So much more than menstrual pads: how Tungga Dewi co-founded a FemTech startup Perfect Fit

Article: 27.05.23, Amsterdam

'At the age of 11, I got my first period. I was scared, I had no idea what was going on. We had never talked about this within my family.' Years later, Indonesian Tungga Dewi is building Perfect Fit. She is determined to supply all of Asia with her menstrual underwear and washable pads.

Tekst by Anne Dirks

Now Tungga Dewi talks about menstruation without batting an eye, but growing up in a Muslim family in West Java, menstruation was a big taboo. Dewi is co-founder and ceo of Perfect Fit, a Bali-based start-up that makes menstrual underwear and washable pads. Now this is a topic like any other, she says, laughing, like talking about the weather, or traffic. But it used to be different. "My mother eventually told me what was going on. 

I remember very sharply how she explained to me that I was now an adult, old enough to bear my own sins. That means watching your behaviour, but there are also all sorts of other rules that come with it. Don't cut your nails when you bleed, collect and keep all the hair you lose during that period, don't just throw away the menstrual products you use. Otherwise, the ghost of a white lady in a white dress will continue to haunt you!"

Menstruation as a starting point for a conversation on women's rights

It is 2019 when, as project manager at NGO Kopernik, Tungga Dewi is asked to collaborate with Simavi in setting up a project on the Indonesian island of Flores, aimed at educating women on menstrual health and providing communities with access to washable menstrual pads. Soon she realises that not much has changed in all these years. 

Girls often have no idea how a menstrual cycle works, what menstruation is and what it means as a biological and normal process. They still fear the ghost with the white dress. "I realised in Flores that the topic of menstruation is a perfect entry point to talk about the body in general, women's rights, reproductive rights and the climate crisis." Tungga Dewi laughs: "You can safely say I became obsessed with the subject."

From idea to business

When the project between Kopernik and Simavi comes to an end in 2020 (see also text box ‘Simavi and Perfect Fit’) and a pandemic breaks out shortly afterwards, it forces her to reflect. She is so sorry to see the project end that she decides she will continue, but in a different way.

She discusses it with her boss and colleagues and makes a decision: she quits her job. "I really found my life purpose with this topic," Tungga Dewi explains, "so I decided to take a leap and build this idea as a business," she says. She dives into the question of what people really need during their periods.

In Indonesia, less than 2% of women use tampons because there are still stigmas around inserting something into your vagina. "So we wanted to make something that would appeal to the women of Indonesia, minimise environmental impact and be a conversation starter." They soon ended up with menstrual underwear and reusable menstrual pads. This is when Perfect Fit becomes an independent company.

Tungga (left) en Icha (right) co-founders of Perfect Fit

Inclusive, sustainable and accessible

Tungga Dewi decides that if she is going to do this, then do it right the first time. Inclusive, sustainable and accessible. Perfect Fit now works together with an organisation that helps victims of sexual violence find work and for every product sold, Perfect Fit gives away a washable menstrual pad to someone in need. 

"We are not there yet, but we have come a long way. I want to be all over Asia in the future and be able to offer free products in schools and other public places. And we want to develop the product further. I would eventually like to make a product from recycled fabric and organic cotton, plus offer the option for people to return the product when it runs out, so that we can make new products from it. 

For example, I am very impressed with Yvon Chouinard the founder of Patagonia, who does business ethically and donated all his shares to the nonprofit against climate change. I can see something like that for me in Perfect Fit for women and environment."

Tungga Dewi with Perfect Fit producers on Java

Menstrual poverty in Indonesia

Menstrual poverty is a big issue in Indonesia. The Performance Monitoring and Accountability (PMA 2020) data by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation found that 22% of 8,252 people who menstruate that we're questioned in Indonesia have challenges coping with menstruation with dignity. 

"That includes not having enough access to sanitation, products or education. That 22% may not sound like much, but if we see that Indonesia currently has a population of 70 million women of reproductive age, it means 15 million women and girls in Indonesia have a problem every month." Perfect Fit cannot build toilets, but education and providing menstrual products, we can help with that, says Tungga Dewi. "We are a for-profit business , but ultimately education and impact are the heart of Perfect Fit."

Menstruation is not like in the commercials

Perfect Fit's social media accounts are therefore full of short, funny videos explaining the cycle, breaking the various taboos surrounding menstruation and the products - and all in an understandable and accessible way. Women, men, transgender and non-binary people of all sizes and colours show off their Perfect Fit underwear.

This is a deliberate choice, explains Tungga Dewi. "Because it's real. This is what people who menstruate look like. Menstruating is not like in the commercials. There are plenty of people who can do anything and everything, but there are also plenty of people who do suffer and want to take it easy. What we want to emphasise is that you can be yourself. What you feel is valid. If you want to rest, rest! If you want to and can be productive, by all means do so! It's totally up to you. But the most important thing is: having your period is natural, and you don't have to be ashamed, you are allowed to talk about it. This doesn't have to be a secret."

Perfect Fit tailors

Simavi and Perfect Fit

Perfect Fit is not only a business, it is also a locally-led project of Simavi in which girls in the underrepresented regions in Indonesia get knowledge and information about their bodies and sexuality in addition to good and affordable menstrual pads.

An important initiative with the aim of keeping girls in school and supporting them with a chance for an equal future and a healthy life. Perfect Fit started in 2018 as a collaboration between local partner Kopernik and Simavi in Ruteng, Manggarai District, Indonesia. Simavi, together with the local partners, then introduced a sustainable approach to distribute locally-made, reusable menstrual pads to women and girls.

Due to the success in Ruteng, Simavi and its partners also set up a production and distribution unit in Labuan Bajo, West Manggarai in 2020. At the hub in Labuan Bajo, we trained 10 women to become tailors and are collaborating with more than 70 resellers who discuss menstrual health with the community and promote the use of reusable menstrual pads. 

These include housewives, women who have been victims of domestic violence, women with disabilities, older women but also just young women. There are also men working as resellers to break the taboo around menstruation and sexual and reproductive health. The Perfect Fit project will run until the end of August 2023.

Empower Women in Indonesia with Reusable Pads

To help help break the cycle of period poverty and promote sustainable menstrual practices in rural Indonesia, a crowdfunding in cooperation with Perfect Fit has been started via GoFundMe

Be sure to have a look if you want to contribute!

Esther Oeganda

Everybody has the human right to safe water and sanitation.

Take action