Meet Adriana and Inya, the pioneers behind Nigeria’s popular sanitary care brand, Aya Care

On January 5, 2024, a Twitter user (@thejoycechuks) posted a TikTok video of a lady (@tamara.doubrah) advertising a sanitary pad. This video captured the internet’s attention, amassing over 5 million views from Twitter users. Many expressed their admiration and praised the innovative design of the pad, sparking curiosity and leading numerous people to search for the creators behind it.

Dubbed “Aya Care,” this sanitary pad, thoughtfully designed by women for women, caters to both heavy and light menstrual flows. The product was officially released in June 2023 across major stores in Nigeria. However, the buzz remains, as many women have testified to the unique absorbance of the pad. Many have become not just customers but “bearers of Aya’s good tidings,” giving organic reviews of its benefits and buying the product wholesale for friends, family, and loved ones.

Driven by my interest in the pad, I not only purchased it for my upcoming menstrual cycle but also delved into learning about the founders and uncovering the secret ingredient to their success. I checked the website (which had their email addresses at the time) and sent an email requesting an interview opportunity.

You’re about to read a beautiful, wholesome discussion with two women, Adriana Lica and Inya Ajanaku. Driven by their rich experiences, genuine passion, and dedication to empowering women, they have developed a product that is quickly becoming the go-to choice for women’s sanitary care in Nigeria.

Lagos, a mutual friend, and a mind-blowing conversation

Our story begins with a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) student, Inya, who studied some of her courses in the imperial lands of China during the COVID period in 2020. Inya had a friend (whose name remains undisclosed) who, as it turned out, was also a mutual friend of Adriana. This friend played a pivotal role in bringing the duo together. However, it was in Lagos that the duo had a conversation on the trending COVID issue that the topic of skyrocketing prices of products and services—including menstrual care products—began to emerge.

Adriana fondly reminisced about the meeting, saying, “Inya was also talking about healthcare in Nigeria, and we noticed that period care was just fluctuating. We noticed that a box of pads, a few cents per box, was now literally a dollar per box (by American standards). It seemed to be such a huge issue.”

Pricing wasn’t the only problem. Even the quality of the sanitary care products was an issue. “Most of these pads were of low quality or even counterfeits, circulating then. We decided that since this was such a huge problem, why don’t we do something about it?” Adriana explained.

Adriana was searching for her “next big challenge” as an entrepreneur. At the same time, Inya brought her deep understanding and compassion for period poverty, coupled with her quest for better comfort and coverage during her menstrual cycle. Together, they shared a vision to offer women premium yet affordable sanitary care. This fusion of goals and values cemented their partnership from the start.

Once they finalised their plans, they started to actualise their dreams of better period care for Nigerian women.

From conception to realisation: the journey towards making Aya

According to Inya and Adriana, the journey to the Aya product consisted of three major steps:

Naming

Inya told me that the name ‘Aya’ was an acronym for ‘Amazing Young Africans.’

“It was targeted at the youth, as we wanted to ensure that we gave them that confidence, made them feel good, and spurred excitement. I wanted a vibrant name. Aya also means “wife” in Yoruba,” she explained.

Market Research

For Inya, the first thing they did was to think about who their key demographic was. After some thought, they decided on “early teenage girls and young adults coming into womanhood.” For Adriana, this was the time they started to pitch to various investors and partners for “funding and support.” They eventually got funding from both their savings and the investors.

Design thinking and blind testing

Inya dutifully explained the process behind their famous pad design, which needed women as its designers to cover every Nigerian woman’s period holistically.

“We formed a focus group of teenage girls and women under 25. This group was later expanded slightly. Their task was to conduct ‘blind tests’ on period care products from Nigeria and around the globe, evaluating them based on crucial factors like absorbency and texture. We had a consultant with degrees in public health from a university in the U.S. to coordinate that effort, as well as experts who had worked in the sanitary hygiene industry. They also conducted random testing by sending out questionnaires to random women about the product and receiving feedback.

Following this, they asked the ladies to move into breakout rooms, or ‘silos,’ to design their ideal pad, catering to both normal and heavy flow types. They also focused on creating pad designs suitable for tropical weather that would prevent itching or discomfort. Aside from the unique length, they also wanted fewer plastic pads and needed recyclable ones to reduce overall environmental impact, as well as the colour and packaging. Hence, the carton-box packaging of the sanitary product.

After several months filled with numerous iterations and tests, the founders arrived at a design that received unanimous approval from every member of the focus group—this pivotal moment marked the inception of Ayacare.

Now, the product has been made. How were they going to sell it?

The answer for Adriana was first to identify their three unique selling propositions—quality, affordability, and, most importantly, accessibility.

Adriana explained that to maintain accessibility and affordability, they needed to make two decisions: establish a direct relationship with resellers (using only one distribution channel) and recruit grassroots women retailers who share the vision of maintaining price stability.

“To achieve this, we approached major supermarket chains such as ShopRite, Spar, Jara, and a few others. Convincing them was a lengthy process, but we successfully managed to have our products placed on their shelves in June 2023. We needed to ensure they were on board with our commitment to maintaining affordable pricing.,” she said.

