On her childhood: I was born in a tiny village called Yasok up in the Nepalese mountains. When I was five, we moved to the nearby town of Phidim. There were no cars or buses so we walked the whole way with our bags on our backs: it took us nearly two days. We only had electricity for a few hours each day and we had no running water, so every Saturday my mother would take me and my two sisters to the communal well to hand-wash our clothes. My father was always at work so life was tough for my mother. She gave every ounce of her strength to raising us and running our home.
On periods: The Nepalese word for periods is “nachune” meaning “untouchable”. When I had my first period, I was given sari rags as menstrual products and sent to my aunt’s house for seven days. I was put in a room, I wasn’t allowed to see men and I wasn’t allowed to go out and play. In the more rural parts of the country, some women are still banished to a cowshed or “menstrual hut” every month during their period, a practice known as “chhaupadi”. Their food is pushed through the door and they’re treated like prisoners. Women bleed. It should be celebrated instead of punished.
On her toughest moments: When I was 20, I moved to London with my Nepalese boyfriend to study health and social care. He was physically and mentally abusive but I stayed silent for three years. In Asian culture, domestic violence is a huge taboo; no-one talks about it. When I eventually found the strength to leave him, he told me he’d destroy me. He moved back to Nepal, cleared out our joint account (leaving me with 92p) and tried to have me deported. I found a job as a part-time au pair with a family in East London, where I found safety – and my confidence.
On her early career: After graduating with a degree in environmental science from The Open University in 2016, I started to explore career options. I didn’t have any mentors so I set myself the “50 Coffee Challenge”: from lab technicians and geologists to forest rangers and public health officers, I spent the next 12 months meeting up with 50 different people for a coffee, a chat and a shot of inspiration. I also ran my own pop-up kitchen serving Nepalese vegan food, volunteered for Plan International UK and joined a non-profit organisation called the Women’s Environmental Network, who were campaigning about the chemicals and plastic used in sanitary products. After speaking to schoolgirls in St Albans, I realised that not only did women not know enough about recyclable options, but there was also a huge gap in the market. That’s when I came up with the idea to launch my own brand of eco-friendly, reusable period pants.
On starting her business: After picking up a second-hand sewing machine and teaching myself to sew by watching YouTube tutorials, I bought a stack of granny knickers and a pile of different absorbent fabrics and started designing a prototype. I launched WUKA (which stands for Wake Up Kick Ass) in 2017, raising £7,000 on Kickstarter to manufacture my first 1,500 pieces of underwear in China.
Two years on, we’re about to hit £1m in sales. We sell period pants online, we’ve just started retailing in Whole Foods, and we’re in talks with NGOs on how we can tackle period poverty in other countries. Next year, we’ll be stocked in Sainsbury’s.
On her go-to style: Comfort is the biggest thing for me so you’ll usually find me in stretchy jeans and a brightly coloured top. I tend to mix up my style – one day I’ll be in a tweed structured jacket, the next I’ll be in an edgy bomber jacket. I love heels. They give me presence and power, especially in meetings full of men. I usually wear Ruby-red lipstick. It’s my signature colour!
On her role models: I’m in awe of Ava DuVernay, the director behind the Netflix series When They See Us, which revisits the case of the Central Park Five, a group of teens from Harlem who were wrongly accused of rape. I’m also inspired by Bushra Ahmed, who established West Croydon Voice to help businesses and residents affected by the 2011 riots in Croydon, after her own family firm was burned down. These strong, powerful women are using their voices to address injustice and push for change.
On staying sane: Work can be overwhelming. Everything is on my shoulders and I often think “I need another me!” Walking my two dogs really clears my head, plus it’s a good excuse to listen to podcasts. All entrepreneurs should listen to Masters of Scale hosted by LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman – it’s full of practical startup advice. My favourite episode was with Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky who talked about imagining what an “11-star” experience would look like for customers: “You have to design the extreme to come backwards.” That’s great advice.
On her most powerful piece of advice to other women: Flying starts from the ground. The more grounded you are, the higher you fly.
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