At only 26 Aimee Marks is a dame that seriously makes shit happen. In 2009 (and at only 21 years of age) she launched TOM organic. (TOM stands for Time of the month.) TOM are Australia’s leading feminine hygiene products. Aimee now has six people who work for her and the business is growing at a rapid rate. She founded TOM on the philosophy that women should never have to compromise the health and well being of our bodies or our planet. Not a bad philosophy at all.
Aimee lives in Melbourne with her husband (they tied the knot in April this year) and her black labs.
We are super thrilled to be able to pick this young guns brain.
Where did the idea for TOM organic come from?
It started out like any business idea, solving a problem, I was eighteen and I was tired of my tampons falling out in my handbag all the time and I wanted to redesign conventional packaging, but as soon as I hit the ingredients list everything changed. When you ask the question, what’s in your tampon? Most people don’t actually know the answer! Nearly all conventional products are made with synthetic fibres like rayon, polypropylene (plastic) “silky smooth” covers and conventional cotton which is one of the most heavily pesticide sprayed and genetically modified crops on the planet! We’re talking about a product that goes into one of the most absorbent parts of our body and we use up to 12,000 of them in our lifetime! I knew that I had create an alternative, not just for myself but for women everywhere, and choosing organic cotton meant there was no compromising on our health or the planet.
What was the first thing you needed to do in order to make this idea into a reality?
I needed to find someone to make them for me! I spent years researching and product testing to come up with a product that was completely chemical free, safe and that worked! Securing supply was certainly one of the biggest challenges in the early days, especially because I was starting out with no large distribution on board, getting the volumes that I could work with was a negotiation! I studied entrepreneurship at RMIT so I knew what I needed to do to get the business side of things up and running and I’ve always been a designer at heart, so designing the brand and the packaging was certainly one of the most hands-on fun parts for me. I knew that I could make it happen, I just had to convince everyone else!
Five years. I had the idea when I was 18, so that was 2004 and the brand was launched in 2009. I spent the years in between at RMIT in my entrepreneurship degree where I formed my business plan and developed the brand, from there we launched officially in 2009 into smaller retailers like health food stores and pharmacies and we launched into Woolworths in 2012 and then Coles earlier this year.
What do you find the most challenging thing about running your own company?
At this stage in the business, it’s prioritising opportunities. There are so many people, products, markets and opportunities about where the brand goes from here. It’s about learning how to strip it back and making sure you do it right. TOM is such an agile, fast moving, evolving company sometimes it can be challenging to hear your own thoughts and listen to your instinct amongst all the noise.
Definitely helping shape the people and community around a brand, I’ve built a company culture that I am so proud to be part of. And knowing that we are contributing to genuine change in the world through he products that we offer.
What are your goals and dreams for TOM?
Our objective has always been for every woman, everywhere to know about and have access to chemical free personal care products, and we are still very much at the beginning of the journey as far as education goes. We’re on a quest to educate and spread awareness about health and wellbeing and we want women to share their stories.
What does it feel like when you see your products on the shelves?
The first time I saw it on the shelf at Woolworths I was so excited, we worked so hard to make that happen and it was incredible to see it all pay off. Even today it’s still surreal to see something that I built from the ground up on the shelf of a supermarket! It’s always an amazing feeling to be standing in the aisle when someone picks up a pack and drops it in the trolley (is it creepy that I stand there and watch people do that!?!)
What are the three main tips or bits of advice you have for women wanting to start up their own business?
1. Never compromise on your own values, you have to believe 100% that no one knows your idea or company better than you.
2. Seek out great mentors, I have had some incredibly inspiring women in business help me out along the way, remember that you don’t know everything and there are people who have been there and done it before you, so use them!
3. You need some serious determination. It’s a cliché but it’s true. You have to have the drive to keep going no matter what, no matter how many roadblocks come your way. I never let a “no” stand in my way. Ever. Woolworths knocked me back multiple times before they finally said yes, and everyone told me I wouldn’t get a second chance to meet with them. They were wrong – and it’s now one of our strongest and proudest retailer relationships
Thank you Aimee for sharing about how you bought your baby (TOM organic) to live… We wish you the word of luck and congratulations of running such a meaningly and helpful company.
To read more about TOM organic click here.