My Crowdfunding Campaign: Panties with a social mission

January 8, 2016
The Washington Post

Who: Diana Sierra, 35, an industrial designer.

What: EmpowerPanties,

Where: Brooklyn. (The company got much of its start at the Halcyon Incubator in Georgetown.)

Raised: $48,427 (as of Jan. 7) of a $30,000 goal. The campaign goes through Jan. 10.

What’s the pitch?

Diana Sierra was interning for the United Nations in Uganda when she realized there was a big reason local girls were skipping school: They had their periods.

Many of them lacked access to sanitary pads, which were expensive and hard to come by. So Sierra fashioned a leakproof, reusable pad using easy-to-find materials.

“I cut up an umbrella for the leak-proof material on the bottom and I took a mosquito net and stitched it together with a few pieces of velcro,” said Sierra, who has designed products for Nike, Playtex and Tommy Hilfiger. “It was very MacGyver-style.”

She distributed the products to 50 girls at a local school as part of a six-month pilot program. It was a success.

Now, she has created a line of panties with built-in pads in hopes of reaching even more girls. She is using a one-for-one model, popularized by the likes of companies like Toms that donate one item for each one purchased. For every pair of panties purchased on Kickstarter for $25, another will be given to a girl in need in Ethiopia, Colombia, Nepal or Ghana.

“Education is the cornerstone,” Sierra said. “But there is no point giving a girl a pencil and a book if the very basics of her gender are constantly denying her from going to school. We have to solve that first.”

Why Kickstarter?

Sierra, who perfected her idea at Halcyon Incubator in Georgetown in 2014, has invested $400,000 (a combination of her own money and funds from angel investors) into the project. The next challenge, she said, was raising awareness of her product.

That’s where Kickstarter comes in.

“It is the easiest entry point for posing an idea to the world,” Sierra said.

It seems to have worked: She has raised nearly $50,000 in less than a month.

What’s next?

A number of panties-for-periods type products that have come out in the past year — and all of that has been good for Sierra’s mission to normalize menstruation.

“You cannot imagine how happy I am that periods just came out of the closet in the last year,” she said. “All of a sudden, everyone was talking about it and I was just thrilled. It was in-your-face.”

Next, she plans to begin distributing EmpowerPanties to poor and homeless women in the United States. There is as much of a need here, she says, as there is abroad.

“When you’re living on food stamps, sanitary pads are competing with other products in your basket,” she said. “It is important that people understand menstruation can be very hard for people living in difficult conditions, wherever they are.”

Editor’s note: Our coverage in this series does not constitute an endorsement. For more information about crowdfunding, please check out this SEC Fact Sheet.