Menstrual Activist Janeen Singer Talks Sponges, Blood and Health
Janeen Singer is the badass founder of Holy Sponge!, a menstrual sponge business providing an ecological and healthy alternative to bleached cotton tampons. You may have read my review of Holy Sponge! menstrual sponges in Wear Your Voice, and if you didn’t, you should because sponges are awesome and so is Janeen [Sponge Review]. Janeen has lived in the Bay Area for three years. She is here to share the history of her sponge-a-rific business and teach us about menstrual activism.
Tell me the history of Holy Sponge.
Sea sponges changed my life and my relationship with my menstrual cycle. It all started three years ago when I moved from the east coast to Berkeley and decided to take a long road trip along the way. On a thousand acres of wild, solar, womyn-only land in New Mexico, I began reading Cunt by Inga Muscio. I had been thinking about the amount of disposable female hygiene products that end up in landfills, so when Muscio talked about alternative menstrual products, I was immediately fascinated by sponges. Menstrual cups didn’t appeal to me because they are synthetic, but sponges seemed so intuitive and natural- plus, they come from the earth and return to the earth (compost).
As soon as I arrived in Berkeley, I purchased a set of menstrual sponges! My body responded with so much relief and joy over these soft and gentle blood collectors that I couldn’t help but tell everyone around me. I couldn’t believe that I had endured 15 years of bleeding before finding sponges…I can only compare it to not knowing what you are missing until you find something 100 times better.
I realized that tampons were keeping me detached from my body. A sterile applicator and a string prevents a person from coming into contact with their body or their blood, while a sponge needs to be willingly accepted and then pushed out. Using sponges will give you rockin’ Kegel muscles!!! And Because you rinse the sponges, you also get an idea of what kind of cycle you are having- meaning that you actually see how much blood, what shade, and variety.
Needless to say, I convinced many of my friends to try sponges- including my lady-love, Daniela Fernandez. Everyone was hooked! So I started making and selling starter kits, which included tea tree oil to disinfect the sponges between cycles, white sage for smudging, and a cotton bag to keep them in. Thus began Holy Sponge! Daniela and I took a class through Women’s Initiative to get the business rolling. We left the class feeling discouraged because we discovered the politics behind the fem-care industry are much scarier than we imagined, and the FDA and Proctor & Gamble do not want people selling sponges for menstruation. You can learn more about that in the class on menstrual activism that Daniela and I are teaching at Homestead Apothecary on July 24th or check out New Blood by Chris Bobel to get an introduction.
So what did you do? What informed your decision to keep them local?
We moved forward with Holy Sponge! despite the advice that said we shouldn’t. We sell them on etsy and in shops like Homestead Apothecary (Oakland), Five Pins Project (SF), Otherwild (LA), and other small alternative stores. We prefer to keep Holy Sponge! local, here on the west coast but certainly are not opposed to selling the kits in other places. We find it very important for shopkeepers to be able to talk at length about sea sponges since they are a “radical” notion to many people (even though they are actually quite ancient).
In order to bring sponges to more people, we simply need to have some time with shopkeepers and communities to educate folks about using them- because it’s all about informed choices. Right now, we are in the early stages of forming a collective with other Bay Area makers who want to teach workshops about plant medicine in new cities. Look out for a van fulla’ sea sponges, herbal medicine, and artists…LA is our first stop in August, folks!
What kind of feedback have you gotten from customers about the sponges?
This morning I read an email from a woman in Ojai who said the sponges “revolutionized” her life. That was really encouraging! The feedback has been almost entirely positive, and when it’s not positive, there is usually a reason the sponge isn’t working out (size, density, positioning) so that is something that can be solved if the customer is willing to talk about it & interested in letting me send them another sponge. Sponges may not be for every person who bleeds, but I do think that it’s important that people are informed about what they put in one of the most absorbent parts of their bodies and that they find an alternative product of some sort.
Tell me about your menstrual activism:
We believe that womyn and folks who bleed deserve safe choices. Yes, we sell sea sponges for menstruation, but more importantly we want womyn to be able to make informed choices about what we put in our bodies- and if that happens to be a sea sponge- fantastic! For Holy Sponge it’s not just a product, it’s a movement, a revolution away from the corporate colonization of our bodies and our blood. If you’re interested in having Holy Sponge! come to your community, please shoot us an email at [email protected] Also keep an eye out for our very first menstruation zine, Damn Bloody Rite: A Quarterly Rag Mag.
Check out Holy Sponge! at: www.holysponge.net and https://www.etsy.com/shop/HolySponge and https://www.facebook.com/spongekits