Inspirational Woman of the Year; Social Entrepreneur Of The Year; Saltire Outstanding Women of Scotland; Great British Entrepreneur National Winner… the awards keep coming for social enterprise entrepreneur and period poverty campaigner Celia who talks passionately about helping businesses to drive change and giving back.
Celia is a multi-award-winning entrepreneur who founded Hey Girls CIC with the aim of eliminating period poverty in the UK. The social enterprise launched in 2018 with a buy-one-give-one business model and has since donated 6.2 million period products to people in need.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
One of the reasons I am so passionate about ending period poverty is because I experienced it myself. As a single parent of three children (including two girls), I understand the struggle of bringing up a family on benefits. We now have the language to describe period poverty, but I know that it is not a new phenomenon. There was no help to cover the costs of period products twenty years ago when my family were growing up, and the situation for low-income families is even worse now.
At Hey Girls we believe that access to period products is a right not a privilege – no one should have to compromise their health and wellbeing. So, as well as selling Buy One Give One Period Products and donating the matched products, Hey Girls runs an education programme to empower people to talk about periods – ending the stigma, and ensuring everyone has the information they need to manage their menstrual health.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
Going from just me and my kitchen table in January 2018 to moving to our new HQ in Musselburgh in August this year has been an interesting shift. Not only in the way we work as a team but for me to understand I have to let someone else in our fabulous team lead on areas of the business if I want it to scale. Not easy when you are a perfectionist with a ridiculously high bar around brand and quality – and if I’m honest just about every other part of the business.
The biggest challenge I guess is the same for every start-up – cash flow and stock projections. We’ve been trying to build up extra stock as who knows what Brexit is going to mean to us all but given our speed of growth we are moving through stock very quickly. We’ve recently moved from ordering 20ft containers to 40ft containers each month so that should bring some comfort around volumes available. We’ve recently brought our product packing in-house and expanding our team to meet demand. It feels great to be able to offer roles to local parents who want a job that fits in around schools drop off and pick up. It’s very important to me that we can build family-friendly working patterns into our business model.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
I find it hard to believe we only set out to do something about Period Poverty in January 2018. Feels like a lifetime ago as I’ve taken on board so much great learning. We recently moved to a new home so it feels wonderful to have our amazingly talented team of 13 under one roof at Hey Girls HQ
We now have product listings in Asda, Waitrose, the Coop and Scotmid with a pharmacy chain and national health store offering us listings later this year. Those, independent retail stores and online sales are very important but still a very small part of our turnover with the majority of our activity coming from public sector Period Poverty and private sector Period Dignity contacts. We support most Scottish schools and public sector spaces with products and our B2B Period Dignity initiative sees corporates signing up every day to put free period products in their washrooms because its the right thing to do – just like offering hand soap and paper towels – team members need period products when they are at work.
The best part of this is that all sales are matched box for box with local donation partners. So whether its H&M, Xero or Hamden Park putting products in their washrooms or Waitrose stocking up 290 stores, its all matched to a local partner who receives the donations. Though customers buying our products, together we have been able to donate over 5.6 million products in just 18 months. That quite a lot of tampons!
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
When I set Hey Girls up I hadn’t considered supplying public and private sector space with pads and tampons as I thought the market was online and in supermarkets but 18 months into our journey those contracts are 75% of our turnover. So by keeping an open mind to new market opportunities and including that new segment of customers into our wider customer base as enabled us to donate 6.2 million period products across the UK.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I mentor several early-stage start-up enterprises but to be honest I’m sure I get more out of our sessions than they do. I love their can-do vibe and the agile way they work though tasks.
I have rolling mentors that can assist me with different areas of the Hey Girls growth plan. These have changed over the months as the business’s needs and mine as its leader have developed. Sometimes I just need to speak with someone who’s been there and done that. Someone who can say, yes we tried that and this was the result, or even watch out for X, Y and Z. I’m all for learning by doing but sometimes I’d rather take on board someone else knowledge if it’s going to save valuable time and save us from costly mistakes. I feel fortunate to have been introduced to several seasoned entrepreneurs who have all been extremely generous with their time and expertise.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?
Period dignity is essential to Gender Equality, health and well-being at work. It’s only right that women team members should have menstrual protection provided in every working environment. The team at Hey Girls is challenging all employers to make free period products in the workplace the norm to make conditions a little more equal for women at work and play.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
I guess it has to be around ensuring that you absolutely love your job! To achieve that may involve you setting up your own venture to combine your passion with your career. So start somewhere and move up! Run a small pilot to test your idea and find out what you are really good at, reflect, refine and then go again – and if it’s not working then fail fast- and then try a different approach but don’t give up. It’s very character-building to fail and some of my most innovative and successful ideas have been born from the ashes for some pretty terrible mistakes.
Most importantly be honest with yourself. If you have that nagging feeling that something isn’t quite right, it then it probably isn’t going to work so listen to your gut.