Vanessa Tseng is the founder of LoveKiraKira. In 2004, she started writing blogs to educate women in Taiwan about the convenience and benefits of tampon usage. After realizing the lack of choices for sanitary products in Taiwan, she decided to set up her own sanitary product line. Other than her business, Vanessa also frequently gives talks for women of all ages to empower them in making independent decisions and loving themselves.
Note to ally: To my dad, thank you for teaching me the right values and showing me what it means to be an upright person.
In Asia, topics surrounding women’s health have long been considered taboo by older generations. Shunning such conversations has shaped a culture where girls lack knowledge regarding their own body and health. While conversations have started to open up in recent years, there is still a lot more to be done. This was precisely why I was excited to speak with Vanessa Tseng, an entrepreneur in Taiwan who develops female sanitary products and educates women about sexual health.
Vanessa’s interest in exploring different options for female sanitary products started in 2004, when she was still a university student. On an exchange program in the United States, she discovered the ease and convenience of using a tampon, and was excited to share these discoveries with her friends in Taiwan.
“I started to write blogs to share my experiences and research on the benefits of using tampons. Some Taiwanese girls who read my blog were willing to try this, but these products weren’t available in Taiwan back then. I eventually started to purchase tampons in bulk and resold them to Taiwanese girls who couldn’t access these products,” she said to me. “However, there were only about 200 orders at its peak, and I wondered why the order volume didn’t increase when these were such good products. That was when I thought that perhaps the problem lies with knowledge, and I wanted to write about these products as a form of education.”
Vanessa explained how deep-rooted cultural and societal perceptions were the biggest obstacles that lead to a lack of knowledge about female sanitary products. Some Taiwanese girls were apprehensive about inserting a piece of bleached cotton into their own body, as they believed they would lose their virginity by doing so. This was exacerbated by news reports that said girls have gotten infections or inflammations after using tampons. Before 2009, tampons sold in Taiwan even came with warnings printed on their boxes: Use only under the advice of doctors. Unmarried women should use this product with care.
“There were so many misconceptions about tampon usage at that time, even among medical personnel, Vanessa said. “I remember there was one time when I visited the doctor about an inflammatory issue, and he asked me some questions regarding my health. He came up with a diagnosis, but once I mentioned the use of tampons, he immediately changed his answer that tampons were definitely the reason for my inflammatory issues. I thought that was really unprofessional, especially when the claims were without any medical evidence. The entire experience made me really uncomfortable.”
My own experience resonated with Vanessa’s. I have encountered doctors who provided medical advice based on their personal beliefs rather than medical evidence. It was unsettling for me, so I understood her immediately. I’ve heard of similar situations before. Some of my friends have shared how they were dismissed when they sought medical help.
“I think the scariest thing is not the lack of knowledge, but the fact that people don’t know they lack the knowledge.” Eventually, what Vanessa went through cemented the idea that she should set up her own line of sanitary products for women. And she would also educate the public about these items.
When asked about her biggest ally throughout this journey, Vanessa mentioned how lucky she is to have her father as her strongest supporter.
“I was preparing to apply for a loan from the bank to start my company. The night before, I decided to show my dad the business proposal I had prepared,” Vanessa said. “I wasn’t planning to get money from him, but just to let him know what I had been busy with. To my surprise, he felt that this proposal was good and told me that he’ll invest in my company. This is the short story of how he became the biggest shareholder in my company, LoveKiraKira.”
Laughing as she recalled the story, Vanessa shared how grateful she was to her father for believing in her. “When I got the money from my dad, who acted as my angel investor, I didn’t feel comfortable initially,” she said. “It felt as if I was just lucky because my family had the resources for me to support my dream. However, looking back, it was because he had seen the effort that I had put in all those years to make it succeed. He saw that I really wanted to make this happen, and decided to support me.”
Vanessa shared how her father was her best role model when it came to building the business. When she was younger, she had seen her father working as a businessman, and this influenced her deeply. “Sometimes when we watch shows, we see TV characters who are cunning businessmen who are out to cheat people. My father was the total opposite of that. Because I saw how proper and respected he was as a businessman, I took this with me in my own business. He taught me the right values through his actions,” Vanessa said.
However, there were also times when the entrepreneur had to stand up for her own beliefs, even if her own father had objections. Recognizing the popularity of menstrual cups in western countries, Vanessa wanted to bring them to Taiwan. In 2015, she laid the groundwork for her own line of menstrual cups, but this was met with disapproval from her father.
“While tampons were disposable products, a good menstrual cup could last up to ten years. He felt that bringing in menstrual cups would take away business from tampons, and opposed my decision. However, I sincerely believed in having more choices for women, and decided to set up a crowdfunding campaign to get enough money to start the product line for menstrual cups,” Vanessa said.
Vanessa found more than enough backers for her new endeavor, and Taiwan eventually approved the sale of menstrual cups in February 2017. The conviction in her voice could be heard as she recounted the incident to me. I admired her for staying true to her mission.
As we approached the end of the interview, I asked Vanessa if she had a message for girls who were afraid to explore new choices for sanitary products. She said, “I hope girls can give their bodies a chance. Try out different products to find the one that is most comfortable for you. It doesn’t matter what others tell you, or what sanitary products you use in the end. What matters most is that you’ve learned to make your own choices through experimentation with your body, and that you are an independent woman who knows what you want.”