Aimee Marks is the Founder and CEO of TOM Organic – the leading organic feminine hygiene brand in Australia. What started as a simple frustration for Aimee, soon evolved into a quest for social responsibility and eventually into the development of TOM Organic.
Tired of finding stray tampons rolling around her handbag, Aimee wanted to design packs that didn’t involuntarily open and started out to redesign conventional packaging. But as soon as she hit the ingredients list, her focus changed completely.
When she learned of the pesticides and synthetics used in conventional female hygiene products, coupled with the fact that these products are used in and around one of the most absorbent parts of a woman’s body, Aimee was inspired to develop a range of pure personal care products that are gentle on the body and good for the planet.
First stocked in a number of health food stores across Melbourne, Woolworths and Coles soon caught on to the need to stock the organic alternative, proving that it is possible to be a thriving business and a force for good at the same time.
Now, Aimee and her team have worked to grow the brand to ensure women have an organic alternative at all stages of their lives.
Here, Aimee chats with Woman Rising about her journey with TOM Organic for our In Her Shoes Summer Series.
Firstly, let’s get the facts:
NAME: Aimee Marks
BUSINESS: TOM Organic
LOCATION: St Kilda, Melbourne
YEAR LAUNCHED: 2009
AGE: 28 years
Q: What was your professional journey before starting your business and how did your biz concept spark?
Within 18 months of completing my entrepreneurial business degree at RMIT, I stepped straight into launching TOM Organic.
What started as a quest to design a pack that prevented tampons falling out in my handbag, quickly turned into a mission to make organic cotton feminine hygiene products available to all women when I read the ingredients lists on the back of packs and discovered that pesticides and synthetics were being used in most conventional products.
While many of us are busy reading the ingredients list on the foods we buy, few of us stop to think about what our tampons and pads are made of and most simply assume they’re made of cotton.
These products come into direct contact with one of the most delicate, absorbent parts of our body and I felt strongly that all women should have access to a pure organic cotton alternative that make sense for our world and women’s wellbeing.
So, instead of following the well-trodden path of getting experience working in big corporates, I made the decision to launch TOM Organic straight out of university. I have learnt through doing and used my entrepreneurial degree as a playground to develop TOM Organic from an idea into the business it is today.
Q: What gave you the confidence to dive in at the beginning?
Starting TOM Organic felt so instinctively right. I felt sure I was creating an essential product for women and addressing an unmet need. I spoke to so many women in the community who confirmed this for me and really it was this community of women, and their support that gave me the confidence to proceed.
Q: What has been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced since launch and what lessons came from the experiences?
When I first started out, I was knocked back a couple of times by the large supermarkets. All they saw was a young female 20 year old, who had no experience of running a business, but was driving her idea off the back of passion and a community of loyal women who wanted the product on the shelves, so it was partially proving the idea and also the product.
So I made the packaging more functional and more appealing (tampons are a grudge purchase!) in a way that was desirable and appealing to a broad range of women, beyond anything extreme. I didn’t want to create a niche personal care brand, I wanted to create a range of products that were accessible to all women.
Q: How important is following your intuition in your business?
You know your business better than anyone else does. It’s important to use the combination of insight from stakeholders surrounding your business with the ability to tap into your intuition.
While I am mindful of insights, sometimes knowledge can crush creativity and innovation.
Q: What are 3 things you wish you knew then?
- How much your community want you to succeed and will support you on that journey. Sometimes you need to reach out to grow. It’s ok to ask for help.
- Never see failure as a backwards step. It’s never a backwards step. It’s a learning and maybe a blessing in disguise!
- The true impact that TOM would have on health and environmental as a result of doing something that I am passionate about.
Q: What is the key piece of advice you would provide others starting out?
- Be resourceful. You’ll be amazed how much you can make with so little. That’s how you learn to be constantly innovative. This skill sets you in god steed for business.
- Find a mentor and someone who is going to keep you on track.
- That when in business, it’s critical that you are values driven. Working with value aligned people is so important.
- Passion changes everything. You have to love it and have enough passion to get you through the hard days.
Q: What does it feel like to look back on what you have accomplished so far and know you have developed your own path?
It’s proved to me that if you dream big and pursue your goals with passion you can achieve amazing things. Looking back, I’m so pleased that I invested time at the beginning to build TOM on foundations that represented my values. I was determined from the outset, not to compromise and went the extra mile to gain things like our ACO (Australian Certified Organic) certification and B Corp Certification. These certifications mean we choose to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency and demonstrate that ethical values are deeply ingrained in our DNA!
Every team member hired at TOM is seen as a micro business in the team and every decision is made with integrity. It’s humbling to look back and to see the strength and cumulative effect that these processes have made in accomplishing in the journey of TOM Organic so far,
- A biz system/program/platform you can’t live without: My calendar to organise my life and appointments and emails to communicate. Google is also a limitless platform for exploring creative ground and having it all at your finger tips. It has flattened the business world by making everything accessible to connect.
- What keeps you motivated (aka professional motto): It always comes back to my motivation and why I am doing what I am doing. It’s so incredibly important to be inspired by the purpose of your work rather seeing it as a means to an end. When things get hard, money doesn’t motivate anyone. It’s the people around you who are of equal importance. Not giving up! Not giving up on the people who buy the product, your community, and your team. It is so important that women have the choice of using superior quality products that are better for their health and the environment.
- Who do you admire in business: People like Stella McCartney, Richard Branson and Kristina Karlsson who are constantly changing the way business is done and questioning everything. Not settling for sameness is the only way we can evolve.
- When I started, I wish someone told me…. That everything I believed will always be ok and it always works out, it really does happen for a reason.
- One day I hope to…. To expand our community by having global accessibility to our brand and impact homes all over the world. I’d love to look back to see our impact on a global level.