Considering half the population deals with it on a monthly basis, it might be shocking to learn that there has been little innovation around period products since the 1930s – when the modern-day tampon was launched. For years, menstruation was a taboo subject, with advertising featuring adventurous women in white pants riding horses on the…
Considering half the population deals with it on a monthly basis, it might be shocking to learn that there has been little innovation around period products since the 1930s – when the modern-day tampon was launched.
For years, menstruation was a taboo subject, with advertising featuring adventurous women in white pants riding horses on the beach or blue liquid poured on to a sanitary towels.
But that’s finally changing.
From a body-positive blogger sharing an honest photo of PMS bloating on Instagram to a runner completing the London Marathon during her period without wearing a tampon or pad, there’s been a spike in menstrual activism over the last couple of years.
Now, a flurry of forward-thinking start-ups are jumping on the bandwagon with the aim of changing the way women think and feel about their periods – and they’re cashing in.
Kristy Chong, 40, the founder of Modibodi, an Australian period pants brand, told The Independent : “I was in training for a marathon after the birth of my second child, when I started to experience some light bladder leaks and realised my underwear was failing me.
“As a woman, it got me thinking about all the times that our underwear failed us, whether it was sweaty knickers on a hot day or periods overflow – and that’s how the idea of Modibodi was born.”
Modibodi is billed as “highly technical underwear” aimed at modern women with a fearless take on “making our ‘unmentionables’ absolutely mentionable”.
The reusable pants are 3mm thick and can hold up to 20ml of blood, or two tampons worth of liquid depending on the style you opt for. Essentially, it replaces the need for disposable panty liners in an arguably cheaper and more environmentally friendly way.
Since its launch in 2013, it has grown exponentially. The company has quadrupled its sales and is expected to turn over $10m (£7.8m) this financial year.
Following the brand’s success in Australia and the US, it launched a UK website this year.
According to Kirsty, the period-positive movement means companies can no longer ignore half the population’s need for eco-friendly, functional and accessible sanitary products.
Modibodi’s reusable pants don’t come cheap at £18 to £21.50 a pair. But considering the average women in the UK spends around £150 per year on sanitary protection, it might be a a money-savvy option in the long run.
According to a report from Euromonitor, an “increasing awareness around ethical and environmental issues is driving the rise in mindful consumption” when it comes to the feminine care industry.
Just as consumers are becoming more conscious about the food they eat, there is a growing trend to question the make-up of the intimate products they use during menstruation.
Euromonitor wrote: “With an increased focus on transparency in ingredients and consumers’ impact on the environment, organic sanitary protection brands marketed as natural and sustainable have become a growing trend.”
This might be why most of the new alternative products on the femcare market also pride themselves on their eco-friendly values.
Maria Borland, the CEO of Thinx, another brand of sustainable washable period pants, said: “Period-solutions companies are responsible for a tremendous amount of global waste and landfill pollution.
“More than 12 billion pads and tampons are thrown out each year, with the average person with a period using more than 11,000 pads, tampons and panty-liners in their lifetime. This is roughly 275lbs of landfill pollution – per person.”
Thinx pants, which sell for £26 a pair, are made with a patented four-layer technology, including moisture-wicking cotton, anti-microbial lining, a leak-resistant barrier and super-absorbent fabric.
Mrs Borland recognises that her product can be costly at first but describes it as an investment over time. She said: “The more we discuss menstruation and spread awareness, the less taboo it becomes.
“As a result, we’ve also been able to start spreading awareness and addressing issues like period poverty, or the inability to access menstrual hygiene products, and working toward our overall mission of menstrual equity.
“It’s absolutely crucial to keep talking to each other about menstrual health and its encompassing issues – we’ve made too progress much to stop now.”
Callaly tampliners – a cross between a tampon and a liner – also launched in the UK in February this year. Designed by gynaecologist Alex Hooi, the brand prides itself on its sterilised products made of 100 per cent organic cotton.
A box of its tampliners costs £7. The brand also donates tens of thousands of period products to charities including Bloody Good Period, The Red Box Project and Women’s Aid among others.
Mr Hooi told The Independent: “We sterilise our tampliners to medical standards. This isn’t required by law, but we want to make sure our tampliners are as safe and hygienic as they can possibly be.”
He added: “Yes, it’s expensive but we know that our customers would prefer to pay slightly more for products that don’t compromise their health or the planet, and that are better quality. We also offer 15 per cent off for students.”
Since securing a £1m innovation loan from the government, the team behind Callaly has been working on “ground-breaking automated machinery”, which will help them scale up production and meet demand for up to 5 million tampliners a year.
Other firms, such as Flo, are trying to achieve something much simpler – bringing organic period products to the mass market in the UK, a decade after similar products became commonplace in the US.
Flo tampons, disguised as ice-cream tubs, come in a box of 14 comprising eight regular size and six super size.
They are made from biodegradable, hypoallergenic, 100 per cent organic cotton and are free from chemicals.
Speaking to The Independent last year, the brand’s founder Tara Chandra, 30, said: “I wanted to make it simple so women would just need one pack.”
The pack cost about £3.69 – only 20 per cent more than non-organic brands, according to Ms Chandra.
The company also launched Flo-matic for £4.99 per month, providing more choice for women looking to save money on their tampons.
Despite the growing popularity of these products, Procter & Gamble-owned Always and Tampax continue to dominate the femcare market, which is worth more than $3bn (£2.28bn) in the US and about £338m in the UK, according to Euromonitor.
Still, the rise of this open dialogue about period is slowly translating into marketing, and many more brands are embracing the idea of breaking taboos while women are finally getting more choice.
Hemang Patel, founder of BeYou, the brand behind new period cramp relief patches, said: “There are a lot more women entrepreneurs nowadays, so naturally more women-centric products.
“There was always a market (and appetite) for these products, but there was a lack of supply! Then, of course with more products and startups come more ad campaigns and awareness.”