By Émer O’Toole
Rebecca Blackburn-Turner, the founder of Cramp Your Style, discusses how she helps homeless women access sanitary products through commissioning artists to make designs for tote bags.
The fight against period poverty is making progress with Waitrose and Tesco dropping the five per cent tampon tax on sanitary products, a petition to end this tax receiving more than 320,000 signatures and Aberdeen trialling six months of free sanitary care to women from low income families.
However, until real changes are made, homeless women are still struggling to afford sanitary products. Cramp Your Style (CYS), a Glasgow based social enterprise aims to change this — one tote bag at a time.
CYS came to life last year when Rebecca Blackburn-Turner, a 23-year-old illustration graduate, was doing a project for one of her modules at Dundee School of Art. Rebecca started reading about the tampon tax which she found “absolutely disgusting. ” “I looked into the homeless period which is something I had never even thought about,” she explains.
“As a woman I have always been able to afford period products. I have always worked while I was at uni — I’ve never been in such a bad situation where I’ve not been able to afford tampons so it really got me thinking.” Rebecca decided she wanted to do something about period poverty while making sure “art was in the picture” so came up with the idea of asking artists to make designs for tote bags that she can sell. The initial idea was to put her own designs on the bags but Rebecca decided she “really likes the idea of community and bringing artists together” and that “the more people who are involved the more people it reaches.”
Rebecca does all the work herself, including making the tote bags and buying the sanitary products. “My first donation was my own donation because I needed a certain amount of money to get set up and I’ve only had a little bit of money to be able to make the products.”
The first batch of bags were donated to the Govanhill Women’s Project and through this she got contacts for the street team who give sanitary products to homeless people on the street face to face — which helps CYS get “more of a reach.” Rebecca explains she is “especially interested in” the street team because she wants to be able to reach as many people as she can. Glasgow Women’s Aid has also received Cramp Your Style’s donations.
“My whole plan is to be able to have stock ready and available for any shelters that need it”, says Rebecca. “Govanhill Women’s Project call me whenever they need more or if they know of another shelter that needs it. It’s nice I’m actually starting to build a rapport with all the different shelters.”
Sustainability was an issue that was important to Rebecca. She bought the tote bags from Cotton Bag Co which uses organic and reusable materials. Rebecca says some of the designs don’t suit a tote bag. “I still want to be able to help them get their work out there but it’s difficult to strike the balance between what can fit. It’s a hard one.”
The tote bags have been sold in various locations across Scotland, including Dundee School of Art, Glasgow University and craft fairs. CYS also has a GoFundMe page where people pay a donation and a tote bag is sent to them. Rebecca is considering opening an Etsy shop but says always had it in her head that she would “like to sell the bags in person to be able to have a conversation with people about it.”
As well as being sold in various locations in Scotland, the bags are also made by artists all over Scotland including Chelsea Rodgers from Ayrshire, Gabrielle Aguilar who is based in Edinburgh, Jennie Bates from Dundee and Rowanne Lee from Glasgow. Initially CYS submissions were by people Rebecca knew but since her call for submissions she is able to display work by artists she was previously unaware of. “I’m getting loads of emails from people I’ve never met before which is so cool. The work is all of a really high standard.” On 20 August they will have the chance to display their work at the Cramp Your Style launch event at the Old Hairdressers in Glasgow.
Rebecca says if the social enterprise “ever became a big thing” she would like to be able to pay artists for their contribution. “Although it’s for a good cause and people are fine with donating work, I think it’s so hard when you’re an artist to actually get paid for your work because a lot of people will take advantage. I don’t want to be the kind of person that does that. CYS is still very small so I’m not capable of being able to pay people for their work. I make up for that by letting them exhibit their work for free — that’s my way of giving back.”
The tampon tax could be completely abolished by 2018 because the European Commission is aiming to reduce it to zero. “It’s amazing the government is doing something but it’s still so far away from being the norm”, says Rebecca. “What I do is still very much valid. There’s still immediate women in need and as long as I can help I’m going to keep on doing it.”