, I got lucky when I detected it at Stage II where I noticed a large (not painful) lump on the right side of my neck’s lymph node. I then took some quick actions and started chemotherapy fairly quickly.”

What ingredients do go into normal period products and why is it advisable to be mindful of what your period products are made from? What does the phrase “toxic ingredient” mean to you, exactly?

“To me, toxic ingredients are ingredients that shouldn’t be used on a monthly basis on the most sensitive and highly absorbent part of your body (or any part of your body, for that matter!). The scary part is that we trust a lot of the mass-produced big brands that have been around since before our lifetime—but when we start digging deeper into what goes into making them, we learn that the ingredients used aren’t so body-friendly at all!

“Generic period products commonly use synthetic materials such as rayons, polyesters and even conventional cotton, which are grown with toxic pesticides, as opposed to organic cotton. These materials are often bleached with chlorine to give them that clean, white look. Other chemicals that are found in generic pads and tampons include dioxins, plastics, pesticide residue and fragrances—which contain carcinogens and, in many cases, lead to irritation and cause rashes on the vulva region, especially during periods.

“There have been many claims that these toxic chemicals may be linked to cancer and endocrine disruption, though not enough research has been done to prove this yet. But it’s important as consumers to be more conscious of what we are using for our bodies, especially with products that are used so often. On average, a woman may use up to 12,000 period products in her lifetime, yet purchasing a period product is one of the least conscious decisions a woman makes when doing her usual shopping rounds. We hope to change that and pique interest into what we are using during our periods.”

How can consumers ensure that they are disposing of their period products responsibly? What steps can we take to be more actively eco-conscious?

“Firstly, it’s important to note that no matter what kind of period product you use, you should not flush them down the toilet! Period products should be rolled, as what we call, in a ‘popiah’ style, whether using the pad wrapper itself or toilet paper, before neatly disposing them in bins at home or designated hygiene bins in public restrooms.

“When switching to Bobble, you will have the peace of mind knowing that upon disposal and due process through the waste management system, they will start to biodegrade within six months due to the materials we use in our products and our packaging.

“Apart from your period products, you should also make conscious decisions regarding which brands you buy by taking into consideration the kind of packaging they use, reading through the labels to learn if there are natural ingredients as per what they claim and if they show any evidence on their packaging or websites of certification they have achieved. Practice recycling what you use at home, reducing plastic use and repurpose items like glass bottles and box packaging from online shopping. There are now many types of recycling bins out there where you can recycle unused clothes, electronic items, and even batteries!”

What are some of the challenges of running a period care business?

“Because periods are an undervalued and under-served market as a subset of women’s health, there is a lack of education in this space. So although the time is ripe for disrupting the period care market, there is a lot of education that we need to do to empower women on the knowledge of their own menstrual health and wellbeing, so they can then take conscious action in switching to safer period products.

“There still commonly exists the mindset of ‘if it ain’t broke, why fix it?’, and what we’re trying to say is that you don’t have to wait for something bad to happen to switch to something good and safe.

“At the same time, periods are still associated with a lot of stigma and taboo, so through our content and language used it’s important that we shatter the negative lens and address concerns and the comments from people who think we are too transparent in our content and that it’s a topic we should keep “private”. We’re here to normalise #PeriodTalk.”

How is BOBBLE different from other sustainable period care brands on the market?

“To begin with, we use GOTS-certified organic cotton; several brands “greenwash” their brand by claiming that their products are made from organic cotton, but they don’t actually hold the certification from recognised organisations such as Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) or OEKO-TEX. Furthermore, we have a unique design that incorporates a bamboo charcoal layer that replaces fragrances to absorb odour and inhibit bacterial growth. Having a wider product range that includes tampons and period underwear ensures we are offering safer solutions for every kind of menstruator out there.

“Other brands may stop at the product when it comes to another alternative on the shelf—we are the only sustainable brand that has included biodegradable packaging using FSC certified paper and soy ink. We’re also in the process of launching eco-friendly refill packs to further reduce waste!

“And even though we are available in over 30 locations in Malaysia and Singapore online and offline, our customers mostly buy from us through our website which offers a period subscription service where you can personalise the number of boxes you receive and how often you want to receive it to suit your period flow!

“We aren’t just another period product company; we are working towards transforming into a period wellness company that unifies a fragmented market, centralising shopping for your period, period care services, education and closing the period poverty gap through our social impact projects.”

What does BOBBLE’s production process look like behind the scenes?

“We work with factories overseas in designing the type of pad we wanted to bring to the market. After production, they are then shipped in bulk to Malaysia where we print packaging locally which ensures quality control and the ability to source from credible sources. In our office in Kuala Lumpur, we personally pack each order with thought and care, where each order is fulfilled with biodegradable wood fillers (rather than using bubble wrap) along with a personalised ‘Thank You’ note and product information card in a kraft shipping box, before being shipped out within 48 hours of receiving our customers’ orders.”

What does the future hold for Bobble?

“As a femtech company, we will be constantly looking at how to innovate our products and service offerings to disrupt and improve access for all menstruators from product to information. Over the next three years, we will be launching more products and launching our subscription service into more markets. We will be building out the content section of our platform so women can stay educated and informed about their period health and menstrual wellbeing. We also have goals on developing a social impact eco-system via our platform, where vulnerable girls will also have access to period product necessities and for BOBBLE to be a catalyst for change in policies and education on the topic of periods.

“A period should end a sentence, not a girls’ education. Period.”

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