Kate Smith Hey Girls
Kate Smith, together with her mother, Celia Hodson and her sister, Bec Lovely, co-founded Hey Girls in 2018. Hey Girls

As the cost-of-living crisis continues, a recent WaterAid report found that one in four women in the UK are struggling to find the funds to pay for period products.

The charitable survey, which questioned 2,000 British people who menstruate, set out to recognise Menstrual Hygiene Day on 28 May earlier this year.

The British people surveyed, who were aged 14 to 50, also revealed ways that they are forced to replace their legitimate period products.

Almost a third of the British people who menstruate, 26 per cent, said that they were wearing their period products for longer than they should.

There are several health risks that come with wearing menstrual products for longer than necessary, including toxic shock syndrome, blood clots, rashes and infections.

One in five, 20 per cent, of the interviewees said that they were using makeshift materials, such as toilet roll and sponges.

A staggering 15 per cent of the people surveyed spoke of missing school or work because of their financial struggles relating to period products.

As a step towards achieving gender equality for females across the globe, WaterAid is calling for menstrual health to be recognised as a critical level of care due it its ever-natural process.

Hey Girls is an award-winning period product enterprise that sets out to eradicate period poverty, starting in the UK.

The female-founded company, which won Social Enterprise of the Year Scotland in 2022, is one of the few businesses that focus on menstrual health while being created and led by women.

In a conversation with Kate Smith, the Co-Founder and Director of Hey Girls, she told me that the company prioritises female health and safety; as well as also making moves towards improving access to great-quality period products and increasing education around period health to eliminate shame and stigma.

Celia Hodson co-founded Hey Girls alongside her two daughters, Kate Smith and Bec Lovely.

"Having experienced the harsh reality of period poverty themselves, they began their fight to eradicate period poverty in the UK from their kitchen table in 2018," Smith told me.

Since it launched in 2018, Hey Girls has already won several awards and has successfully donated almost 40 million period products.

The period products have been donated to Hey Girls' community partners which operate in food banks and homeless shelters.

Hey Girls is "supporting some of the country's most vulnerable people", Smith added.

The Hey Girls Director went on to note that the "wide range of disposable and reusable products", from sanitary pads, period pants and tampons, have each been "designed with comfort, functionality and sustainability at heart".

Hey Girls Pads
Hey Girls has already won several awards and has successfully donated almost 40 million period products. Hey Girls

When asked about how Hey Girls' products are different to popular menstural brands like Always and Tampax, Smith added: "There is something to help everyone have a dignified period. Not only that, every product purchased via the Hey Girls website is matched with a donation to people who need it."

The female-led organisation proudly boasts three different types of tampons, with each one being created with sustainability as a top priority.

The Co-Founder said: "Each type is made using certified organic cotton that can be traced back to its original source. Our cardboard applicators are made from recycled materials, while our plant-based applicators are made from sugar cane. The non-applicator tampons are also wrapped in biofilm, which is completely biodegradable within six months."

Sustainability is a top priority for Hey Girls because it is achieved through using healthy and quality materials.

Cheap sanitary products have been known to promote chemicals and bleaches that are often hidden and harmful to females – leading to infections and an increase in toxic shock syndrome cases.

"Its quality materials which are used in Hey Girls' products. Our products offer the functionality of plastic, without the pollution. We use natural and recyclable materials such as corn starch, sugar cane, bamboo, cardboard and more," Smith explained, noting that the plant-based materials are sourced responsibly.

The Director went on to say: "Product development has been a long ongoing journey for us. We have developed our products by listening to feedback from our own team and customers."

"For example, we have recently added period shorts to our product range, as this is something our customers requested," she added.

With reference to, not only women suffering from period poverty in the UK, but women all over the globe, Smith emphasised the international call to make menstrual products free to all females.

"Period products are a necessity. Everyone deserves a dignified period so they can continue with their day-to-day lives with peace of mind," she explained.

