Aimee, when did start TOM Organic and what motivated you to start it in the first place?
The business for TOM Organic originally came while I was working on a design project in high school trying to solve the problem of tampons falling out loose in my handbag. I’d been using tampons for years at that point and it was the first time I’d actually looked closely at the ingredients and that’s when I discovered that they actually contained everything but cotton. I was shocked to discover that conventional tampons contained bleach, synthetics and dyes and I felt a responsibility to women to share this information with them and find an alternative. Even looking at conventional cotton as a natural alternative, is the world’s most heavily sprayed crop. So then I began a research journey asking questions like “how is there not an alternative available? And “what is an alternative?”. That was a fire in the belly moment where I became committed to creating a product that ensured that only the purest imaginable organic cotton touches the most delicate area of a woman’s body. So after I finished high school, I went to RMIT to study entrepreneurship and started TOM Organic in 2009 after graduating.
What was initially a journey to create feminine hygiene products, has evolved into a vision to support and nourish women at every stage of their lives from a woman’s first period to their first baby. So it all started with tampons and pads, has now grown into our range of eco nappy and pure baby wipes: Tooshies by TOM. Tooshies by TOM was my ‘back to maternity leave project” after giving birth to Poppy and Ivy when I became aware of the number of nappies and wipes that are consumed every day (6,000 nappies in your baby’s first few years).
How many children do you have and how have you found managing motherhood and business?
I have three children, my twin girls Poppy and Ivy, who are 4 and Jack Bear, the newest addition to my tribe who is 12 weeks old. After becoming a mother, I experienced a massive shift in the way I work. Before I had children, I could give 150% to the business and in a really focused way. Juggling motherhood and business meant I went from chief doer, where I was able to do everything and anything, to trying to figure out how I could be absolutely potent with my time.
What are some of the challenges?
One of the biggest challenges was getting TOM stocked onto the shelves of 2,000 retailers. I can’t think of a greater example of the business journey of more odds being against me because at the time it really was just me on my own amazing mentors and the support of my mum. But we were the smallest brand, biggest category, no budgets, literally no supply, It was just banging down the doors of these grocery buyers who open up their categories once a year, every year, to delete or take on new products. So to actually get a meeting with them was enormous. It is a really challenging space to play and it is very much about the bottom line, it’s all about margin and earlier on it was very much focused on that because organic just wasn’t a thing then.
We were knocked back several times when we were trying to sell to the big stores because there was little education and awareness at that time around organic products. I was down to my last $1000 before winning over Woolworths. Part of the challenge was that despite every other department in the supermarkets offering organic products, organic feminine hygiene was considered a premium product.
If there was a word of wisdom to pass onto another Mum running a business, what would it be?
Be passionate and don’t change or bend your values. Regardless of what happens, I promise you’ll be proud of it. It might take double the amount of time and double the amount of investment, but it’s just too disjointed if you don’t. I can speak from experience as that is one of the most critical success factors in the journey.
Would you recommend starting/running a business to a new Mum?
I began the business before I become a mum and I have a massive amount of respect for women who start a new business while raising a child.
Be mindful that it’s not an easy path and it’s not always glamorous as it’s seen to appear but the rewards can be enormous if it’s coming from the right reasons and from your passion.
What have been the highlights?
There have been so many highlights but one of the game-changing moments was when I saw TOM Organic at my local Woolies and there was a pack of TOM in someone’s shopping trolley. It was a moment of reinforcement, that against every possible piece of advice or all odds, you actually just can do whatever set your mind to if you really want to.
Another highlight of the journey has been when we get the most amazing testimonials from women who have allergies to plastic and other ingredients in conventional tampons writing in telling us that when they shift to using TOM Organic, their symptoms disappear.
What is the vision/dream for your business in the future?
I hope to one day we able to better track and measure the impact we’ve had from a health, environment and education perspective across a wide selection of women and families through the life cycle of products we create. We’re also always looking at ways of expanding our range across both brands and growing where the products are available to make ourselves more accessible to women and families.
Further information about The Tom Co and their products can be found at www.thetomco.com