EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Elaine Hong, Founder Of M’sia First Organic Sanitary Pads

How often do you hear women, and men, talking about periods openly? In Asian countries like Malaysia, menstruation topics are still considered ‘’taboo’’ and uncommon to discuss. Quick check, are you aware that the issue of ‘’period poverty’’—mainly known as the inability to access sanitary products due to financial constraints—has been receiving some attention in Malaysian media lately? 

It is widely experienced by the underprivileged community across Asian countries, including Malaysia. And according to the National Population and Family Development Board, almost 40% of women occasionally use toilet paper, coconut husks, newspaper sheets and banana leaves as period pad alternatives. 

We reached out to Elaine Hong, co-founder of Enya, Malaysia’s first organic sanitary pads, to learn more about menstrual care standards in Malaysia and the force behind her successful homegrown business. 

Founded in 2019, Enya has rapidly become the choice brand for women who love the millennial aesthetic elements. The brand promises to deliver sanitary napkins from organic cotton material directly to customers’ doors, according to their frequency of use. Currently, Enya offers two products that can be purchased online that fit their initiative to support and offer sanitary napkins based on organic ingredients to women. 

Periods are still considered to some as a subject that’s quite personal, it concerns our health in general and I believe that we are ready to have more liberal conversations around it

We know that your brand, Enya, has quickly expanded across Malaysia with many women and influencers following your brand. But, how did you make the leap to launch Enya? Share with us your journey. 

I use to work in fashion, I’m very active in the technical and marketing side of it, especially sustainable fashion. I took a high interest in textiles. When I was working I thought the world doesn’t need more clothes, so what can we do that adheres to the needs of people and I still get to do what I love? My business partner and I were just casually talking in the car about dollar shave club, and how the subscription model adjusted so well with the nature of how the product is consumed. We came up with the idea of doing organic cotton sanitary pads and we jumped into it. It was really exciting because nobody in Malaysia is doing it that time, and we believe that it would change online frequent purchasing behaviours among us.

Elaine herself has experienced constant bouts with sensitive skin and irritation, so she decided to opt for safer options. She realised there wasn’t much innovation on pads despite them being used by women every single month. And any available disposable organic pads she found at stores, despite being comfortable, were very expensive. Thus, Enya was born. 

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Where we not just want to sell the product but to also spark conversations on periods like wildfire

How did you come up with the name of your company?

We decided on the name Enya also because it sounds soothing. It also means “fire”. Where we not just want to sell the product but to also spark conversations on periods like wildfire. Periods are still considered to some as a subject that’s quite personal, it concerns our health in general and I believe that we are ready to have more liberal conversations around it.

How do you build a successful customer base? How do you perceive what’s work and what’s not?

We listen to what our customers say. I think the best part of being a start-up is that we are able to implement feedback quickly and directly from the people who used our product. We measure the solution to a problem by talking / reaching out to our customers. What works depends on how satisfied your customers are with the new specifications or service.

There’s no doubt that this women-led technology-based company has taken the lead of women’s personal care industry since first launch in Malaysia, with its guaranteed products made from natural ingredients. Fast forward to a year later, Enya has expanded its operations in Singapore with its own loyal customers. And according to the 28-years-old entrepreneur, customers often say this subscription service is so much easier because sometimes we tend to forget to buy our pads.

Shifting gears, when asked what she likes to do for fun during her spare time, this boss lady explained other than cozying up reading books or watching movies, she’d spend time looking at meme accounts. ‘’Usually I take a lot of pleasure in spending time with myself – going to the bookstore or eating out’’.

I try not to touch social media as soon as I wake up. I have my breakfast with my computer to read and reply to emails before 9am. Nowadays, I’m taking Ashwagandha instead of coffee, tea or milo

In your opinion, what have you learned about leadership, entrepreneurship and mentoring others?

I learn that it’s important to always listen to your team, they’re the closest to the customers and also the supporting pillar of the company. Their feedback means a lot to me. My everyday is usually spent with them as well. Never lose momentum on your journey, and remember why you started this in the first place. I have never mentored because I’m not truly there yet. Whoever I am today, I owe it to my business partners, my friends, my family and also my team.

When asked what are the daily changes she faces as a female entrepreneur, she cheekily answered, ‘’Deciding on what to wear for meetings!’’. 

What’s your take on feminism and modern day context?

I think we have many different perspectives on our own definitions. But I do believe that there has to be a harmony between roles of both men and women, be it in a business or a relationship.

If you had a magic stick, which are the three things you would change in the world?

Cure all kinds of diseases, reverse back extinct animals (or create mythical non-human eating ones) and… to have a magic fountain in every country that never runs out of clean water.