For most of us, the best part of high school was graduating. But instead of counting down the days to her formal, Aimee Marks came up with an ingenious business idea in her last year of school: organic tampons.
While working on a design project, Marks took apart a tampon box and noticed that the ingredient list included chemicals and synthetic materials. “That was a fire in the belly moment for me,” she says. “I felt a responsibility to women to share this information with them and find an alternative.”
Marks used that fire in her belly to start The Tom Co in 2009: “After I graduated from school, I decided I was going to go up against the multi national brands of the world and start a tampon company." As you do.
Growing up in a family that ran small businesses, Marks didn’t hesitate to start her own. She did a bachelor of business in entrepreneurship and over the three year course she built up a network of mentors, found suppliers and created the brand and packaging.
She used a $10,000 business investment from a family friend to make her idea a reality. “That was an enormous amount of money to me at the time, and I almost started the entire business on the back of it,” she says.
Starting small, Marks convinced local health food stores and pharmacies in Melbourne to stock her organic cotton tampons. When she first met with Woolworths and Coles, she didn’t have as much luck. “There was a bit of pushback from them... I remember lots of tears and heartache,” says Marks, who got down to her last $1000 before eventually winning the big supermarkets over.
Marks joined forces with her business partners to take the brand to the next level. "It’s always important to remember the people behind the capital are the most important aspect to consider - it's never just about the money.”
What got her through those tough early days was her deep desire to empower women. The Tom Co now reaches two million people every year, employs ten women and has even expanded into a baby range – adorably named – Tooshies by Tom.
Marks credits her success to staying true to her brand ethics – and never compromising on her beliefs and vision. “We were founded on the philosophy that women should never have to compromise their wellbeing or the health of the planet with the products they buy,” says Marks, who has stayed true to her word, and recently launched a subscription service tailored to help her customers.
Now, she’s helping other women who want to start their own business with the Tom Female Empowerment Grant, which will provide financial support to a worthy start up. “Someone once believed in me, and I know sometimes that’s all it takes, so this is my way of giving back,” says Marks, who offers up this great advice for wannabe businesswomen…
Secret to success: There’s no recipe to success other than passion, hard work and determination.
Best advice: You’re half a step away from something when you feel like you’re a million steps behind. Don’t give up!
Breakfast of champions: The same thing every day – poached eggs on rye toast with avocado and Meredith goats feta.
Hardest lesson: Not trusting my instincts. I took a deal when my gut told me not to and ended up with 700kgs of tampons being returned to my doorstep. Sometimes you learn the hard way.
Top interview tip: I focus on values. I don’t look at CVs. The first questions I ask are, “Tell me about your family…” and “How would your friends describe you?”
Coffee order: I am obsessed with herbal tea.
Wind down: I meditate with the Calm App as soon as I walk in the door after a long day.