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From high school project to impactful wellbeing company
It’s the start-up story dreams are made of. Aimee Marks was still in high school when she had the idea for TOM Organic, a company that went on to create the first ever organic tampon, and then a range of baby and planet-friendly nappies and wipes; and maternity care. It began as a school project to solve the problem of tampons falling loose in her handbag (we’ve been there!), however that first ‘fire in the belly’ moment came when she discovered pesticides and synthetic ingredients were used in making traditional tampons and pads.
“I was horrified to discover that conventional tampons contain bleach, synthetics and dyes and I felt a responsibility to women to share this information with them and find an alternative,’’ Aimee says.
“ I became committed to creating a product that ensured only the purest imaginable organic cotton touches the most delicate area of a woman’s body.
Aimee went from operating out of her bedroom with support from her mum to a business-changing investment from a family friend, “Who told me at the time, ‘pay me back in the next year if it works, if it doesn’t, I believe in you.’ That $10,000 cheque was what I used to design and create TOM Organic and I paid him back that year,’’ Aimee says.
Her company has evolved as she has – she and her husband Chris have twin daughters Poppy and Ivy and a new baby, Jack – and a shared admirable determination to close the loop on the entire lifecycle of women’s products from periods to pregnancy, birth and baby.
I always thought the hardest thing would be getting it off the ground, fighting manufactures, developing the product story and funding it. But actually, one of the biggest challenges was getting TOM stocked in the big stores. We were knocked back several times because there was little education or knowledge around organic products back when we started. So after two years’ worth of “No’s”, we finally had a female in the seat who saw the long-term vision and passion behind the brand and was willing to take a risk. The biggest game changing moment was when I went to my local Woolies and saw TOM on the shelf for the first time. That was a huge moment of pride and a moment of reinforcement, that proved that against all odds and every possible piece of advice, you can do what you set your mind to.
The personal care industry is tightly governed by the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Association) and they have a lot of influence on what’s listed. Always diving deeper and asking questions about where things are sourced is an important step to being fully informed. Be cautious of what is labelled as ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ because if there’s no ACO (Australian Certified Organic), then it may not be the purest option.
I’m still trying to figure out how to prioritise and create space. After having kids it’s taken some time to experiment with what works for me and our family so I can find my momentum and use my time in the most effective way. I find I work best in short bursts, once I’ve exercised. Now that I’ve got Jack, the latest addition to my tribe, I find I can be productive while the girls sleep. I also have my designated office days where I pack in as much as I can. I have a bit of luxury around choice and was able to recruit others in the business to cover some of my role. I felt really empowered to do that.
I think that self-care is something that’s at the bottom of every woman’s list, particularly, when you’re starting a business. And then if you lay children on top of that, you eat into that time even more. But if you’re not at a point where you’re absolutely mindful of how full your cup is, how can you continue to give? Making some time out to go for a walk or have a relaxing bath can be really beneficial.
The business relationships and mentors I’ve met along the TOM Co’s business journey have been absolutely invaluable. laying in the sustainability space, it is so beneficial to have a network of like-minded individuals who think outside the box, always with sustainability in mind and to turn to and gather support or inspiration.
One of our 2020 goals is to be the most empowering workplace for women in Australia. We also hope to better track and measure the impact we’ve had from a health, environment and education perspective across a wide selection of women and their families through the life cycle of products that we create.
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