In regard to women's inherent monthly menstrual cycles, Hey Girls believes: "Free period products should be as readily available as toilet roll and hand wash in public facilities."

For those facing period poverty in the UK, amid the notorious cost of living crisis, "not having access to these essential products can have serious consequences for people who experience periods".

According to Smith, struggling to obtain period products "can have negative impacts on their mental health, as well as leading them to miss out on activities they love".

Sustainable period products
Hey Girls has created cherry red reusable 'period pants' that prioritise comfort and sustainability. Hey Girls

When questioned on how men should be assisting with the development of period products, the Co-Founder told me: "Everyone has a place and role in helping to bring an end to period poverty. Even people who do not experience periods can make a huge impact – even if it's through conversations."

To educate fathers on menstrual health, Hey Girls has created "Pads 4 Dads".

The product that has been dedicated to educating male parents is "a guide to periods written by dads for dads", Smith said, noting that the booklet has been supported by 'Good Omens' Actor Michael Sheen.

'Pads 4 Dads' sets out to provide fathers with "valuable information to help them feel confident speaking to their children about periods", as part of the brand's campaign to eradicate the social stigma attached to sexes and menstruation.

The Director added: "With better education around periods, we can help to end the stigma around them."

The many Hey Girls products have each been through a testing process that aligns with the UK Tampon Code of Practice. The rigorous testing process "involves the use of synthetic blood as per the code of practice", contradicting that of other brands that have used water in tests instead.

The issues with likening the density of water to that of blood, risks limiting the protection provided to menstruating women.

Smith told me that Hey Girls team prides itself on "our environmentally friendly period products", with every element of each product being "disposable and reusable".

Hey Girls has been committed to eradicating period poverty since it launched.

Smith explained: "Our premise is simple, we match every purchase of our period products with a donation to people facing period poverty. The donations are shared among more than 350 community partners including food banks, homeless shelters and more."

The added tax to 'luxury' menstrual hygiene products has been dubbed "Tampon Tax". At the beginning of 2021, while he was Chancellor, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak officially abolished the five per cent VAT rate on tampons.

While the abolishment of the tax was a step in the right direction for females in the UK, Britain was one of the last countries to eradicate the five per cent VAT rate.

The Hey Girls Co-Founder also revealed that Hey Girls has been "a driving force for change", considering the female-dominated brand "played a role in the abolishment of the so-called Tampon Tax".

Hey Girls Tampons
Sustainability is a priority for Hey Girls, considering it is only achieved by using healthy materials. Hey Girls

In 2020, Scotland became the first nation in the world to make period products free in public institutions for all females. The bill came into effect in August of 2021 as the Scottish Government pledged £3.4 million towards access to free products for students alone.

According to Smith, Hey Girls also "helped inspire a generation of campaigners in our native Scotland through our work towards the Period Products Act".

Soon after the Period Products Act was passed by Scotland's authorities, Smith's mother and Hey Girls Co-Founder, Celia Hodson, created the application 'PickUpMyPeriod'.

The PickupMyPeriod app directs its users to the nearest location where period products are free of charge.

While the women at Hey Girls are paving the way towards eradicating period poverty in the UK, Smith said: "We are incredibly proud to have donated nearly 40 million period products to people in need, but the fight is far from over."

When questioned about whether Hey Girls believes that there is enough awareness being raised about the concept and impacts of period poverty, Smith told me: "Absolutely not. There is still an incredibly long way to go to raise awareness of period poverty and bring about permanent change."

Before the cost-of-living crisis, the Director explained that around one in 10 people across the UK were already affected by period poverty.

In regard to the Conservative Government refusing to implement the Period Products Act in England, Smith recognised that "more needs to be done locally and nationally to eradicate the issue".

That is why, throughout the whole of December, Hey Girls is hosting its Festive Period campaign.

The campaign sets out to double the number of donated products, donating two products instead of one for every product purchased on the Hey Girls website.

The Festive Period movement comes as part of Hey Girls' ongoing commitment to "helping even more vulnerable people across the UK".