In 2018, alongside her daughters Becky and Kate, Celia Hodson launched her multi-award-winning business Hey Girls, with the ultimate goal of eradicating period poverty.
Hey Girls seeks to enrich the lives of girls and women in the UK by exercising social and ethical responsibility in every aspect of its work-from where it sources its products through to its supply chain, and the way it runs its social business.
We sat down with Celia to discuss the idea behind Hey Girls and how Scotland is becoming a leading example of making change for good.
Celia Hodson, Founder and CEO of Hey Girls.
What gave you the idea to start Hey Girls?
It came from my experience as a single mum on benefits. When you live in or close to poverty, it is eye-opening how many decisions are made for you. Decisions can include where you will live, where your children will go to school and even what you eat.
This stage of my life was very difficult, and I had to make choices that no parent should have to make. Nobody should have to make the decision between eating and buying menstrual products for themselves or their children.
Today, although my circumstances have changed significantly, poverty is still a huge issue, not just in Scotland but in many first-world countries. Sadly, the pandemic has made poverty a reality for many more families across the globe.
My daughters and I wanted to create a sustainable business that would make a long-term difference to women’s lives. I am from a social enterprise background and have years of experience working for global third sector support groups and national policy lobbing organisations. My idea was to create a business for social good to help those in need rather than simply for shareholder value. The obvious model was to set up a system where for each product sold, the buyer also purchases a product for someone else, also known as Buy One Give One.
Since we launched the business in 2018, we’ve had an overwhelming response and we’ve grown very quickly. In 2019 Hey Girls was appointed as the main delivery partner for free period products across Scotland, and Wales followed in 2020. Our products are also sold in supermarkets and eco stores across the UK and stocked in the washrooms of private sector companies via our Period Dignity activity. Every employer provides toilet paper and hand wash for employees, so why not add period products as they are a basic necessity for women?
I’m so proud of how far we have come in such a short amount of time.
Why do you think the Scottish Parliament was open to the Period Products (Free Provision) bill?
Scotland has an exceptional and unique culture. The philosophy of ‘just try it, have a go’ is very strong and we have some powerful voices and leaders who are willing to support others with their endeavours.
The cross-party collaboration across parliament when it comes to important social issues is incredible, and the Scottish Government was very supportive and determined to find a solution. However, lobbying for policy change can sometimes be a little bit like turning a super tanker, it moves slowly! The bill was introduced to parliament in April 2019 and became a legal requirement in January 2021; we were incredibly impressed by how quickly the bill was passed.
This bill is a world first and aims to tackle period poverty in Scotland. This now means, under law, that those in need will have access to free period products; educational institutions must make a range of free period products available, and the government will have the power to make other public bodies provide free period products.
Since Scotland became the first country to pass this bill, we have had a number of enquiries asking how we can help to make this happen in other countries. I am delighted to hear that New Zealand and France have both just announced that they will offer free period products in all schools from June 2021. Many countries including Australia and the US are now re-evaluating their stance on this and are looking at how they can replicate this in their country.
Over the past three years you have had some great speaking opportunities representing Hey Girls. How do events benefit your business?
Events are a great way of meeting like-minded individuals and provide a valuable platform to grow networks and share the importance of taking a collective stance on period poverty and period dignity.
They give you a unique opportunity to reflect on your own business operations and start-up to growth journey, as well as helping you hone your messaging with differing audiences, what your innovations are, what you have learnt and how you can share that to help others on their journey.
Events also give you a platform to provide ‘the ask’ of what you want the audience to do for you, whether that is to simply buy from you, recommend you to their colleagues and friends or to support you via collaborations or new project development.
There are some fantastic organisations including Scottish Enterprise, Entrepreneurial Scotland, Social Investment Scotland, Scottish Government and the CBI which are very accommodating and will share their valuable knowledge with you and try to connect you with people who can advise or help you nationally and internationally. There is nothing more valuable than being connected to someone who has previously walked the same path to scale and for them to share their own highs and lows. The support I have received to help me grow Hey Girls has been amazing. I honestly feel that if I had launched Hey Girls anywhere else but Scotland, I would not have had the same backing or belief.
It took 50 people to help get Hey Girls started, and when I thanked them all they said without exception ‘it was nothing, I was happy to help’. This collegiate attitude in Scotland is a huge asset and it helps us to collectively build the country we want.
What is next for Hey Girls?
We have achieved so much since we launched in 2018, but my ultimate goal is to eradicate period poverty, which is a huge challenge.
Through Hey Girls I’d love to ensure that all girls and women have access to period products, knowledge about menstrual products and to clear away any myths or stigmas around menstruation.
I am committed to creating well paid jobs for those in need, those who are furthest from the labour market not just in the UK but globally. I want to expand Hey Girls into international markets and I am currently looking at how we can replicate our model sustainably and maintain both the quality and engagement about our brand but also how we can scale up our give back in other ways.
In February 2021 we opened our second dispatch centre in Diss in South Norfolk which not only minimised our carbon footprint when distributing products from Scotland to Wales and England.
We are building a reputation for running disruptive campaigns like Pads4Dads with Michael Sheen, The Pad Ad, Give A Cup A Go with Caitlin Moran, Don’t Rush to Flush and UNsSanitary. In April, we will launch our biggest campaign to date. IT will focus on equality and will bring a number of celebrities into the conversation in a very strong and thought-provoking way.
Hey Girls has been on an incredible journey in such a short space of time. I am very grateful for the continued support and collaboration from the various Scottish enterprise networks I am a member of but also to the government and business leaders for believing in my business model and my mantra of ‘we’re for dignity, we’re not for profit’.
For more information on Hey Girls visit heygirls.co.uk