In Her Shoes gives us the rare opportunity to briefly step into the lives of the women who inspire us and discover the strength, courage and ingenuity that has got them to where they are today.
In August 2019, Isobel Marshall and Eloise Hall threw a party. Over 400 people turned up to celebrate with the then 20-year-olds, and some of them were strangers. But these weren’t unwelcome gatecrashers. They were some of the supporters of the crowdfunding campaign Isobel and Eloise had launched, raising $56,000 in two months, to launch their social enterprise designed to end period poverty. “That was very exciting, the moment we realised people weren’t there because of us anymore”, Eloise says.Their brand is called TABOO, but there’s not much that’s off-limits in our conversation. In fact, ending shame and secrecy over menstruation is at the heart of TABOO’s mission. And it starts, Isobel says, with education. “As opposed to teaching you how to hide your period, or how to do it discreetly, [it’s about] teaching how to actually manage your physical and mental health through your period or your menstrual cycle. Changing the tone from an embarrassed, shame ridden experience to a celebrated and positive one, it changes the way that the students respond, and respond to themselves on their period.”
The TABOO founders star in Wittner’s new In Her Shoes campaign, which gives us the rare opportunity to briefly step into the lives of the women who inspire us and discover the strength, courage and ingenuity that has got them to where they are today. And where are they? Well, they got there by walking in the shoes of the many women around the world who are disadvantaged by period poverty.
So how did a gap year turn into a social enterprise? According to Isobel, the pair weren’t satisfied with the fact that half of the population is “disproportionately disadvantaged because of their anatomy.” Well versed in calling on their community to get behind a cause – the girls had seen this in action via their own families and their school – the pair felt that crowdfunding offered an advantage beyond securing the startup cash they needed. “If everyone gives $10, $15, some give $1,000, some give $2”, Isobel tells us, “not only did that mean we were financially looked after, it also meant that these people had a sense of responsibility and personal investment in the business”.
And although their business model meant they wouldn’t be able to offer a return on investment in the traditional sense, Eloise says they weren’t phased by this. Seeing the difference TABOO is making in the world, she feels, is a reward in itself. “This is return enough for us because we know that it’s an important cause.”
Here, we ask the TABOO co-founders about how they’re tackling period poverty, how to deal with Instagram, and building a brand from the ground up. We also get a peek at the new Spring/Summer Wittner collection.
What are your favourite kind of shoes to wear?
Isobel: Sneakers! I’ll wear them with absolutely everything. I love how you can dress them up and down. I tend to run everywhere because I’m chronically late to things – so flats very much suit my lifestyle!
Eloise: Sandals! In an ideal world, I wouldn’t need to wear shoes at all so a comfy pair of sandals would be my go-to. I’m a pretty tall person so heels only come out for very special occasions!Isobel Wears the Raychie sandal in Kermit Green
Let’s go back to school – what kind of students were you?
Eloise: We were always coming up with ideas together. We were never short of trying to solve problems, but starting a business was probably not on the horizon. I was always coming up with quirky ideas such as starting a dog breeding company with my friend Lily. You dream about what your future could look like. At the end of high school, passion took over and we became so excited and driven about this concept of Taboo, we parked any other ideas we had about what our lives would look like for a while and just gave it a crack.
Isobel: We quickly learned that we really loved getting the school community together working towards a mission, whether that be through fundraising events, campaigns…we were forever coming up with these ideas and then forcing everyone to do it alongside us. The school community always really fostered that. We tried everything – volleyball, water polo, trombone, pole vault, chess. I think we learned to really give anything a go through that process. There was no fear of failure, even though we failed at different things. Like butterfly at the swimming carnival!
In the UK they’ve abolished tax on sanitary items, which is great. Part of the rollout is free access to pads and tampons in schools, universities, and hospitals. We don’t have a tax here in Australia on sanitary products, but what changes would you like to see here?
Eloise: We’re definitely excited to be involved in conversations specifically around girls in school. We know that unfortunately in Australia period poverty is something that girls experience, and they are missing out on school because of their period. And that’s often down to the price of products, being too expensive for their homes.
And also the lack of education. That’s really fuelled by the stigma because when it’s a conversation that’s not happening, these girls aren’t telling their guardians or their carers what they need, and where they’re lacking in support. So we’re really excited for education departments, and school leaders, to really question how they are supporting their students.
Isobel: And the announcements from different states around Australia about the provision of free sanitary products is very, very exciting. We’re really keen to see it roll out in a really efficient and sustainable way that prioritises education, and the start of conversations between students and teachers, boys and girls alike, and they definitely need to be focused on education. The free access of product in the bathrooms doesn’t mean that those conversations are negated or avoided.
You mentioned period poverty. In Sierra Leone, girls miss around 50 school days every year due to their periods, and 65% of women in Kenya can’t afford sanitary products. So, what exactly does period poverty mean and how does it impact girls and women?
Eloise: Period poverty is a title attached to the experience of someone who can’t access sanitary products and menstrual period products, and doesn’t have the access to appropriate education about managing their cycle. This often has implications to a girl or a woman’s life, whether that be school or work or social experiences. It’s something that needs to be seriously addressed, it’s not a peripheral issue, it’s a central issue that needs to be tackled with a lot of thought, and funding, because it affects half the population quite significantly.
There are reports, even recently there’s one done by the Commissioner for Children and Young People in South Australia, Helen Connolly. It suggests that one in four girls were missing some element of school because of their period. It does have a ripple effect on the opportunities a girl may have in her life. And the conversation about the impact of menstruation needs to be had in a serious way, rather than the assumption that people can manage their own cycles without a lot of guidance because it’s just not true.
Isobel: And as well, learning pathologies that manifest in really excruciating period pains and other symptoms that are quite debilitating and disruptive to normal life, that’s getting more airtime – things like endometriosis. Obviously, the awareness is fantastic in putting pressure on more research, more understanding, and hopefully preventions and cures. But also, just the validation that some women’s period pain is not just perceived as really bad because they’ve got a low threshold for pain, but it’s actually serious pain. And it affects their social community life, school, and employment. Things like that need to be really supported. That’s one in nine women in Australia. That’s a huge proportion of women, that are disproportionately disadvantaged because of their anatomy. There’s more awareness in that area, which is super encouraging, but that does need to translate to financial support and research.There is so much shame around periods, and it’s something that needs to end. Why do you think that there is that shame?
Eloise: The shame of menstruation is so different around the world. It looks very different depending on the cultural, religious, and spiritual influences that that community has had. But the common factor is that it’s not generally celebrated in any country around the world. And stigma is present in some way or another. It’s really interesting to see the intricacies of how the stigma has developed, but it’s definitely not developed out of the celebration of periods existing to reproduce and bring life to the planet.
Isobel: And that speaks to the importance of education. Things did get better once people understood why periods exist. They certainly haven’t gotten better to state that we’re satisfied with, but at least there was an understanding of why it existed, and it wasn’t entwined with a lot of theories about periods being a curse, which is in some areas still a present assumption of the reason periods exists.
Visit tabooau.co to discover more.