A picture of a lake in the Congo and two fishermen on a boat.

Case Study

Douce, the owner of Maisha was the main contact for this project. She 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 was lucky enough to be part of this project. If you feel comfortable reading about menstrual pads and women's health please continue to read on as. I am sure you will find it very interesting.
I began volunteering for La Difference in 2018, a charity that helps entrepreneurs 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 wealthier countries, we began to learn about Congolese culture; the inaccessibility/accessibility 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.

The research

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 knowledge on menstrual cycles.

The results were staggering. Many Congolese women cannot afford disposable sanitary protection and use 'rags' (made 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.

Graph about use of pads in rural areas in the DRCGraph about use of pads in urban areas in the DRCGraph about customers problems

Field studies

Giuliana visited the DRC in 2019. I was unable to go due to work responsibilities. 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 pad brands and prices.

She managed to get lots of photographic evidence and we were especially interested in the branding and packaging. The photographic evidence helped us acquire 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 the trip had concluded, we had regular weekly calls to keep Douce updated on our progress and to get further insights on new opportunities that arose for Douce.

Image of a pack of disposable pads in a supermarket in the DRC
Image of a whiteboard with post its and notes

The branding

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.

Maisha logo in greenMaisha logo in white

The Challenges

One of the challenges we had to face was the lack of availability of stock material. Paper is expensive in the Congo and premium or ticker types of paper are not widely available. Most printers use thin or low-grade paper, which is only suitable to print using a low amount 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 it would not encourage paper waste or cause problems with the cutting process, in effect it could easily be made by hand.

Also, as they could only print on A4, I optimised the layout size so there was minimal ink waste and prevented page wrinkling. The file could be printed mono if needed, however, we advised Douce to use colour as it would give the brand more visibility. The holes could be made with a standard-sized puncher without the need for a special cutter or tools. In the images below you can see how I set up the booklet and the labels.

Print ready spread of Maisha labelsPrint ready spread of Maisha labelsPrint ready spread of Maisha labelsPrint ready spread of Maisha labels

Below you can see an initial paper prototype of the label and booklet and how they could be displayed with the packaging. We decided to remove the images in order to make space for the Swahili translation and use less ink during printing. In the future, we could discuss how to tweak the brand and amend the images if optimisation was 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 visibility of potentially embarrassing words exposed. Inside, women would find a mini booklet with instructions that they can keep at home as a reminder on how to wash the pads.

This concept 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 a light background, could be used.

The paper prototype had 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.

Photo of a mock up label with a package of reusable padsPhoto of a mock up label with a package of reusable padsPhoto of a mock up label with a package of reusable padsPhoto of a mock up label with a package of reusable pads
Photo of a mock up label with a package of reusable pads

The collaboration

Giuliana Mazzetta is an incredibly talented business designer, I really enjoyed working with her in this project. It was a proud accomplishment delivering the concept, despite it despite all the constraints and challenges due to the distance, pandemic and the situation in the DRC. Check our Linkedin profiles and if you need to hire us drop us a message.

If you want to find out more about La difference, have look a their homepage. The are conducting amazing work in the Congo, and helping more and more businesses to thrive, especially during these challenging times.

Picture of Samantha BaldiniPicture of Giuliana Mazzetta

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