The big questions everyone asked me -
“But you are a man. How will Canadian women resonate with you?”
“What do you know about periods?”
“You need a woman co-founder.”
“You shouldn’t talk about period as women don’t talk about erectile dysfunction.”
Now, a little bit about me before I answer these questions -
Hi, My name is Jayesh, and I am the co-founder and co-CEO at joni. Yes, I am another regular man just like all other men you come across and talk to or talk about. There is nothing special about me that should make you treat me any differently than how you treat any man. The idea of a man creating a progressive period product company may seem antithetical to the construct of who should and should not be doing such a thing. However, I have a story that led me to a moment in time where everything became clear, and I knew exactly what I needed to do: create joni.
I was born in a slum of a town called Surat in the state of Gujarat, India. Many of you might have seen this as a tourist or pictured it like the setting of the movie Slumdog Millionaire, but that shit is my lived experience. The infrastructure and landscape are a deeply superficial part of life in the slums, but it showed me the breadth of life that uniquely existed in this area. It taught me the culture, the needs, the hunger, the greed, the values, and I lived and breathed the atmosphere filled with broken dreams and anger.
I wasn’t the only person facing those issues — I had a family, neighbours, and the whole community that would wake up with me to live another day just to shit, eat, work, sleep and survive. Compounding this game of sheer survival was the death of my father. Was I really affected by that? I don’t think so. Maybe because I was only 10 and the youngest in the family, that the burden to take care of the family didn’t fall to me. Even though I felt the pressure to be responsible and the culture would normally demand it, I became the priority. My mom and my sister were the people who were affected most. They had no choice but to relinquish their roles, my mother becoming the head of household, and my sister forsaking her future to support my mom to feed the family. Here, the second phase of my life started.
In that moment of change and grief, my mom did something incredibly bold and admirable to ensure that our family would survive and possibly even thrive. She became the first businesswoman in a textile industry that was dominated by the men of our little society. My sister dropped out of class 8 to help my mom, which was not a choice but a necessity as my elder brother left home to become a monk in a nearby temple. These two women, with dreams and expectations of a life that had just been destroyed, didn’t hesitate for a moment to sacrifice for my dreams and my future. The courage to make that singular decision is something that I am still in awe of today. However, this strength and resilience resulted in my mother growing her business to eventually employing 85 women who could work from home, earn a better living, and take care of their families. She didn’t harbor her brilliance and ideas, she shared them with women in her community so they could find some semblance of stability and comfort in this slum we called home.
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. I wish the rules of physics would apply to life and emotions.
Do I resent a childhood that exposed me to things that no one would want to experience? No, because that strength and resilience that my mother and sister showed were passed on to me. And even though it would be expressed differently, it still came from a need and desire to care for my family, community, and the women who held it all together.
I now have three Master’s degrees each from different countries: India, France, and Canada. All very different continents, cultures, lives, standards, values, and many things that people with privileges don’t even realize are so vital to a less strenuous existence. I have worked with companies ranging from startups to the oldest leader in Fortune 500. I have worked on projects with a budget of only $50 to $200 million. But what did it cost, and who paid the price for all these achievements and opportunities that I claim to be mine? My mom spent all her earnings on my education; my sister lost her childhood and career, many of my teachers didn’t charge me for tuitions, the people who sent me pocket money for years, NGOs that gave me scholarships, mentors who took out time from their busy schedules to guide me to build a better world for myself. This support, these sacrifices, and experiences are the ingredients that make me who I am today.
So, when I was doing my MBA in Entrepreneurship, I wanted to work on a business idea that would help many of those 10-year-old Jayesh’s, 15-year-old Daxa’s (my sister), and 32-year-old Gitaben’s (my mom) live their lives without compromising their ambitions. I made a journal of ideas that I felt needed acute attention like food, health, sanitation, education, and consultation. I quickly glanced over the then-recent innovations, investments, and micro and macro stats to decide what needed the most attention. I came across one stat that shook me from the bone — 1 in 3 Canadians under the age of 25 who experience periods can’t afford simple period products.
Many of these people are students who compromise on other parts of life, such as education, books, clothes, and food. Children can start to menstruate at the age of 12 or earlier, and they have to rely on their parents or caretakers to provide them with period products and the education that comes along with starting a period. Many of these parents or caretakers may be holding down double shifts at some large grocery store or fast-food chain to make ends meet, and the burden of another monthly expense can tip the scales. People living in period poverty don’t care who helps them with their problem. They just need an extra hand to hold, and it doesn’t matter whose hand it is; I have two hands, my co-founder Linda has two hands, you have two hands. Together we can hold many hands and pull them from the shit we call period poverty, a life with broken dreams, hunger, anger, and missed opportunities. That’s why you, Linda, and I are taking on the responsibility to support marginalized populations through the dismantling of period poverty and the stigma that comes with periods in general. We can’t be a Gitaben or Daxa to everyone, but we can provide a hand to the ones outstretched, hoping that someone, anyone, will see them and feel their pain and anxiety of living in period poverty. If we can relieve them of this one thing, maybe we can level the playing field, even just a tiny bit. This is why Linda and I are so determined and why you made a decision to become a part of the joni community. This is our mission.
Click here to read about Linda, my co-founder.
If you really like what we do, try out our amazing period products because every time you buy one product we donate the same to someone in need within our community in Canada. Help us spread the love with #getjonigivejoni, if you want to invest, collaborate or help us in any other way, check-out our FrontFundr crowdfunding raise.
Together we build a better future for all.