Aimee Marks is taking on the big guys with TOM Organic tampons, and at just 25 years of age, has had some stunning successes.
It was only eight years ago that Aimee Marks was still at school, studying graphic design, and trying to come up with an idea for a product that hadn’t been modified for ten years. Today, she’s the director of her own company, she’s organising events in conjunction with Miranda Kerr’s Kora Organics skincare, and she’s just had her product, T.O.M Organic tampons, arrive in more than 200 Chemist Warehouse stores nationwide. There’s quite a lot that one woman can accomplish with her Time Of The Month.
“It sounds cliché but it honestly was that lightbulb moment,” Marks says. She’d decided to try and design new packaging for tampons for her graphic design course and when writing down the ingredients on the back of the pack, Marks was shocked to find that most were unnatural. “I was writing out things like polypropylene, viscose, bleach and rayon, and for an 18-year-old girl who wasn’t particularly savvy when it came to organics, because back then there wasn’t really much written about it, it already felt wrong and unnatural that I had been using those products in the most intimate part of my body. I was feeling quite frustrated that I didn’t know about it,” Marks explains.
At that point, Marks decided that she wanted to start her own organic tampon company. Knowing that she’d need a lot of knowledge to get her going, she enrolled in an entrepreneurship degree at RMIT, using her idea for a company to apply for the course.
At university, Marks benefited from the experience of others. “That was an incubating environment for me to research and plan this business. I was mentored by incredible people in business including Janine Allis (of Boost Juice) and Brian Hamersfeld, Natalie Bloom’s partner and entrepreneur behind Moose Toys, so that was an amazing process to go through.”
Coming from a small business background also helped her have the confidence to take her idea and run with it. “My parents had a small business. So I was of the philosophy that you could create and do anything and there’s no recipe, it’s really about having that passion to drive what you believe in.”
R and D to a T
After her degree, Marks spent months in research and development for her product, speaking to experts, seeking out all the information that she could find.
“I was speaking to microbiologists in New York who had been studying tampons for 20 years who were just proving time and time again that there are direct links to having chemicals in your body and unexplained illnesses. So I got to the stage that I knew I had a business, I had the research to back it up, I was extremely passionate, and I had a good support team around me.”
In dealing with a sensitive product, the young entrepreneur knew that she had her work cut out for her in getting people’s attention.
“When I first introduced my business plan to the course, I stood up and presented the idea. Eighty percent of the room were male and the response was incredible. I felt like it was an opportunity for them to listen, and to learn about that part of the body where usually that would be quite embarrassing but it was a safe place for them. And then in the end they had to put their hand up and choose which group they wanted to work with and honestly, 99 percent of the class wanted to work on tampons. It was hilarious. I thought that I’d be the one left that no one wanted to work with and they all loved it because it was real and it was engaging.”
Having a sense of humour is also important Marks believes, but not at the expense of the serious message that she would like to get across to men and women.
“T.O.M stands for Time of Month, which I think immediately addresses that prudish concern,” Marks says. “We recognise that it can be an awkward topic of conversation and even girls find it awkward sometimes to say ‘I have my period’. So we actually wanted to rename the tampon or the period with the word T.O.M so it could almost be personified. It’s funny because we’ve called it that for years anyway; it is that time of the month. The idea is that T.O.M’s looking after me every month when no one else might be.”
T.O.M’s website includes a blog and recipe section where people can find out more about living organically. A popular section on the site is titled ‘Detox’ which currently has a healthy living program to ‘detox your box’. A sense of humour is never too far away from the T.O.M office.
However it’s not all just about a quick laugh. “We can always have a sense of humour but there’s also a pretty core women’s health issue here as well. You can’t communicate a serious health issue and be funny at the same time.”
That being said, Marks doesn’t want to feel like she’s preaching. “We’ve always wanted to take a positive approach to the health issue as well, it’s not about saying things are bad for you, it’s about recognising the facts, so reading the ingredients on the pack. And if you’re comfortable with putting bleach and other products in your body at least you’re aware of that. And if you’re not, this is an alternative.”
TOM takes off
In just two years since T.O.M first made it on the shelves, Marks now has a permanent staff member, and business partners from the private equity firm Small Giants, who invest in companies with an ethical agenda. With their support, T.O.M Organics has been able to grow, and Marks isn’t surprised about the company’s success. “There was never a doubt in mind. Number one because it’s a necessity product, number two because it’s one of those hand on your heart every-single-box-ticked when it comes to ethics and the brand, and I think anything that can really do that, is going to resonate with consumers.”
With the support of the Australian Certified Organic organisation who have audited the product to ensure it complies with the most stringent of organic standards from source to shelf, T.O.M Organics very proudly wears the stamp of the ACO. “We were living and breathing that certification because that was our guarantee of integrity at the end of the day,” Marks says. The product also had to go through a rigorous assessment by the Therapeutic Goods Administration before it could become available to consumers, which Marks also describes as “stringent.”
With many hurdles to jump, Marks counts herself lucky that she had some brilliant support to keep her going. “My mum has been a great support. She has an incredible understanding of business, but more than that, she’s really been that person that makes me laugh at the end of the day and helps me to realise this is just business. She likes to say that ‘I’ve always taught my daughter that it’s what’s inside that matters, but little did I know that she would take it to such an extreme level.’”
At just 25, Marks has made an incredible splash into a multinational-dominated market here in Australia. With the product making it onto more and more shelves and an expansion of the range on its way, T.O.M will surely be appearing in more bathroom cabinets around Australia soon.
Would you like to win a 3 month supply of TOM Organic Tampons? Just tell us in 25 words or less why an organic lifestyle is important to you.
Email your answer, along with your postal address to firstname.lastname@example.org before COB Wednesday May 9 to go in the running. The competition is only open to Australian readers, and the winner will be notified via email.