The home-cultured menstrual sponge
fomu, the home-cultured menstrual sponge, is the fictitious idea of a reusable menstrual product made from bacterial cellulose. Through a fermentative process with a cellulose-forming bacterium, the bacterial cellulose is cultivated, growing into a three-dimensional foam structure. The resulting by-products are either fed back into previous processes or are used for disinfection and storage of the sponges.
In addition to selling the fomu sponges, an online platform for fomu provides instructions and information about menstruation and its contemporary issues, an applicator set for uncomplicated use on the go, and a set plus materials for culturing the fomu sponges at home.
The fomu – the home-cultured menstrual sponge project that serves to not only cultivate healthy discourse towards the destigmatization of menstruation processes, but also, as a tool that attempts to break a historically damaging, oppressive cycle of predatory capitalism within the realm of essential menstrual products.
full concept text
Menstruation is still regarded by many as a somewhat taboo subject. Aside from the negative single-use item environmental-impacts of commonplace tampons and pads, many people still associate shame and disgust with the process of menstruation even with their own bodies. Adding to this, common products have observed widespread adverse reactions pertaining to physical discomfort and psychological stress.
Further, a predatory capitalist system is framed upon the user-group’s essential reliance on these products; the taxes on these products have been historically lowered, and consequentially, corporations have increased retail values. Progressively, menstruating people are exploring alternatives.
However, the working consensus of currently available alternative menstrual products stands at a cross-road of uncertainty, addled with mixed-reviews. Often cited are issues concerning comfort and user-friendliness—albeit, there can be no sweeping solution to such remarks, as an endless variety of different body-types are concerned. Therefore, the fomu sponge does not attest as a ‘be-all end-all solution’ to the problems at hand, rather it posits an alternative fictitious scenario that implies an open discourse on the topic of menstruation, as well as providing another option to further diversify the current field of, largely preferential, menstrual product alternatives.
On the first level, the fomu sponge is sold via a multifaceted online platform. Said platform provides the fomu sponge, disinfectant and an applicator system for use on-the-go.
For the production of the fomu sponge, a mannitol-based nutrient medium is inoculated with a Gluconacetobacter xylinus culture in a fermentative process based on the experiments from ETH Zurich, and foamed with a foam-supporting additive, which is then poured into a mould. Due to the inclusion of air within the foam, the bacterial cellulose grows into an open-cell cellulose sponge within seven days.
In the fermentation process, the grown bacterial strain, which after the water cleaning process, may act as a starter again for new fomu sponges. Acetic acid, which after a boiling process, may serve as a disinfectant and storage medium for the common user, as well as distributors (such as zero-waste shops).
During usage, the soaked fomu sponge must be removed and rinsed with clear cold water to prevent the blood from clotting. Then, it is rinsed with warm water, squeezed out and reinserted. At the end of the period, this must be boiled and stored in the disinfectant solution. It can be used for at least three cycles.
Since the cleaning of the sponges proves to be difficult on-the-go, the applicator set can be used. Applicator sleeves are taken along with clean fomu sponges and an empty applicator sleeve with a pen in the leak-proof transport sleeves. If the fomu sponge must be changed, it is removed from the ring, pulled onto the empty tube with the pen, and stowed in the transport tube. The applicator, with the fresh fomu sponge, is now removed and applied with the pen. The new empty tube with the pin is now used to pull on the next used fomu sponge.
On the second level, fomu provides a starter culture, nutrient and foam media, a foam kit, and the casting mold for a home-culture process.
The foam kit consists of two storage boxes for the nutrient and foam media in tablet form, and, a shaker sieve, which is then screwed onto standard jam-jars in order to foam up the medium previously inoculated with a starter culture. Alternatively, one can use existing common kitchen tools or borrow them from other sources.
After the foam medium has been allowed to grow in the mould, the DIY fomu sponge is removed from the mould and its starter germs are cut-off. For each manufactured fomu sponge, two new starters for experimenting and sharing are included. Here, too, the washed-out acetic acid serves as a starter and storage medium.
On the third and final level, fomu provides dynamic outreach in recipes, instructions, talks, and info blogs regarding the development of its products, as well as invoking narratives that further destigmatize menstruation. The product range is to be further researched and developed through the exchange of ideas with the community and other actors. In addition, in the event of defects or product updates, articles that have already been used can be returned to fomu for a discount or exchange.