Ditch the disposables

UQ graduate and social entrepreneur Freeda Thong is passionate about the environment, and has found a unique way to help protect it. She is the founder of Ecopads Australia – cloth sanitary pads with a cause – and her impact has been recognised at the Queensland Young Achievers Awards where she was a semi-finalist in the Environmental and Sustainability category. Here’s her story.

I am a UQ graduate, an avid tea drinker, and a social entrepreneur. I just wanted to share a bit about my journey at UQ and how it has shaped who I am and where I am today.

Finding my way through school, university and life in general has been a wonderfully exciting and anxiety-provoking journey. In among the angst of choosing a career and being expected to know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life at 17 – yet  with only six choices to input into my QTAC application –  I decided to put UQ in my first few preferences. To my absolute joy, I was offered a place in a Bachelor of Biomedical Sciences. Since then I’ve chopped and changed my degree, and eventually graduated with a Bachelor of Science as I loved the flexibility in choosing electives.

Throughout my years at UQ I found that the greatest learning experience wasn’t solely the educational aspect. It was the self-awareness and journey of self-discovery that I really valued in my university experience.

What I enjoyed most about going to university was finding and meeting people with the same passions, ambitions and life goals. In my first week of first year, I remember squeezing through a crowd of people in the Great Court at Market Day, trying to find a stall that caught my attention and interested me in some way. One that stood out was the UQ Oaktree Society, which I volunteered for –  leading me to  the Oaktree Queensland Branch –  because the people involved shared my values for equality, human rights and education.

My involvement with the society paved the path for other opportunities and communities, enabling me to expand my friendships and networks and to foster my professional and personal development. When the opportunity to become a UQ Ambassador in the School Liaison team presented itself, I applied, and was absolutely grateful to be offered a position! Through this role I heard about the UQ Outreach Programs and the UQ Young Achievers Program (YAP).

I owe my greatest and most humble thanks to the UQ Young Achievers Program for giving me some of the best years of my life to date. It was in YAP that I met program manager Kim Lyons, who quickly became a mentor  and one of the most influential people in my life. The friendships, mentors and experiences from my involvement have proven invaluable.

Freeda Thong at the 2016 Queensland Young Achievers Awards where she was a semi-finalist for the Environmental and Sustainability Award (Charles Niautou Photography).

I attended the inaugural Impact Social Enterprise Conference, and listened in awe to the phenomenal achievements of entrepreneurs who had successful social businesses. While listening to their accounts, one resonating theme was the union between innovating charities and business – and finding a sweet spot that created a model for social impact and business sustainability.

The dream to be an entrepreneur was born, and about seven months ago it was realised when I started my very own social enterprise; Ecopads Australia.

My journey to starting Ecopads Australia was an almost accidental one. I first saw a cloth pad hanging in my sister's room. My initial reaction was confusion, disgust, surprise, acceptance and admiration all at once! People I speak to about cloth pads share some, if not all, of these emotions.

I decided to buy some of my own to try them, and shortly after began making them and selling  them at markets and online. The current design has been developed over a process of trial and error, whereby the shape, fabrics and varieties were tested and re-tested with women throughout Australia. The feedback provided a general consensus for the design we now have, but  this is definitely a dynamic process and we continue to find things to modify to better suit everyone's needs.

Ecopads Australia has now sold and donated more than 600 cloth pads to  customers in Australia, New Zealand, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Sweden, Ireland and the United Kingdom.

I’ve created a one-for-one business model, meaning a pad is donated to a girl or woman in need for each one sold. We have a vision to decrease the amount of disposables going to landfill each year.  And EcoPads have partnered in principle with Eco Femme, in India, who will manufacture high quality pads and provide jobs to women, empowering them to build better futures for themselves and their families. Eco Femme shares my values and passions for the environment, education and female empowerment. 

Through a successful crowdfunding effort Freeda reached the $15,000 target to secure a partnership with Eco Femme.

Last updated:
27 June 2016