This week on Girlboss, we're doing a deep dive on the ways that periods bleed into the workplace. Why is walking into a bathroom stall with a tampon shoved up your sleeve still the norm? Why don't we have paid menstrual leave yet? Aunt Flo, the red river, the crimson wave, that time of the month—whatever you call it, we're talking about it. It's about time we all Go With the Flow.
If you want to know what the future of the period industry looks like, just ask these 29 changemakers. From CEOs and founders of the leading period product companies to period activists (and even a period painter), we asked them to sound off on menstrual education, inclusivity, sustainability and accessibility. Here’s what they had to say:
How she’s disrupting the status quo: “August is made for anyone who menstruates, regardless of gender. As a personal care brand, we’re also trying to push the standard of how brands should commit to sustainability and ethicality in our supply chain.”
The modern menstrual movement is: No tampon tax. “The majority of U.S. states have a sales tax on period products considering them a non-essential good. If you order from August in one of those states, your order will be tax free. We're also gearing up to launch a campaign to highlight how food stamps cover some personal hygiene items but not period products.” Learn more about their initiatives on their Impact page..
What still needs to change: “It's 2022, and periods are still a topic that most people whisper about. Menstruation is such a natural and powerful experience, and we should all feel empowered to ask the questions we have about period health. I'd like to see the conversation around periods become more inclusive, intersectional and bold in how we can show up and talk about it publicly.”
Founder and CEO of Diva International Inc.
How she’s disrupting the status quo: By introducing the first menstrual cup to enter the mass retail market. That was 20 years ago, and now, Diva has continued to break barriers with their documentary about period poverty, their Divarecycled program with Terracycle and being one of the few companies to offer paid menstrual leave.
The modern menstrual movement is: An open conversation. “Speaking freely about periods, a life-giving bodily function, has been systemically silenced for generations. The insidious implications of this stigma mean that there are very serious inequalities tied to menstruation that go by unnoticed, unreported and underserved. We need to be actively and loudly discussing periods to break down these stigmas, so we can fully analyze, appreciate and restructure our society’s treatment of them.”
What still needs to change: “We have a robust impact program that is focused on the four key issues we see facing those who menstruate: Gender equity, empowerment, and liberation; Environmental stewardship, ensuring responsible use and protection of the planet; Menstrual, reproductive and sexual health care; Access to safe and affordable menstrual products.”
Founder and executive director of non-profit organization Help a Girl Out
How she’s disrupting the status quo: By working to eliminate period poverty in first and third-world countries through consistent access, education and empowerment. In the past year, they’ve launched a successful pilot project sewing 5,000 reusable pads.
The modern menstrual movement is: Genderless. “I’d love to see more men involved in the conversation. A lot of them are still so clueless about menstruation and how to address/discuss it. It still makes them uncomfortable. We all came from a uterus, so we all should be involved. Plus, the stigma usually stems from us hiding our periods from men, so if they’re more comfortable with it then we will be, too.”
What still needs to change: “The disruption of our education. I can’t tell you how many classes I’ve missed due to the lack of menstrual products, or sat in while enduring excruciating pain. We need doctors to take us seriously when we describe our symptoms and provide a solution outside of birth control, and we need access to menstrual products (even if it’s just the crappy disposable ones for now—better than tissue) in public spaces.”
Founder and CEO of Aunt Flow
How she’s disrupting the status quo: By making quality period products free and accessible in public restrooms. “Toilet paper is offered for free, so why aren’t tampons and pads? Who carries quarters around, anyway?”
The modern menstrual movement is: Inclusive, especially when it comes to terminology. “What does ‘feminine hygiene product’ even mean? The vagueness of the phrase perpetuates the taboo of periods and alienates transgender and non-binary people. Call it what it is. Menstruation should be an inclusive conversation, for all menstruators.”
