By Shayna Fowler ’18
Saying ‘not yet’ to college
“I need to tell you something.” My dad furrowed his brow and straightened his spine against the back of his chair.
“Okay?” He sounded more curious than concerned.
I took a breath so deep it felt as though I’d sucked all available oxygen out of our living room. “I’m not going to college. Well, not yet.” Immediately, I searched his face for clues. Was he confused, upset, in denial? Unfortunately, my dad has an incredible poker face.
“Tell me more,” he smiled.
I sprung into a well-rehearsed pitch about a gap year program in Kenya. We would be there for ten months—me and a few other eighteen to twenty-somethings. I could work in local schools and children’s prisons and even travel to Uganda and South Sudan. “I need to see the world. I need to experience another culture. Then I’ll go to college. I promise.”
“I think you should do it.” He tried to interject but I continued rambling.
“Dad, the United States is one of the only countries in the world where students aren’t encouraged to take a gap year.”
“I think you should do it,” he repeated.
“All of Europe, most of Australia . . . ” I was interrupted by laughter.
“Shayna, did you hear me? I think you should do it!”
And so, at eighteen-years-old I graduated high school, packed a suitcase, and moved to East Africa.
Kaimosi is a small Kenyan village with lush tea fields tucked between the mountains. Down the street from my house was secondary school brimming with students eager to teach a Mzungu (white person) Swahili. There, I met a brilliant, sixteen-year-old girl named Esther. I had no idea she would change the trajectory of my life.
After noticing Esther’s perpetual absence, local leaders informed me she missed an entire week of school every month because she could not access or afford feminine hygiene products. Her inability to manage menstruation was depriving her of an education, which would likely affect future employment and widen the chasm of equal opportunity among men and women.
Esther’s story is far too common. In fact, without a solution to manage monthly cycles, over 8 million girls will miss school this year because of something that is entirely out of their control. Many girls drop out altogether once they start their menstruating. In countries where women cannot access or afford sanitary products, they use rags, leaves, or mud to stop the bleeding. Of course, this leads to severe discomfort and even infection.
“What if girls were gifted feminine hygiene products?” I asked a group of NGO workers and teachers.
A lady with smooth skin and kind eyes chimed in. “Well, a menstrual cup or tampon would violate the cultural concept of virginity. It would have to be a disposable or reusable pad. But we’re realizing most of our girls do not even have underwear. In a skirt culture, without something for the pads to stick to or snap under, donations are meaningless.” Silence surrounded us. It all felt so impossible. Then, an idea.
“What if a pair of underwear was engineered to absorb monthly cycles and be worn regularly when students aren’t menstruating? Could something as simple as a period-proof panty keep girls in school?”
Her eyes widened. “I think so.”
Panties as the solution
At Khana, we are on a mission to develop the world’s most powerful pair of panties. Here’s how it works.
Step 1: Buy a Pair, Give a Pair
It all begins with the customer. For every pair of panties sold in the United States, a pair is given to a girl in need through collaboration with our Ugandan giving partners. However, the panties sold in the U.S. and the panties we give are intentionally different. While in this country, women likely have access to feminine hygiene products, most girls in Uganda don’t. Women in the U.S. need an absurdly comfortable, ethically produced, bikini-cut panty. Girls in Uganda need a period-proof panty.
Step 2: Develop + Distribute
Khana is committed to producing 100% of our Giving Panties in the regions receiving them to create local jobs and contribute to economic sustainability. Once the most powerful pair of panties for Uganda are developed and tested, our giving partners will distribute them directly to schools. Eventually, this is a model we hope to scale across the globe. What does a woman in sub-zero Estonia need her underwear to do? Is it something different than a student in sweltering Uganda? We are excited to find out how to best meet the needs of women around the world while creating jobs along the way!
Step 3: Review + Repeat
We are committed to giving responsibly and sustainably. We will continually assess the impact of our giving through partner feedback, site visits, and commissioned field studies. Then we will adapt to make it more effective.
What’s next for Khana Panties?
Not only did a degree in Entrepreneurship from North Central University connect me with Ugandans who now serve as business partners (I met our giving partners, an organization called Mission: Moving Mountains (M:MM) on a trip to Uganda with North Central’s School of Business), it also equipped me to start the business of my dreams while I was still in school.
During my senior year of college I started laying the groundwork for Khana. Every class was immediately relevant, not for the business I would start someday, but the business I was building in my apartment as a student. Professors lent me their expertise in classrooms and coffee shops, and they made sure every assignment was directly applicable. I did more presentations on Khana than anything else. Though I am grateful for the gap year I took that exposed me to the global need for underwear, I would not be equipped to meet that need without my degree from North Central.
I graduated from North Central in May of 2018, and after driving from Minneapolis to Columbus, Ohio, and moving all of my belongings into the basement, my parents were generous enough to give me the keys to their old minivan. It is silver and rusted and has logged 200,000 miles. I have no idea what I would do without it.
I somehow convinced a few friends to pile into my new-to-me minivan with camera lights, coolers, and multiple air mattresses. After six hours we were in Chicago, where Alex Ry, Khana’s Brand Director lives. We all sat cross-legged on the floor and mapped out the details for our Kickstarter campaign shoot—the platform which will enable us to crowdsource enough money to launch our first line of bikini-cut panties for the United States in September.
It was an unbelievable experience and we cannot wait to share it with you. Until then, we would love to stay connected! Get behind the scenes updates in our monthly newsletter by signing up at khanapanties.com, and follow us on social media @KhanaPanties.
Cheers to developing the world’s most powerful pair of panties together!
Shayna Fowler ’18 studied Entrepreneurship in the NCU College of Business and Technology. She was selected as one of Praxis Academy’s 2018 Emerging Founders, “a summer-long immersion for top next-generation entrepreneurs in the early stage of building redemptive ventures” (Praxislabs.org). Shayna is pictured above (left) with Khana’s brand director, Alex Rybarczyk.