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Umuziranenge’s journey to becoming the reusable pads guru

In the past, women were devalued in all corners, said to be incapable, and unable to establish an enterprise, or perform certain tasks, instead, they were expected to depend on their husbands.

However, today’s story of Blandine Umuziranenge, who decided to advance herself while solving the problems faced by women and girls, is proof that those beliefs were mistaken.

Today, she owns a company that produces hygiene products for women to use during their menstruation (Cotex) that can be reused multiple times.

This year, she committed to producing 175,000 packages, each containing five Cotex pads. Starting from her youth, at 24, when producing 20 a day felt like a miracle, she has now multiplied her production countless times.

She says, “We committed to producing 875,000 Cotex pads this year. We pack them in packages of five. If you do the math, that’s 175,000 packages. Since we sell one package for 6000 Rwandan Francs, if all are sold, we would make 1.05 billion Rwandan Francs.”

Umuziranenge reveals that they can produce 1.2 million Cotex pads that would fill 240,000 packages, but “to this day, we haven’t found a market for all of these, which is why we at least count those, but we continue to seek more markets.”

With joy yet refuting the claim that a woman can’t, Umuziranenge shows that today, it’s gone so well she can’t lack 200 million Rwandan Francs in profit a year, having paid for everything her business requires.

This year, she plans to order materials to make these Cotex pads, up to 70,000 meters, with an investment of over 400 million Rwandan Francs, expecting to use all by the end of the year.

“I started searching like everyone else”

Speaking with Umuziranenge, she shows that every victory requires sacrifice, patience, and making the most of every opportunity, all coupled with faith in God.

Like everyone else, she started by exploring different avenues, working as a writer covering stories about pregnancy, childbirth, children, and women’s lives in a small magazine called Kosmos Magazine.

She did this until it became unprofitable, then “scratched her head” looking for what could work, moving from publishing written stories to boldly venturing into technology by starting a mobile app called HosmoHealth App.

This app provided information primarily for pregnant women on their stage of pregnancy and how to care for themselves, alongside making a small number of maternity clothes and selling them in the Nyarugenge market, all to see how far she could go, but it wasn’t very profitable.

She sought training to improve her work and was advised to write about her life related to the problems she faced to gain more readership and interest.

She said, “At that time, the person helping me write asked me to include other statistics of girls in Rwanda, back in 2017 I saw that 18% of women or girls couldn’t attend school or work due to lack of Cotex. That’s where the idea started.”

She began with local fabrics but they didn’t meet her needs, then tried second-hand materials which also failed, continuing to search for a way to make reusable, quality Cotex pads, facing challenges throughout 2018 without finding a solid solution.

2019, A Historic Year for My Life

Despite falling one day and rising the next without losing hope, she persevered, and met many people who gave her ideas on what to do but realized her opportunity was in China.

The reason was that it was the source of reliable materials for her project, the challenge was how to get there.

She said, “There was an online business training offered by Alibaba, a company in China. I competed, won, and went there, focusing on their materials because those in Rwanda had failed.”

She returned with an agreement that once she had sufficient funds, they would ship her the materials through Alibaba. She brought a small sample and began producing a very limited number of Cotex pads on her own.

Umuziranenge shows that seizing opportunities and participating in various projects, especially those involving investors has benefited her so that now she insists on participating in at least three such programs a year, whether they are training, competitions, or others.

While in training related to promoting her business, she presented her project, which was well received by the trainer, who decided to support her.

She started a crowdfunding campaign, raising $3600 through that person, their friends, and family, and used it to order materials from China.

She started making 20 Cotex pads a day, kept working, hired five more employees, and her persistently pursued business began to show promise.

That year, she entered her project into the Youth Connekt competition in Rwanda, emerging first in the women’s category, which was a significant boost, winning a $5,000 prize. This win allowed her business to expand from air to sea shipments for her materials.

In the following months, in November 2019, Umuziranenge participated in the Invest to Impact Africa competition, aimed at recognizing projects that empower women.

She said, “I won and was awarded $25,000. 2019 became a historic year for me; it transformed my life as I received many awards I hadn’t anticipated.”

By then, her team had grown to 10 employees. However, when COVID-19 struck, she did not lose heart. She and her team continued working from home, began collaborating with projects that support women, and the awards kept increasing.

Her ideas continued to evolve as Umuziranenge implemented a program encouraging people to return used Cotex, offering them new ones at a discount, with the returned ones repurposed into other products. “If you understand well, it’s another project she began.”

In 2021, this recycling initiative earned her further recognition and support through the Impact Hub program, where she received awards.

Umuziranenge continued to prosper, where, and by the end of 2021, she participated in a program supporting businesses involved in sustainable development projects. After competing and failing initially but persisting, she eventually won $200,000.

She said, “That’s where we progressed. People can’t understand how we went from producing 20 Cotex pads a day to now over 800,000 a year without realizing it didn’t just happen. We were fortunate, but we also made the most of every opportunity we got.”

Today, she employs 22 permanent workers but also has others in different areas who sell the Cotex pads her factory makes, profiting from their sales.

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