While acting was Saskia Hampele’s first love, the small screen didn’t feel like a viable career path growing up in Perth in the ’90s. Instead, a desire to help others led to a university degree in social work and subsequent employment in youth and homelessness services.
Television, though, came calling again, and when the offer of a regular gig on Neighbours arose in 2012, Hampele grabbed it with both hands and spent three years on Ramsay Street. Seeking a way to combine both careers and use her newly elevated profile to give back, Hampele launched Gift Box Organic in early 2017 through a crowdfunding campaign. The initiative provides homeless women with access to safe feminine hygiene, working to address the fact that more than 1.1 million Australian women live in poverty and struggle to afford sanitary products each month. In just over two years since the project’s launch, more than 12,000 women have been positively impacted through Hampele’s tireless work.
INSTYLE: You have an unusual background for a professional actor. How do acting and social justice intersect?
SASKIA HAMPELE: Being an actor requires you to look inwards a lot, focusing on yourself and what you can achieve as an individual. I’ve [often] felt awkward about that aspect and [have] never been that great at selling myself or talking myself up. I’ve always felt [a] sense that the world can be a brutal and unfair place, and that we as a community can be doing more to support those less fortunate. I’d like to think I’m doing my own little part in making a difference in the world.
What gave you the idea to start your business? After a three-year stint on Neighbours, I made the move to LA, which in many aspects is a very self-absorbed and superficial place. This stirred a desire in me to do something with my time that gave back. I became aware of the lack of access to sanitary items for the homeless community, and in a pursuit to create a small change in the injustices of the world, I founded Gift Box Organic.
How does the project work? [It’s] a social enterprise providing homeless women in Australia with free sanitary care. For every box of organic tampons sold [via the website giftboxorganic.com], a box is donated to a woman in need: one for one.
What is your goal for Gift Box Organic? As women, we all know how distressing it can be to find yourself without a tampon. And, for many women, choosing between food and tampons, or using makeshift items like socks and newspaper is a reality. The goal is to create a sustainable support model that ensures no woman has to go without sanitary products.
What do you want Australians to understand about homelessness in this country? I wish people would take the time to connect more with our homeless community. In some ways, a lot of us are just a bad decision, lost job, or housing eviction away from homelessness. It can happen to anyone, and just because people find themselves in this predicament, it doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the dignity and respect afforded to others. It’s a really hard situation to get out of, [so] sometimes asking a homeless person what they need can help turn their day around.
What has been the most fulfilling thing to come out of the initiative for you, personally? I’ve learned so much over the past couple of years. I started Gift Box Organic without any real business know-how. I had to learn fast and push past a lot of self-doubt and criticism. While I still don’t know it all, I’m proud of what I’ve created and that I am making a difference to women throughout the country. And the most challenging part? Probably the hardest thing right now is balancing running [the business] with my acting career. I spent almost five months in WA last year working on a new ABC [TV] show, The Heights, and would get home from set and frantically respond to emails, jump on planes to the east coast to attend events, and [also] check in with the Melbourne Period Project, who employs homeless women to pack our tampons
Who inspires you and why? I’m inspired by women who speak their truth—no matter how hard it might be. Recently I’ve been inspired by Emma González, Christine Blasey Ford, Yael Stone and Yumi Stynes.
What is your best piece of advice for women who wish to follow in your path and start their own business? Don’t overthink it. Start simple, know why you’re doing it and what gives you that fire in your belly. If you aren’t passionate, chances are you won’t have the drive to follow through.
What would you tell your younger self? Don’t worry so much. You’re going to succeed beyond your dreams and everything will turn out okay