Two projects from this year’s graduates presented new products for menstruation. Here, we talk to Ines Duplessis, MA Industrial Design, and Amelia Kociolkowska, BA Product Design, about tools and taboos.
Firstly, introduce us to your projects.
Amelia: Carrie is a pocket for storing tampons and sanitary pads, designed to be worn underneath clothes. As well as storing period products more hygienically than current options, Carrie reveals the products where and when they are needed.
Ines: Aneo is an interconnected service based around the stem cells discovered in menstrual blood. You receive a kit at home to collect your blood and those samples are health checked and stored in a blood bank for therapeutic research and application. That act is then rewarded by a piece of jewellery made partly of your own blood which by wearing you’re showing what you’ve done as a citizen for the wider health of your community. Aneo is life insurance for yourself and your family.
Did you both set out wanting to tackle menstruation?
Amelia: Actually, no. I was reading Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez. There were so many hard facts proving the inequalities that we feel as women all the time. It was impossible to argue with. Reading that book inspired me to focus on women in male-dominated industries, I went on to speak with women in the army, police, fire fighters as well as technicians here at College, listening to their stories.
One tangible issue they had in common was badly designed uniforms. Soldiers who were in discomfort having to balance artillery with their period products in their over-spilling pockets. Police officers who were hiding their period products on the way to the loo so not to be mocked by their male counterparts. I wondered if there was something that could hold these for them and then magically appear when they needed them. That’s where Carrie came from.
Ines: I initially focused on implicit gender bias, I was also really inspired by Perez’s book. But my work’s turning point happened with the scientific discovery; stem cells discovered in menstrual blood meaning a potential regular and accessible source of regenerative medicine providing possible therapies for heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cancer and more. It’s game-changing.
My first thought was how that knowledge could change the perception of menstruation – that blood is not a waste to be discarded or hidden. It could save someone’s life.
I began researching and thinking about services that could work with menstrual blood banks which are already being developed across the world.
What have the responses been do your work?
Amelia: My project was featured on Dezeen and they selected it for their top ten graduate projects of 2020. Which is great. It got a mixture of reviews from readers. Some interpreted Carrie as shaming people for having periods which wasn’t my intention, it is a practical design response. Another recurring conversation is that people shouldn't care what others say. I think it's for each person to decide how to deal with it; there's nothing wrong with holding your tampon in full view on the way to the toilet, but equally there's nothing wrong with wanting to put it in your pocket (or have it in your Carrie!).
Most importantly, Carrie highlights how certain work environments are not informed by women; if cis men experienced periods, the workplace and uniforms would be set up to accommodate it. If these professions had been female-dominated from the beginning they might look a bit different today. The uniforms might be more useful for those that wear them.
Ines: The responses to my work are often shock, nobody has ever heard of the stem cell possibilities within menstrual blood. Right away, anyone who has periods feels immediately empowered. We have this potential power within us and we don’t know it!
Right now, we are surfing on the wave of body positivism. I think it’s really good to have products that respond to right now and it’s also good to get to the root of the problem and change mentalities.
As designers we are shaping tomorrow’s world so it’s really important to be aware of your own biases. Women’s bodies have been stigmatised and policed. And as women, we have interiorised a lot of this. In my research, I found a lot of men really open to learning more and communicating with their partners and family members about menstruation. If we all got taught this at school, it would totally flip the conversation.
There is a growing number of period products available as well as several campaigns tackling social stigma (even a specific Pantone colour). Are we at a tipping point?
Ines: A lot of companies are stepping forward and fitting into these new values. But at the same time, some still feel the taboo. We have different experiences depending on when and where we grow up, our religious and cultural contexts – lots of things. We’re on a good path, but we still have to continue this revolution.
Amelia: There are so many more choices now, products that aren’t pads or tampons. And it’s great to see more environmentally friendly products. Those options are important; It’s not for anyone to tell you what products you should or shouldn’t use.
What will be you working on in the future?
Amelia: Creating Carrie, and seeing the response, really demonstrated to me that everyone should choose what’s right for them and we need choices to be made available. I’m focused on women-centred design, there is so much to do and so much to correct.
Ines: I would love to start Aneo as a business. I know that if I dive in, it’s going to be a long run. But even if I don’t have the means to realise the project right now, I want it to be talked about, for people to understand the possibilities of menstrual blood.
I’m interested in different social taboos that woman deal with and am working on services that explore sexual pleasure. That’s another taboo at a tipping point right now. So that’s my next project, a game to support the discovery of your own sexuality.
Ines Duplessis was shortlisted and Amelia Kociolkowska was nominated for the MullenLowe NOVA Awards 2020.