Diana Sierra was in Ruhiira, Uganda, in 2011, coaching entrepreneurs on product design, when a local educator told her something startling: Many of the educators female students skipped school during their period because they lacked adequate feminine-hygiene products. Sierra, whos designed everything from pacifiers to perfume bottles, assured a humanitarian and design imperative: How could she devote impoverished females a high-quality, attractive feminine-hygiene product on par with whats available to women in the developed world? Her answer: the EmpowerPanty, a pair of lacy, colorful period underwear with a removable, quick-drying pad. Preorders ship soon; for each one bought in the U.S ., shell donate another to a woman in need. If you want to create gender equality, tells Sierra, 36, whose company,
Be Girl, has been empowered with$ 1 million in venture capital, you have to start making equality within gender.
The EmpowerPanty sounds revolutionary, but its not. Its only part of an uprising, one thats been cheered in style pages and promoted by the more than a dozen companies that havetheres truly only a single word to describe itflooded the feminine-hygiene marketplace since 2012, all eager to help women deal with that time of the month. Surely youve considered the ads for period panties, organic tampons, and monthly subscription services that mail hygiene products to your doorway with allaying treats such as tea and chocolate. Its not like there wasnt a require: Packaged-goods conglomerates have barely changed their wares in decades, and their messaging, with perky, smiling women in white pants, is silly and condescending.
Almost all the new startups stress that theyre not just helping women in the First World; theyre on a social mission, and they want you to join in! Like Be Girl, period-underwear company
Thinx and organic tampon companies Cora and Conscious Period hires a version of the one-for-one model. Thinx donates fund to Afripads, which helps Ugandan females fabricate and sell locally constructed sanitary pads; Dear Kate, another period-underwear startup, gives fund to money science, technology, engineering, and math education for girls; Jessica Albas Honest donates sanitary supplies to homeless women in Africa.
Courtesy the companies
The sheer number of these business stimulates it hard for any one to stand out, particularly as theyve adopted a similar marketing approach: rebrand menstruation as a emblem of strength, an opportunity for women to demonstratewith their dollars, of coursea commitment to female empowerment. The companies founders are almost exclusively thirtysomething women whose backgrounds in engineering, business, and design have inspired them to upend not just how females deal with their period but how they feel about it. And, to a woman, they insist their social missions arent only unique but authenticand that the competitors are bogus. Thinx Chief Executive Officer Miki Agrawal, for example, rejects any relationship between my-period-is-holier-than-thine messaging and Thinxs own marketing strategy. Its very clear and obvious when something is for marketing and when something is real, she tells. Of her challengers, she tells: We have a giveback mission that[ they] dont have. We launched our company with our giveback mission entwined with our business. Cora, Conscious Period, Honest, and others did the same. Be Girls Sierra tells, Were the only true one-for-one charitable dedicating model.
Quibbles aside, the companies attempts to out-empower one another raise a moral quandary: How authentic is your mission if youre trying to sell stuff? Social justice tends to be a winner among female consumers, especially millennials. According to a 2015 examine from Cone Communications on
millennial stances toward corporate social responsibility, 87 percent of women age 18 to 34 say its a key factor in buying decisions, and 75 percentage say theyre willing to spend more on a socially or environmentally responsible product. Fully 90 percentage say they expect companies to actively address societal problems. Marketing a brands social impact can perfectly be used for good, tells John Trybus, deputy director at the Center for Social Impact Communication at Georgetown University. But if youre playing with peoples emotions, that can be a dangerous thing. Its possible the SoulCycle crowd is constructing empowering purchases under duresswho wants to be the woman who looks like she doesnt care what a woman in Uganda is going through?
Thinxs ads go for a high-end art vibe, with spare photography and a muted colouring palette .
