Upsetting the Status Flow: Women Who Are Changing the Period Care Industry
Monthly trips to the drugstore. Plastic waste. The pink tax. Tampons scented with who-knows-what. And let’s not get started on the expense. Whatever your frustrations with the conventional period care industry, you probably feel stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to choosing alternatives to manage your cycle. Luckily, you’re not alone. Thanks to the personal experiences of these female founders, their brands are disrupting the status quo, one ingenious idea at a time. Meet the women changing the period industry (you can thank them later).
First, A Need. Then, A New Way
As someone who suffers from painful cramps during her period, Alyssa Bertram knows intimately the frustration of having to think about going to the store for tampons when she’s not feeling well. She dreamed of having her period care delivered to her door at her own convenience; then, she realized she was on to something. In 2015, after watching her mother survive a precarious health scare, Alyssa decided there was no time like the present to take action. She founded easy., a subscription delivery service for 100 percent organic cotton period products.
“The idea for easy. came from my own complaining,” Alyssa says. “I’m someone who suffers with really painful cramps (working with my naturopath to balance my hormones), and I just wished that someone would deliver my tampons to my door.”
For Lauren Schulte, personal experience was also the impetus behind founding her brand, The Flex Company: Using organic tampons was leaving her with recurrent yeast infections. The vicious cycle was finally broken when a nurse made the connection between Lauren’s tampon use and her health struggle; she refused to write Lauren another prescription for antibiotics unless Lauren promised to switch to a menstrual cup.
After trying more than 30 different menstrual products from all over the globe, Lauren’s frustration grew. Nothing felt innovative, or worked as well as she wanted. “As a woman,” Lauren says, “I’ve felt that innovation has improved every part of my life except for my period. For nearly a century, we’ve had no significant choice in period products. Advertising has conditioned us to believe that there are meaningful differences between competing brands of traditional period products. The reality is that all of those products basically function the same way—without any tangible benefit to the consumer. I’ve learned that branding is the only aspect of period products that has evolved. The lack of variety in period products is frustrating because our data shows that there’s no one ‘right’ option for everyone; our bodies are unique. We deserve better options and more choice.”
The Flex Company was founded upon this idea. As the founder and CEO, Lauren launched the Flex menstrual disc as the creative, effective period care alternative she had been seeking—one that would not only work without worry, but be undetectable while being worn. “The Flex disc sits in the vaginal fornix, the space immediately surrounding the cervix (it covers the cervix somewhat like a shower cap),” explains Jane Hartman Adame´, senior brand strategist of The Flex Company. “This area is much wider, more spongy and is less sensitive than the vaginal canal.” Additionally, Jane notes, because of where it sits in the body, the Flex disc is the only sex-friendly internally worn menstrual product on the market.
Amber Fawson and Cherie Hoeger, co-founders of Saalt Co.—makers of a medical-grade silicone menstrual cup—have heard the word “frustration” all too often in conjunction with periods, as well. “Working in period care, we hear so many stories that break our hearts about people who grew up with no one to talk to about their periods,” Amber says. “Before starting Saalt, we didn’t grasp how common it is for a person to feel alone when dealing with their period. After speaking to enough people with this kind of experience, we wish that the conventional period industry would to drop any messages about being discreet about periods. We are all in favor of being appropriate and considerate with bathroom talk, but not discreet. Being discreet connotes a level of secrecy, and this harms individuals and leaves them feeling in the dark or even shameful about their own bodies and about something as healthy and natural as menstruation.”
Amber and Cherie have made it their mission to disrupt convention and to be open, engaging, honest and supportive in how they discuss menstruation and period care with their customers. Amber adds, “It can be an incredible experience to use an approachable, upfront tone when talking about periods. We are continually amazed at the kind of quality conversations we have with people we are meeting for the first time by taking this approach to period talk.”
Convenient + Conscious Period Care
Convenience, innovation and valuable solutions: Enacting change in the period care industry begins with products that encapsulate all three, but for these women, that doesn’t go far enough. Health needs also to be a factor—the wellness of women, and the health of our planet. Where conventional menstrual products fall short, these brands are filling the void—and making an impact.
Alyssa had women’s health in mind when founding easy.; safe products are at the core of her company’s ethos. “As soon as I began to learn about the lack of transparency in this industry, I started to do my own research about what alternative options were available to me,” she says. “When I learned that there were 100 percent organic cotton options that were free from pesticides, synthetic fibers and bleach, it was a no brainer for me to switch personally and I knew that I would only sell products that I felt safe using. So all of our products at easy. are hypoallergenic and biodegradable and free of plastics.” The result is a convenient solution that won’t harm their users, or the earth, for the sake of that convenience.
