Sammy Nickalls
Updated August 11, 2015
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When Art Center College of Design in California design students Mariko Higaki Iwai, Sohyun Kim, and Tatijana Vasily entered the International Design Excellence Awards, they probably didn’t know then that they would not only meet the challenge and win an award, but they’d come up with an idea that may change the lives of women in low-income countries forever.

The challenge was to design affordable tools that will better the lives of adolescent girls living in poverty. Iwai, Kim, and Vasily met that challenge with flying colors by addressing the issues and challenges surrounding girls and menstruation. While most of us view our period as a minor inconvenience, for those living in low-income areas of the world, it’s a very real struggle because they are unable to afford disposable menstruation products. So they use reusable cloths, which may sound like the more eco-friendly way to go, but actually cause girls to skip school or even drop out entirely due to the inconvenience and stigma surrounding periods. This method can also make those same girls sick; for example, 70% of all reproductive diseases in India are caused by poor menstrual hygiene, often because the pads always remain wet.

So what did Iwai, Kim, and Vasily come up with? It’s called “Flo,” and it’s a brilliant, affordable, and simple kit that allows girls and women to wash, dry, and carry reusable period cloths (probably why it was one of the 81 designs to be chosen as a winner out of over 1,700 projects).

Here’s how it works: the contraption is essentially a plastic basket within two strong plastic bowls joined together with a nylon or cotton string. You can place used pads and cleaning materials within (the bowls cover up what’s inside so no one has to see). The students used ketchup, soy sauce, and animal blood during their test, and used half the detergent needed for manual washing.

Then, you can pull the strings on the sides, which spins the basket and washes the pads. By the time the spinning is done, the pads are already partially dry.

Then, the contraption can be transformed into a small private drying rack. It’s essential for the pads to dry in the sun, as it kills bacteria; however, girls have often been letting their pads dry under their beds, where bacteria can grow. That’s why Flo comes with a burlap cloth to cover the pads while it’s outside.

The kit also comes with a travel pouch for the girls to store their pads (and place their used pads in, so no one will know they’re on their period). The travel pouch has little pins on the side so girls can pin the pouches to the inside of their skirts.

The team made eight prototypes, but plan on making this an actual product. They collaborated with students from Yale School of Management to figure out a business plan, determining that the entire kit will cost only $3.

We LOVE this idea—it’s simple, cost-effective, ingenuitive, and may very well change the lives of millions of girls around the world. For more information on the mechanisms of Flo and to check out the video that shows you exactly how it works, head over to the designers’ website.

Way to go, Flo!