This story is part of Re: News' Off The Grid Week, where we look at what it's like to go off the beaten path. Check out the rest of the stories here.

When AWWA co-founder Michele Wilson got her period unexpectedly while on holiday in Rarotonga in 2018, a new business idea came to her.

She didn’t want to add to the waste on the island by buying pads and tampons, so the idea of AWWA period care, a Māori-owned business making reusable period undies, was born.

But Michele was already inspired to innovate before that trip to Rarotonga.  

After Michele's first daughter, Eva, was born, she says she got really bad postnatal depression.

She took time to find herself again and started making kawakawa balm - not to sell, but to give  to anyone who wanted it.

She says making this kawakawa balm helped heal her postnatal depression and also made her think about the innovation of her tupuna.

“I realised that society and wāhine have so much to learn about the way that our tupuna were innovators,” she says. 

“I [also] decided that I was going to take time out and take autonomy over my body during my ikura (period),” she says.

At the time there was only one other company selling reusable period undies and it was in the US. 

Michele says it was about $50 for shipping alone which she says was not accessible for our wāhine.

Why AWWA is different

Michele is an advocate for taking time to yourself when you have your ikura/period or your energy levels are low.

The employees at AWWA are encouraged to do the same.

Michele says her colleague, Lena, gets a migraine when she starts her ikura.

”There's no point for Lena to be struggling from a migraine. For me, for AWWA, I know if she rests, she's probably gonna be three times more productive knowing that she was able to take the day off,” Michele says.

Michele has an auto-reply for her work emails while she has her ikura. 

It says: “Kia ora, I have my ikura/period and am balancing mahi with rest. I may take a few days longer to reply to your email.”

Her staff are paid when taking time to rest, however when their energy levels are back to normal, 100% effort is expected.

How Michele embraces indigenous values

Michele’s daughter Eva is 11 now and has had signs of her ikura arriving.

She’s prepared Eva for her ikura by giving her a taonga.

Michele says she picked out this taonga four years ago and always knew she would give it to Eva when she first got her ikura.

But Eva has been experiencing premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and needed support now. So Michele gave her the taonga earlier.

She has a karakia specifically for Eva that she can use once she starts her bleed.

She’s also picked out a tupuna name that will form half of her middle name.

And Eva is being gifted a hue, also known as calabash, to wash her first pair of AWWA undies in. In the old days, hue were used to hold water and preserve food.

“I really like that I did that because it's kind of like she knows that this thing is coming and whenever she feels [PMS] symptoms or whatever, she can hold onto her beautiful taonga,” Michele says.

Why ‘ikura’ over ‘mate’

The Māori word mate translates to death or sickness.

Michele says it was a word given to Māori by Pākeha to indicate being on your period. At the time, periods were looked at like a sickness or weakness.

“I'm all about looking at my ikura not as a weakness but as a power, so, therefore, I do not want to call it my mate.

“I want to call it what my ancestors called it, which was many different things, like ikura [or] wā whero. 

“If I want my whakaaro to be about feeling powerful and feeling tapu and taking autonomy over my body during that time then it makes sense I give it a name alongside that, too,” she says.

A period tracking app for everyone

Michele is also launching a new app called Ehoa, which is a platform for tracking your period as well as your energy levels. It's accessible to anyone and not specifically for people with periods. 

Ehoa aims to help people be present and shape productivity through maramataka, the Māori lunar calendar system.

Ehoa guides its user to track their energy levels and/or menstrual cycle alongside the maramataka to improve overall wellbeing and grow their potential by observing themselves and the environment around them.

Michele says her mission for Ehoa is to promote indigenous knowledge in a Western-shaped world and reshape the view that the environment’s wellbeing is less important than advancing humanity.

She also wants to change the narrative of living to work.

"I want to support wāhine users in understanding that the 24-hour, 7-day week system is not the only way to success.”

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