What still needs to change: “Most folks don’t speak up and ask for free period products. The largest barrier (with a simple solution) is advocating for free period products at your workplace, favorite sports stadiums, gym and schools. Want some help? Check out Aunt Flow’s advocacy resources here.”
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Jasmine Alicia Carter
Period artist, founder of Menstrual Art Movement
How she’s disrupting the status quo: By creating art with her own period blood. “My vagina and my period blood became like wetness and water: inseparable. The more I learned to embrace one, the more the relationship with the other would become stronger.I healed a lot of my period pain through painting with my blood.”
The modern menstrual movement is: Realistic. “I want to see more real, raw period blood on Google—not flowers, glitters and rainbows. We don’t need to sugarcoat what is true and real. It creates such massive distortion and perpetuates the conditioning that blood is something to hide.”
What still needs to change: “Lack of inclusivity, lack of dignity, lack of education and lack of care regarding periods. Women face discrimination, harassment and are looked down upon because of menstruation, as it is seen as a form of weakness rather than a necessary biological function. Also, there are bathrooms in developing countries that are not built with feminine needs in mind. Many portable restrooms that are built in rural communities are designed solely to keep fecal matter out of the water supply and are not accommodating to pregnant or menstruating women.”
Simone Godbout, Kiara Botha, Nadia Ladak and Harit Sohal
Founders of Marlow
How they’re disrupting the status quo: Redesigning the tampon (which hasn’t been changed in 89 years) for a smoother and more comfortable application. “We’re done hacking our way with the bare minimum by spitting on tampons, applying vaseline and doing other arts and crafts in the bathroom stall just to get a tampon in.” The tampons—which come with lubricant—are made from 100% organic cotton, and have a plant-based applicator and compostable wrapper.
The modern menstrual movement is: A safe space. “Our goal is to change ‘The Talk’ for the next generation from uncomfortable to refreshing. As menstruators ourselves, we know how ridiculous it is that menstruation is a subject steeped in whispers and misinformation, and we’re determined to change that. At Marlow, we foster a welcoming, supportive, and curious community which has allowed conversations about menstrual and sexual health to flourish.”
What still needs to change: “Menstrual equity, or the lack thereof. An often overlooked yet integral part of menstrual equity also includes the ability to access reliable, inclusive and shame-free education. A lack of education can lead to people living their lives in shame, disregarding their symptoms and going undiagnosed for extended periods because they disregard their pain as “normal.”
Maria Molland Selby
CEO of Thinx
How she’s disrupting the status quo: “Prior to Thinx, there had been little to no innovation in period care since the 1930s. In 2015, when we launched our first subway campaign, the ads were initially rejected for being ‘too graphic.’ But now, here we are in 2022, living in a world where we finally are showing ‘blood’ in period commercials, instead of blue liquid, and scenes about menstruation are prominently part of movies and TV shows. I truly believe that Thinx helped lay the groundwork for open, unabashed conversations about periods that normalize the experience.”
The modern menstrual movement is: Taught in school. “Students find the formal education around periods inadequate, and many felt unprepared before their first periods as a result of lack of communication. They end up being uncomfortable talking about periods with their peers, family, teachers and loved ones.”
What still needs to change: “Before the pandemic, schools, prisons and public restrooms overwhelmingly failed to adequately provide pads and tampons, leaving a large sector of the population to confront a public health issue with profound consequences: physical health risks, social and psychological effects, and for students in particular, educational fallout. With many of these establishments closed or offering limiting hours, the pandemic has deepened this access gap even further.”
Founder and CEO of The Honey Pot
How she’s disrupting the status quo: “We are on a mission to broaden the definitions about who menstruates, while providing our humans with the products they need to to develop their vaginal wellness routines. We’ve created a space where our community can be seen, heard and catered to, in an industry that is often tainted with traditional gender based norms.”
The modern menstrual movement is: Comprehensive. “It really starts with awareness and education—naming the anatomical body parts, broadening the notions around who menstruates and also, inviting in conversations around different experiences when bleeding. While periods are a shared cyclical experience, they vary quite dramatically from human to human.”