For Jordana Kier and Alex Friedman, the phrase “may contain” was enough to start a conversation that led to the founding of their company, Lola. Concern surrounding conventional reproductive and period care is at Lola’s core; it’s why their pads and tampons are made without, according to Lola’s website, “synthetic fibers, chemical additives, fragrance, dyes, chlorine bleach, latex.” To that end, Lola’s tampons are 100 percent organic, GOTS Certified cotton, and can be customized: from preferred absorbency to type of applicator (biodegradable cardboard or BPA-free plastic or non-applicator)—and these standards make them a better option for women than conventional period care.
Being environmentally conscious was also a factor in choosing how to make the Flex menstrual disc. The disc, which can be worn up to 12 hours before being changed, is disposable so women can change it on the go; but, compared to other menstrual products on the market, Jane says, “it generates 60% less waste.”
As consumers are demanding period care products that are more thoughtfully designed, these brand founders are answering the call with products by women, for women—and they’re just getting started.
Ending the Stigma through #SocialMedia + Philanthropy
Not content to just disrupt conventional period care with their products, these brand founders have launched social media campaigns and philanthropic endeavors to end the stigma surrounding menstruation and to draw attention to the effects of such stigmas on a global scale.
In 2016, easy. launched its #NoShame campaign to end the stigma surrounding periods. Using bold images of bodies and blood and copy that begins, “Periods are nothing to be ashamed of. They’re natural,” Alyssa sought to dismantle the shame surrounding menstruation through powerful imagery and engaging messaging. “The #NoShame campaign was our first marketing campaign,” Alyssa shares. “[It was] a series of posters that ran in both men’s and women’s washrooms at 100 locations across Toronto. With this campaign, we really wanted to combat the idea that periods are something shameful or something not to be discussed. We wanted to remind people that periods aren’t just normal and natural but absolutely vital! It’s all a process of reclaiming this experience and celebrating what our bodies do for us rather than making ourselves wrong for this experience.”
Now, in addition to helping to make periods shame-free, easy. has set its sights on fostering a sense of community among women, hosting events (public speaking workshops, for instance) and dinner parties. Easy. is also committed to giving back to those whose lives are adversely affected by their periods.
Still frustrated with the conventional period industry, Alyssa recognizes that there is still much work to be done. “I think lack of access is the biggest thing for me,” she says of her frustrations. “To think that so many girls and women can’t afford to purchase the period products that they need is really upsetting and it’s so inspiring to see all of the tampon drives and amazing initiatives around this issue taking shape. I really think this movement is a testament to the power of speaking up about what you’re going through and refusing to let shame keep you silent.”
To further the cause, easy. donates five percent of all proceeds to the Zana Africa Foundation. “At least 65 percent of Kenyan girls can’t access pads to properly manage their periods,” Alyssa explains. “Zana Africa Foundation works to combat this by supplying pads (to more than 50,000 girls since 2013) along with reproductive health, education that is so crucial.”
For Saalt Co., their #passthesaalt campaign not only spreads the word about the benefits of the menstrual cup, but helps open up the dialogue surrounding menstruation, thus breaking down walls and helping to end the stigma surrounding periods. “Every day we work hard to make Saalt represent the voice of our customers,” Amber shares. “We call them our Saalt Squad. And we live for these people! Our amazing Saalt Squad members help new cup users and answer questions and cheerlead as people learn to use the cup. Our Saalt Squad has helped us launch our 13 charity pilot programs around the globe, where we find local community members to teach about the cup.”
The Squad even brainstorms new ideas. “One of our customers came up with our hashtag #passthesaalt,” says Amber. “Another has volunteered to help us start period positivity in middle schools. For years, many disposable period supply companies have taken the opposite approach, by being so opaque as to not even list ingredients on their boxes. We want to be transparent and upfront about periods, but beyond that, we want people to feel empowered to make the message of period positivity their own. And there is no better way to do that than to let Saalt grow from the voices of our customers.”
In addition, Saalt partners with charity organizations to empower women, and donates menstrual cups to those in need of period care. Since the company launched in February 2018, it has donated more than 2,000 menstrual cups through domestic and international charity partners in the U.S., Nepal, Venezuela, Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Kenya and Uganda.
The Future is Female Owned
As these women continue to change the period industry, making it more transparent and insisting on open, honest conversations and better care, they each have unique ideas on how periods will be cared for in the future.
