Maisha is a company founded by Douce, it helps women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to overcome period poverty and shame by providing reusable pads and allowing women to empower themselves by becoming an active part of society and the Congolese workforce.
Why I am telling you this story? Because I have been lucky enough to be part of this. If you feel comfortable reading about menstrual pads and women health plese stay on this page I am sure you will find it very interesting.
I have been volunteering at La Difference, a charity that helps emtrepreneurs in the DRC to transform their ideas into viable businesses with expansive possibilities.
I went into partnership with Giuliana, a business designer and mentor and together we worked on Maisha's branding and business plan. Having both come from richer countries, we needed to learn about Congolese culture; the accessibilty to women's health and menstrual aids, including the products available to buy; how the menstrual cycle is marketed and culturally acknowledged within the Congo.
Questionnaires were sent out to the consumers and owner of Maisha. Due to the limited internet technology within the DRC, the questionnaires were built using Google forms. The questions focused on whether the sanitary products met their needs, to the extent of their knowlege on menstrual cycles. The results were staggering. Many Congolese women cannot afford disposable sanitary protection and use 'rags' (from old clothes) to meet their menstrual cycle needs. Also, Congolese husbands and fathers feel uncomfortable talking about the menstrual cycle and prefer the pads to be hidden from view. Some husbands consider their wives 'dirty' when having a period and refuse to share the same bed when their wife has a period. Although in the DRC menstruation is considered natural and something that happens to women every month. There is still a large degree of ignorance due to generational beliefs.
Giuliana visited the DRC in 2019. I would have loved to go too but my work situation didn’t allowed me to do that in that moment. After lots of online briefing and ideation Giuliana ran a workshop in Bukavu to establish the USPs and potential benefits of the brand. She also ran some research in the “field” and visited shops to take note of current disposable pads brands and prices.
We gained lots of photographic evidence as we were especially interested in the branding and packaging. All the informations has been very useful to get a deeper understanding on how to tackle the branding and strategy.
Giuliana also had a one-to-one meeting with Douce which contributed not only to strengthen our collaboration but establish a connection. After this trip we had regular weekly calls to keep Douce updated on our progress and to get further insights as new collaborations came along for Douce.
After gathering all the necessary information, I began to work on the branding. We wanted to give Maisha a modern look as most of the brands we observed had a very similar packaging and style, mainly featuring very stereotyped flowers and butterflies. We wanted to get away from this` image as we wanted to pass a stronger message of feminine empowerment and independence.
Maisha in Swahili means “life” and the main idea has been to give Maisha a fresh look and feel whilst being adaptable to the local environment and production challenges.
The idea was to have a simple logo that could be printed and reproduced (if necessary) on marketing material or used for packaging purposes at a low cost and could even be sewn on the bag itself if printed on fabric. I also created a monogram version to be used on social media and email signatures.
One of the challenges has been to overcome the availability of print material. Paper is expensive in Congo and premium or ticker types of paper are not widely available. Most printers there only use thin paper, which is only suitable to print using a low amout of ink, similar to what happens with our home inkjet printers, which would soak the sheet if a big picture is printed.
In order to improve the cost efficiency I created this mockup by using an A5 format for both the label and booklet, so would not generate paper waste and optimise the cutting process in a way that in the worst-case scenario could be done by hands.
Also, as the printer only fit A4 paper, I optimised the layout size wise so there is a minimal ink waste and prevents pages wrinkling. This file can also be printed in black and white if needed, even though we advised to use colour to give the brand more visitibility. The holes can be done with a standard sized puncher without the need of a special cutter or skills. In the images below you can have a look at how I set up the booklet and the labels.
Below you can see an initial paper prototype of the label and booklet and how they can be presented with the packaging. We decided to remove the images in order to make space for the Swahili translation and use less ink during printing. We may have a look in the future to see how we could tweak i and include images if some optimisation will be needed following feedback from Douce.
To make the packaging more discreet I thought of attaching a label to the strings of the bag with no mention of potentially embarassing words exposed and then inside women can find a mini booklet with instructions that they can keep at home as a reminder on how to wash the pads.
This setup would allow a label to be attached or paired with any fabric regardless of the colour. If the fabric used is light coloured, a negative coloured label could be used. If colours are darker or too many colours are present in the fabric, the positive version, with light background can be used.
The paper prototype has been produced during the lockdown so I needed to use the resources that I had at home. Douce and everyone at La difference loved the prototype so I prepared the final file so they could run a test print.
Giuliana is an incredibly talented business designer, I really enjoyed working with her in this project and deliver it despite all the constraints and challenges due to the distance, pandemic and situation in the DRC. Check our Linkedin profiles and if you need to hire us drop me a message.