The ‘grassroots sellers’ comprise student women ambassadors in some universities, small business women who already have an offline presence in the form of independent shops, and soon, a small number of women working in the open markets who are independent and care about keeping the price affordable.

Of course, this method isn’t always foolproof, as there have been incidents of retailers selling the pads at a marked-up price since their launch.

In response to these claims, Adriana clarified that having 100% control of the market is impossible. However, the target audience in itself will help self-regulate the pricing.

“It is normal for things like that to happen, so we will make sure to listen whenever such complaints are made. We have tried reaching out to the seller, who didn’t respond, so we cut off the supply to the first one. It will happen again, and we will need our community to help us out, too,” she explained.

Art and football: the two initiatives driving women’s empowerment at Aya

Inya and Adriana were interested in manufacturing and selling pads and various women’s empowerment initiatives through art (Aya Artists) and football (Aya League). It was an easy choice of initiatives for both women, as Adriana has played football all her life and Inya describes herself as an “amateur art curator.”

Aya Artists

Apart from Inya’s love for art, Aya as a brand was made to be aesthetically pleasing and African. To achieve this, they decided to host an art competition for the best artwork for Aya Care’s boxes. The winner in 2022 was Ugonma Chibuzo, who had her art spotted by clients in Asia and Europe “even before Aya was launched!”

Aya League

As a former university football player, Adriana is well-versed in the game. She credits football with shaping her into a “strong and resilient” individual, qualities she aims to inspire in others.

It was an opportunity that came through a mutual friend of Inya’s, and when it was pitched, she went to see the games and played with the women.

“I could see its potential and how passionate women were about it. All they needed was the right supporter to ensure this happens for them. Football in Nigeria is not niche. It is a humongous market for men, and in the next few years, we see it becoming equally important for women.”

Anya stated that the viewership numbers from the larger league organizers, Hive League, are great so far, and “they’re going to get even bigger,” expressing much optimism.

Aya Corporate as a means to end period poverty for underprivileged women

While various grassroots sellers and stores sell pads to women, what about the rural or underprivileged women who may not be able to access these means?

The duo’s answer to this was “Aya Corporate,” a partnership of organisations with strong Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs to provide women with access to period care in both their workforces and rural areas.

“Any organisation, be it a hospital, school, church, university, or NGO, if they want to partner with us, we ensure that we give proper support by having discount prices in a way that makes sense to them, as well as educational programs. If they need any marketing to drive awareness towards their cause, we do it,” Adriana explains.

As of the time of publication, the initiative had kicked off in June 2023 with consistent pad drives on a monthly basis, the most recent being DrugAid Africa. However, Adriana also desires to see more corporate organisations joining the cause as partners in facilitating affordable period care for women in their workforce.

The future of Aya Care

Thankfully, the pads aren’t the end of the Aya story. For both Inya and Adriana, customers should expect to see pantyliners and tampons next on the manufacturing wagon (based on popular request). They can also expect to have more Aya community events and festivals.

However, they also acknowledged the need to grow and solidify the seeds they had already planted, such as the women-led distribution program.

“We need to make the women-led distribution program more refined and operational. We also need to train these women, as many of them are first-time business owners/distributors,” Adriana explained.

But as it stands now, the stars have aligned for the Aya brand and its women, who are on the right track to eradicating period poverty in Nigeria.

The feedback on Aya

Just as I was putting the finishing touches on this story, I saw quite a few comments popping up online about the pad not being super absorbent, especially for those dealing with heavier flows.

However, it hasn’t been all bad. There have also been positive reviews regarding the product as well:

I reached out to the team for more insight about this, and here’s what they had to say:

“In terms of honest feedback, we take it very seriously. So far, thousands of women have given positive feedback through video reviews; our customer return rate is near 100%, which speaks volumes about the product’s quality. We monitor social media very closely and review feedback daily, so every woman can rest assured that we’ll be on it when there are improvements to be made.”

Period Poverty in Nigeria

Period poverty is a pervasive and often overlooked issue that affects millions of women and girls worldwide, regardless of geographic boundaries and cultural contexts.

According to a study by Caleb Baek, an estimated 37 million Nigerian women cannot afford sanitary items. The average price of sanitary pads in Nigeria is N500. This implies that 37 million women, on average, cannot afford at least N500 every month for their menstrual needs. As the prices of sanitary products like pads and tampons keep increasing, more women find it challenging to afford the ones that work well for them.

Period poverty in Nigeria is a complex and deeply rooted issue that requires our collective efforts to address effectively. Let’s all speak up with one voice and break the silence around menstruation and the realities of being a menstruating woman in Nigeria. We can find a solution to the problem we collectively experience. Women are Nigeria’s future; caring for them ensures our society will not only survive but also thrive exceedingly, beyond all measure.

Author

  • ChiAmaka Dike

    Chiamaka is the Features Editor at Marie Claire Nigeria. She is a woman who is passionate about God, women, and top-notch storytelling in all formats. Send all feature pitches her way - chiamaka@marieclaire.ng

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