Students Mariko Higaki Iwai, Sohyun Kim, Tatijana Vasily, Charlotte Wong and Benjamin Freedman entered the International Design Excellence Awards (IDEA) needing to meet one challenge: "design affordable tools that make adolescent girls' lives living in poverty better." They came up with a solution in just 14 weeks that not only placed among the winners of the awards, but is on its way to making a real-life impact.
It's called "Flo.".
For middle and upper-class girls in developed countries, getting their period is but a minor inconvenience. But that "time of the month" looks a lot different for girls in low-income parts of the world. Many can't afford disposable menstruation products, so they resort to reusable cloths instead. While that may be a greener way, the practice is costing them not only their privacy, but their education and health — more than 70 percent drop out of school or become sick due to their period.
The design students from the Art Center College of Design in California designed Flo to be the answer to those problems.
"Since we couldn't actually go to the field for research, we worked closely with people in Nike Girl Effect and fuse project," Iwai, a 7th term member of the team from Japan, told A Plus. "We were also thinking about scalability, so we focused on problems that a lot of girls share around the world."
Here's how it works, based on the prototype that the students tested using ketchup, soy sauce and animal blood:
1. The cloth goes into a plastic basket ringer, which can be covered by a bowl to conceal the reusable pads inside.
2. Strings are then used to spin the basket with the cleaning materials inside.
When the clothes are washed, girls can remove the inside of the basket as a drying rack, which comes with a burlap cloth to cover while outside.
But there was just one more thing to include in the set.
Girls also get a travel pouch to carry their used pads to school and keep them concealed.
According to the design plan, girls can even safety pin the pouches to the inside of the skirts if they want to remain inconspicuous.
Though the team only made eight prototypes, they're not stopping at their award. Per Iwai, the students are exploring how to make Flo into an actual product and have gotten calls from countries requesting their idea.
Iwai explained it to A Plus plain and simple: "Getting period can be hard, but shouldn't be a big obstacle for any girls to dream about her future."
No if, ands, buts — or periods.