The business of doing good
Isobel's quest to end period poverty through social enterprise.
Isobel Marshall has menstruation frustration. And is it any wonder? Shame around bleeding is everywhere, with periods shrouded in stigma and staggering menstrual myths perpetuated across the globe. But 23-year-old Isobel solidified her frustration into activism. She’s now on a quest to alleviate period poverty, leveraging the platform she has as 2021 Young Australian of the Year to grow TABOO, the business she built with best friend Eloise Hall when the duo were just 18-year-olds in high school.
TABOO sells organic cotton pads and tampons and donates all profits to help women around the world access sustainable sanitary health care and education. According to Isobel, social enterprise, like TABOO are the absolute future. “I love that they connect groups of people in such a natural way. They help the government do its job, which is to support people socially and financially. And so I think there’s definitely a synergy there that needs to be respected as well,” she said.
Isobel admits the social enterprise model isn’t very well understood legally and financially. “This means there aren’t very good structures in place or templates to guide you into what the best way of doing things is. While there is a lot of support around start-ups, especially in South Australia, I do think social enterprises need a bit more love,” she said.
“For a long time, individuals who own social enterprises have just been trying to figure out how to do it for themselves. There definitely needs to be more research and time put into making sure they’re well supported.” Enter the University of Adelaide’s major innovation hub ThincLab, which Isobel says played a big role in supporting her social enterprise and providing a safe space from which TABOO could grow. “ThincLab not only gave us an area where our team members could physically meet, it also had fantastic experts in their fields come through and mentor the groups based at the facility.
“We’ve had connections with people from ThincLab who have then become long-term supporters of TABOO. For example, our current pro-bono marketing firm came from a ThincLab connection and they’ve given us countless hours, so much inspiration and huge amounts of encouragement.”
Burgeoning support and encouragement for Isobel and TABOO appear to be coming from every angle, especially since the Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery student was named 2021 Young Australian of the Year.
"It’s definitely changed TABOO for the absolute better. We’ve had so much energy around, new customers, retail opportunities, new collaborations, and all of this has set us up to grow the business towards our goal of eradicating period poverty."
“In the next few years, our goal is for TABOO to be the leading and most respected brand of organic cotton pads and tampons in the Australian market.”Isobel Marshall
“I think the most exciting part for me has been all the media coverage in that it’s started conversations around periods, conversations that aren’t usually in the media, and it’s taking them right into people’s homes and into people’s car, which is helping us reach our mission pretty quickly and effectively.”
As TABOO’s Director of Health and Education, Isobel focuses much of her time advocating for educational resources around menstruation. “I love speaking to schools and putting together resources for students and teachers, so really positive and productive conversations can be had around a young person as they start to get their period and as they grow up. We do need better education programs around periods and also around such things as endometriosis, infertility and menopause".
“Women have definitely been expected to endure a lot of these things alone. And if they can’t meet their own needs, maybe because of a financial, family or social position, then it’s on them to fill in the gaps and that’s a lot to ask,” said Isobel.
The South Australian entrepreneur and aspiring doctor is undoubtedly incredibly passionate about women’s health and advocating for more widespread access to pads and tampons. “I view periods as this significant and common bodily function that needs to be accommodated for in a very structural sense.
“Buildings and infrastructure, employers and schools all need to be aware that half of our population bleeds every single month, so that should be considered when budgets, time and resources are distributed.
“To me, it just seems crazy that they haven’t been accommodated in such a way in the past because pads are, in my mind, equivalent to toilet paper,” said Isobel.
No stranger to speaking her mind, Isobel relished the recent opportunity to work as a curator and guest speaker for the reimagined Adelaide Festival of Ideas 2021, in collaboration with the University of Adelaide and Illuminate Adelaide.
The team has also been busy creating new retail partnerships and developing TABOO's Pay It Forward program, where customers can buy TABOO products on behalf of women in Australia who need them. In addition to being sold in more than 122 OTRs and 22 National Pharmacies stores across SA, NSW and VIC, the team has a number of new retail partnerships in the pipeline to make TABOO products even more accessible.
People can also subscribe to purchase products on a monthly basis from tabooau.co “In the next few years, our goal is for TABOO to be the leading and most respected brand of organic cotton pads and tampons in the Australian market.
“We’d love for conversations around periods to be totally normal in all sorts of communities around Australia and abroad, but that’s a very long-term goal,” said Isobel. And if Isobel’s inspirational achievements so far are anything to go by, that goal might not be as long-term as she thinks.
Story by Rachael Nightingale
Photos by Meagan Cole