Flex sees the shift in conventional care as one sign of these changing times. “We’re excited to see more interest in alternative products,” Jane says. “It’s interesting that Tampax has come out with a cup, and we’re happy to see this. We believe in more choices, and making cups more visible is a great benefit for everyone. With Flex products coming to store shelves soon, we’re excited to be a part of this broader movement. Ultimately, being another option in the period aisle will pique the interest of an entirely new audience. We hope to see more conversion from tampons as shoppers realize there are other options out there.”
Jane recognizes that consumers will ultimately drive the trends in period care through their demands (read: with their wallets). “We hope this discovery sparks the desire to ask more of our period products,” she says, “True disruption comes from demand, and more voices are speaking up about period problems. From conversations around period poverty to the tampon tax, to casually discussing menstruation and its associated discomforts, change is finally well on its way.”
And change is coming to Flex, as well. “At The Flex Company, we see period care moving toward empowerment and away from shame. Our company motto is, ‘Choose love over fear,’” Jane says. “We’re working to break the taboo of speaking about periods and ensuing discomforts, because until we can talk about them, we won’t know the problems we need to solve. By sparking conversations and bringing awareness to new and innovative offerings, we aim to give our customers a voice to state their needs and turn their menstrual cycle into a period of self care.”
With menstrual cups going more mainstream, Flex will introduce its own innovative cup to the market in 2019. The cup (previously the Keela cup, designed by Jane and her co-founder Andy Miller and acquired by Flex) seeks to address a hole in the market by making it easier for people of all abilities to use. “The FLEX Cup’s easy to remove design was created to solve a problem I was having, that I knew I wasn’t alone in—menstrual cups can be really hard to remove,” Jane explains. “Cups open up inside of the body and form a seal with the vaginal wall to prevent leaks. To remove a conventional cup, you can’t just pull on the stem. The wearer has to wedge a finger between the cup and the vaginal wall to release the seal, which can be challenging to do, even for able-bodied people.”
Jane continues, “For myself and millions of disabled menstruators, this challenge is a show stopper. Together with Andy Miller, our head of R&D, we designed a cup that has a soft ReleaseRing in place of the traditional stiff stem, which aids in removal. This piece attaches to the top rim of the cup so when the ReleaseRing is pulled, the side of the cup indents. This releases the suction and allows for the cup to be removed similarly to a tampon. Our goal with Flex Cup is to bridge the gap between tampons and cups, so more people can enjoy using them.”
For Alyssa, the success of easy. is centered on community, which will continue to be a touchstone for the brand. “Truly, I’m most proud of the community it’s created. I always had a vision for a community of women, in particular, that was built around transparency and a desire to be better and be vulnerable while doing it. The values of the brand have really attracted the most beautiful community of women that I’m so grateful for,” she says. “Being an e-commerce business, I really wanted the opportunity to be in person with our audience and have the chance to connect in a more intimate way. Our dinner parties and workshops have created the most warm, safe environment for some really honest and open discussions. It’s incredible what can take place when you create a safe space for people to share.”
As Saalt continues to grow, Cherie and Amber want adolescents who identify as female to get to know and be comfortable in their bodies. “We need adolescents who are leaders,” Amber says. “We need students who talk about periods in simple, upfront tones and who use proper terms like vulva and vagina and labia and cervix.” She continues, “So many times, the person who starts a conversation sets the tone. By simply talking about periods in a tone that carries no shock or shame, teens will find it so much easier to feel proud about their bodies. They can also begin to learn about the hormone cycles that go with periods and can be much more understanding with themselves as they feel different emotions and physical symptoms throughout their full cycle.”
Amber knows trusted adults play a crucial role in helping to dismantle period stigma on a go-forward. “We’ve also spoken with OBGYNs who say that one of the biggest wins for feeling comfortable about periods is to understand the anatomy of menstruation,” she shares. “First, find a trusted adult who can answer any questions you have. Then get to know the landscape! This is important. Watch a quick video and learn about the muscular canal that is your vagina. Learn about your cervix and that it is the protective tip of your uterus. Wash your hands and insert one or two fingers into your vaginal canal to find the tip of your cervix. It is important to take ownership for your own health, and feel empowered to speak up if something does not seem normal or right.”
Ending the silence surrounding menstruation, driving innovations in period care, fostering community and donating to charities who support providing period care to those in need: The period care industry is getting a makeover from these women and their brands—and we couldn’t be more excited about the future being female owned.
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