When actress Saskia Hampele was asked to donate feminine hygiene products for a drive supporting homeless women, she was shocked to learn there wasn’t a system in place to ensure sanitary items were being disseminated to women and girls faced with homelessness.

“When I learned about the realities for women experiencing homelessness when they get their periods – that women are using newspaper, old socks or even dead leaves and bark as makeshift tampons and pads – I knew something needed to be done,” Hampele tells Vogue of launching social enterprise Gift Box Organic, a line of feminine hygiene products built on a one-for-one model, meaning when you purchase one box, another is donated to a woman in need.

“That way, women could help provide tampons to a woman in need simply by choosing to purchase her tampons through Gift Box Organic. Providing sanitary items to a woman means so much more than just providing a tampon. It means dignity, the ability to participate in society, a deterrent from theft, and more. It’s such a simple and easy thing to be able to provide. I knew that if there was a way to easily support other women, it would be a no brainer.”

Now, Hampele works with The Period Project to ensure Gift Box Organic is finding its way into the hands that need it the most and, giving work back to homeless or at-risk women who assist in packing the product. Here, Hampele answers all our questions about organic versus non-organic tampons.

Explain the difference between organic tampons and non-organic?
“Organic tampons like Gift Box Organic are made from 100% organic cotton – nothing else. So the beautiful cotton flower that you pick off the plant is essentially all that your tampon is made from. When I visited the warehouse where our tampons are made, it was awesome seeing how they turned raw cotton into fluffy soft tampons using absolutely no harsh chemicals or added materials. Non-organic cotton on the other hand is farmed differently, and pesticides and chemicals during can be used throughout the process. Not all conventional tampons are made from cotton, and can contain plastics, genetically modified materials and all kinds of synthetic materials such as polyethylene, polypropylene and rayon.”

Why is it important for women to understand the difference between the organic and non-organic?
“When we use tampons, they are making contact with the most intimate and absorbent part of our bodies, sometimes for over 12 hours a day. So it’s important to know what we are putting into our bodies and how this affects our internal ecosystem. We often think about the foods we eat, and choose the cleanest, healthiest options, so it makes sense that we would also want to make the same informed choices about our tampon brand. For women who are sensitive to chemicals, choosing organic can mean less irritation and risk of infection and generally more comfort “downstairs”.”

What are the pros and cons of regular tampons?
“Affordability is a factor in choosing organic, as organic products do come at a higher price. Not everyone can afford to always buy organic, which is why I’ve priced Gift Box Organic at the lowest possible price to make it accessible to more women. It was also really important to me to have organic tampons being donated to the homeless women we provide for, as a lack of access to bathrooms and clean water can lead to infections and unwanted irritation. Organic tampons also have the added benefit of being better for the environment. They are bio-degradable, compostable, and don’t wash chemicals and plastics into our waterways.”

Are there any common misconceptions you come across in regards to organic tampons?
“I think a lot of women are just misinformed when it comes to tampons. Being a ‘health’ device, we assume that all tampons are created equal and have the same ingredients and make-up. But this is not always the case, so we need to educate ourselves on what brands we choose to use. Another misconception is that menstrual cups are always the better solution, and while these products are a great choice for some women, they are not always ideal. If you don’t have access to a private bathroom, changing menstrual cups can be problematic. And for our homeless sisters, no access to running water or a place to sterilise them, makes menstrual cups virtually impossible to safely use.”

Do you have any advice for what to look for when it comes to buying organic tampons and pads?
“Be informed and always do your research and check the ingredients. Just because a package says it’s ‘natural’ cotton doesn’t mean that it is organic or chemical-free. But mostly, make the best decision for your situation – choose the best brand that you can afford and listen to what your body needs.”

Talk us through your work with The Period Project.
“The Period Project have been instrumental in distributing our Gift Box Organic donations. They work closely with refuges and homelessness services, as well as walking the streets to ensure our donations are reaching women who need them the most. In partnership with the Period Project, we have begun engaging women who are homeless and at-risk into paid employment to pack our tampons. This initiative is providing vulnerable women with a safe place to gain skills and feel a sense of normalcy, community and acceptance into the workforce. It’s been a really exciting development and so far we have 6 women who come in to pack for us.”

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