June 5, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 47°F


Student prototype provides swim alternative to tampons

After presenting her idea at Startup Business Demo Day in Fall 2022, Ithaca College sophomore Hadil Khodji is working on a menstrual care product prototype that will serve as an alternative to tampons for underwater use.

Khodji presented an idea for a product that would seal the vaginal area and prevent water from entering at the Fall 2022 Demo Day on Nov. 9, 2022. 

Brad Treat, instructor in the Department of Management, said Demo Day is an opportunity for students from across the college’s five schools to receive funding for their business ideas. Senior Shevori Gene said he worked with Treat and Ed Catto, instructor in the Department of Management, to plan the event. Students apply to present to Demo Day, and if accepted, they present a fourminute pitch to a panel of judges. The judges supply prize money, which they divide between Demo Day participants to advance their ideas. 

Khodji is an international student from Morocco and she said she knew from her own experience that tampons are not popular in Islamic society. Khodji said many girls in Islamic society are concerned that tampons break their hymens and lead to impurity.

“It’s something that came from grandmas and grandpas,” Khodji said. “And it’s not like we don’t want to use tampons, but it’s more like, ‘Well, my mother told me not to.’”

Khodji said menstruation is seen as shameful and is not frequently discussed in Morocco.

Rachel Wagner, professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion and coordinator of the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies program, said via email that women’s bodies have historically been seen as impure, especially during menstruation, in conservative religious societies. Wagner said via email that men have tried to control women’s bodies and reproduction to exert control over society as a whole. They have limited discussion about reproduction and menstruation. Wagner said via email that these societal norms have been passed through generations.

“I also think that allowing these discussions to remain hushed contributes to the longstanding myth that women’s bodies are ‘impure’ in some way,” Wagner said via email. “Once examined, this presumption falls apart. … Indeed, an argument might be made that it has more to do with the history of men’s attempts to control women’s bodies than it has to do with women’s bodies themselves. What makes blood impure, anyway?”

According to the Palgrave Handbook of Critical Menstruation Studies, menstruation is frequently stigmatized in the media and society. Some women attempt to hide indications that they are menstruating by concealing feminine hygiene products or menstrual blood leaks. A 2018 study commissioned by period wear company Thinx showed that about 60% of women feel embarrassed while on their periods. 

Khodji said she realized that there are limited menstrual product options that work underwater when she was taking a lifeguarding class in Fall 2022.  

“I am not very comfortable with using any hygienic products under water,” Khodji said. “I found that there’s a lack in feminine products that will take care of your periods when you’re trying to swim. … And I was extremely embarrassed when going to my professor and telling him. … I was not able to swim.”

Khodji said she began asking other menstruators, particularly members of the women’s swimming and diving team, about their experiences with swimming while menstruating. She said she discovered that some menstruators also were not comfortable with using tampons or menstrual cups, the feminine hygiene products recommended for underwater use. They can be uncomfortable, ineffective and cause concerns about toxic shock syndrome, which can occur if menstrual products are left in for too long. 

Khodji said this problem inspired her to create her prototype for a menstrual product that seals the vaginal area from water, which would allow menstruators who do not like using tampons to swim while menstruating. 

Khodji said her current target group for her product is swimmers in the United States. However, she hopes that eventually she can release the product in Eastern markets to provide another option for a menstrual care product.

Khodji said her prototype won the Audience Choice Award and $1,200 from the judges panel to use toward her product development at the Fall 2022 Demo Day. Treat said Khodji’s prototype has gained positive attention because she worked hard to understand her customers’ concerns.

“I find what appeals to the audience is an entrepreneur that can really connect with the need of the customer and tell that story,” Treat said. “Hadil did an excellent job identifying ‘Hey, here’s a problem that my customer has, or my potential customer has, and … I have an idea for an elegant solution for it.’” 

Gene said entrepreneurial development is challenging while taking college courses, but Khodji’s work shows that college students can create successful products. 

“[Entrepreneurship] requires time, commitment and dedication,” Gene said. “I think that [Khodji’s] prototype embodies the true nature of a student taking entrepreneurship [courses] to go into entrepreneurship in college. It has taken her multiple steps to get to where she is right now, and it’s something that shows some sort of feasibility, which is very important … I think that what Hadil is doing is amazing, and it just shows the possibilities of what can happen as an undergraduate, and she’s only in her second year of school here.”

Khodji said she is still refining the specifics of her prototype and she hopes to conduct medical research to ensure that the prototype is safe and effective. She said she wants to keep the prototype design a surprise until she unveils her developed product at the Spring 2023 Demo Day on April 26. 

Khodji said the long development period is worthwhile to ensure that her product works and improves on the menstruation products that are currently available. Khodji said she hopes that her prototype will be more than just a business proposition and encourage menstruators to rethink menstruation and their menstrual care products.

“I would love to make it possible for any girl to swim, even during her periods,” Khodji said. “You don’t have to stop yourself from having fun or going with your friends out or enjoying your summer because of your periods. I want to make periods normalized.”


Kai Lincke can be reached at klincke@ithaca.edu