What still needs to change: “Both the lack of education and the consistent stigma surrounding vaginal care are barriers to humans that menstruate.”
Lauren Schulte Wang
Founder and CEO of Flex
How she’s disrupting the status quo: “As the only company in the world that sells both disposable and reusable menstrual discs, in addition to menstrual cups, we are thoughtfully designing solutions that provide comfortable options for all people with periods. We were also the first company to get YouTube, Instagram and Facebook to change their internal policies and allow red blood to be shown on their platforms, and successfully pushed through policy changes at many streaming services, like Amazon, to allow for the word ‘vagina’ to be used in TV commercials.”
The modern menstrual movement is: Not something to hate. “I often hear that people hate their period; they feel uncomfortable, have cramps, leaking, bloating and odors that prohibit them from living their best life and doing everyday activities like run, swim and have sex while on their period. What breaks my heart is that it’s not always about our periods and our bodies, it’s often about the products we’re using. To hate your period is to hate almost a quarter of every year you menstruate. That’s a lot of time to be down on your body.”
What still needs to change: “Companies need to secure the FDA registrations and work within the boundaries of existing material sciences to innovate the products that are on shelves today. We continue to seek out new materials for more sustainable solutions that are better for menstruators’ bodies, wallets and the planet.”.
Founder of nixit
How she’s disrupting the status quo: By designing a revolutionary one-size-fits-all menstrual cup that is easier to insert and holds more liquid. “We’re encouraging people to really connect with their cycle and make informed decisions about the products they’re using.”
The modern menstrual movement is: Treated the same as physical or mental health. "Whether you have the flu or your period, how you are feeling should be respected. Periods are not gross, unhygienic or something to be ashamed of, and we’ll do everything in our power to destigmatize them. Destigmatizing periods will positively impact people’s overall health, access to adequate healthcare and relationships to their bodies.”
What still needs to change: “Lack of access, be it to quality period products, accurate education, stigma-free spaces or conversations, significantly prevents people from experiencing dignified periods. Menstrual equity is still an international problem that impacts so many, even here in the western world.”
Taran and Bunny Ghatrora
Founders and CEOs of Blume
How they’re disrupting the status quo: “At Blume, we're all about education and creating a safe space for totally normal experiences like periods, sex ed, acne and puberty.” Their Cloud 9 Cramp Oil, and organic tampons and pads are must-haves in your period arsenal.
The modern menstrual movement is: Educational. “When young people are learning about periods and the changes their bodies are going through for the first time, that education needs to be done in a positive and uplifting manner. Whether these conversations are happening at schools or at home, the way we approach them should mitigate any shame and stigma.”
What still needs to change: “Lack of access to menstrual products is still a barrier menstruating people face today—whether that’s in developing countries around the world, in rural parts of North America or at schools and workplaces where period products are not easily accessible, or the cost of period products is too high.”
Founder and CEO of Modibodi
How she’s disrupting the status quo: “At Modibodi we are helping people with all kinds of leaky bodies get on with their lives. Our Give A Pair program helps people who menstruate gain access to sustainable menstruation options, supporting those in need that can’t access period products. Most recently, we teamed up with sportswear brand PUMA to launch a range of leak-proof period underwear and activewear, to help women stay in sport, as studies have shown that girls’ participation in sport drops from 69% (ages 11-12) to 45% (ages 13-15).”
The modern menstrual movement is: Loud and proud. “We need to keep shouting about it! We are in the 21st century, we’ve moved forward somewhat in terms of our openness, but we are still so far from where we should be. Periods are natural and human.”
What still needs to change: “We need more period education programs which promote real, honest, open conversations about periods. This all helps to improve the way girls and women view their bodies, and build more self-love and acceptance. We support a number of menstrual educators and charities such as Bright Girl Health, Ready for Red and Women Win.”