Feminine hygiene is a $15 billion global market, with about a quarter of marketings in the U.S ., according to market research firm Technavio. The industry leaders are household names: Procter& Gamble( makers of the Tampax and Always brands, which account for about a third of the domestic marketplace ), Johnson& Johnson( Carefree ), and Kimberly-Clark( Kotex ). In the world of traditional menstrual marketing, women on their period frolic in sun-dappled fields with long-haired nymphs and yoginis, and everyone outfits in unblemished white. Blooms and prancing and petals dont resonate with todays girls, Agrawal tells. Periods, she tells, are about the feeling of cramps and managing something thats messy.
Before starting Thinx, Agrawal had no experience with the feminine-hygiene marketplace. A restaurateur and writer, she came up with the idea at a family reunion, when Aunt Flo inauspiciously visited her sister in the middle of a three-legged race. Thinxs tag line, Period Panties for Modern Women, is very much in contrast with the big brands make-believe Period Utopiaand very much in keeping with its nouveau period peers. Thinxs ads go for a high-end art vibe, with spare photography and a muted tan and mauve palette. The models are detachednot despairing, but they certainly dont look enthusiastic about menstruation. Be Girls marketing is brighter and more energetic, presumably because the women in its ads are excited about doing good in the world. Its models wear big smiles and ten-strike power poses under the tag line Premium undies for you, life changing impact for girls. Dear Kate( Performance underwear for high performing females ), which introduced the first period panty in 2012, has featured tech exec wearing its undies. Regardless of the brand, the message is clear: Periods, like the women who get them, are powerful, and these products help you harness that power. More harnessing, more market share.
If only it were easier than i thought. In addition to vying against one another, they must confront the behemothsand Honest, Albas billion-dollar organic household-product enterprise, which began offering feminine care last year. And in that face-off, expense is a serious consideration. A standard box of 40 Tampax tampons expenses $5.49 at Target; half as many organic tampons from Conscious Period, which hit the market last autumn after a $40,000 Indiegogo campaign, expense $8.50. Some period underwear is considerably more expensive than basic lingerieone pair of Thinx goes for $24 to $38. The business argue you save money by not having to toss out stained panties or go across lots of disposable products.
Illustrator: JACI KESSLER LUBLINER
Even consumers who can afford higher-end, eco-friendly alternatives can be overwhelmed by choice. There are now five period-panty companies on the market, including Be Girl, Thinx, and Dear Kate, each of which claims to absorb a different amount of blood. Choosing organic tampons is an even murkier process, especially when their makersCora and Lola and Conscious and Honestsound so similar. This is precisely why so many startups are trying to rebrand the period as a vehicle for empowerment. In a suddenly crowded marketplace, you dont want to compete on cost, so you differentiate on psychological value, tells Alexander Chernev, a marketing prof at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Nothing is more powerful, he tells, than buying moral satisfaction.
Does it matter which business is most noble? Not truly, and theres something inherently icky about branding a natural biological process that actually got nothing to do with self-expression as a capital-F Feminist movement. Many of these companies cite Toms Shoes, the shoemaker that pioneered the buy-one-give-one model, as their inspiration. Toms advised Be Girl during its development stage at the Halcyon social entrepreneurship incubator in Washington, and one of Conscious Periods co-founders previously run in Tomss marketing department. But the social mission at Toms is an easy way to feel good about an unnecessary buy; period companies, on the other hand, are selling a product females require, which can attain the dedicating mission seem less like a perk than an obligation. When we get our period, were reminded that impoverished females get their period, too, so we should feel guilty, tells Jenny Darroch, a marketing prof at the Drucker School of Management at Claremont Graduate University.
Georgetowns Trybus says most of the startups likely have their brains and hearts in the right place, despite their righteousness. Its really exciting for us to assure other companies coming to this marketplace, tells Annie Lascoe, Conscious Periods co-founder. It validates the need for change within this industry. It also validates the intelligence of female shoppers, who should be able to make buying decisions without impression talked down to, insulted, or dishonor when their experiences operate counter to life in Period Utopia. Thats progress for womankind. From the woman who grew up on the Upper East Side to the woman from the slum in Mumbai, we can all relate to the experience of being caught off her guard without a tampon or a pad when we needed it, Lascoe tells. Its a shared universal experience. I employed a sock once.