Co-founder and CEO of Saalt
How she’s disrupting the status quo: “At Saalt, we have the audacious vision to make reusable period care so mainstream that it becomes the gold standard of menstrual care in the future that will entirely replace disposables. As a certified B Corp, we give 2% of our revenue to donate our products across the globe. We’ve donated over 37,000 period products to women and girls in 35 countries, and we won't stop until we reach our goal to change the lives of 100 million people for the better.”
The modern menstrual movement is: Destigmatized. “When we choose to keep conversations around periods hush hush, we're only allowing those stigmas to perpetuate. It's up to us as menstruators to be drivers in changing the conversation around periods, and we do this by setting the tone to one of openness and awareness. After all, the menstrual cycle perpetuates the human race. I believe that deserves some kudos, not censorship!”
What still needs to change: “Of the 800 million people who menstruate across the world, 500 million live in period poverty, which means they lack access to safe and reliable period care. So, women and girls start to get resourceful and use things like banana leaves, old cloth, bits of mattress pad, paper torn from school books or even soil or ash to manage their periods.”
Suzanne Siemens and Madeleine Shaw
Founders and CEOs of Period Aisle
How they’re disrupting the status quo: “Aisle (formerly Lunapads) began revolutionizing the period space in 1993 by creating the first groundbreaking collection of reusable cloth menstrual pads and period underwear. We are the only brand to offer a life cycle assessment of our products, allowing users to compare the positive environmental impact of choosing reusables over disposables.”
The modern menstrual movement is: Sustainable. “Given that we are in a climate emergency, we want to see a more intentional conversation about what makes a reusable product ‘sustainable.’ A product is not truly sustainable when it’s made with virgin polyester or conventional cotton, and when the supply chain is not transparent/made by low-paid labor. Ideally, everything we purchase and consume should come with a transparent supply chain and be fully costed from an environmental perspective, so that we can make the best choices for the planet.”
What still needs to change: “While we applaud the increasing availability of free disposable pads and tampons in bathrooms as an essential first step towards addressing menstrual equity, the access problem needs to be addressed holistically and sustainably in order to permanently solve it. In order to support both menstrual justice as well as sustainability, business leaders should provide quality reusable products.”
Period activist and Minister of Menstruation
How she’s disrupting the status quo: “The work as the Minister of Menstruation is all about empowering and educating young people on periods. I wished the Minister of Menstruation existed when I was younger. My non-profit company, Qrate, also hosts menstruation workshops.”
The modern menstrual movement is: For everyone. “Periods are often still seen as a ‘women’s and girls issue’ when in fact there are people who menstruate who do not identify as women/girls. There also needs to be more representation of menstruators' experiences in the period adverts we see being portrayed in mainstream media.”
What still needs to change: “Period stigma and taboos. These myths tell menstruators to remain silent about their experiences, and this silence has major implications on policy implementation (which could help to eradicate period poverty for good). I unpack the implications of this silence in my TEDtalk.”
Founder of Ovira
How she’s disrupting the status quo: By taking the pain out of periods with their innovative Noha device that stimulates the nerves in your lower stomach using pulse therapy.
The modern menstrual movement is: Free of shame. “It’s time to strip away the stigma and ‘ick-factor’ that’s been so deeply entrenched in the way we’ve been thinking about periods since… forever. We’re tired of whispering about tampons and burying our pads in our supermarket trolleys IIt’s time to be noisy about the things we were taught to be quiet about.”
What still needs to change: “The lack of understanding and education around the difference between a healthy, normal period, and a cycle that is symptomatic of something more serious, like endometriosis, adenomyosis or PCOS. The average diagnosis wait-times for period related conditions range from a few years to an entire decade.”
Founder of Freda
How she’s changing the status quo: “We were one of the first to stop using words like ‘sanitary’ and ‘hygiene’ (we use period care instead) because words matter, and we were also the first to ditch plastic applicators.” Their organic tampons and eco-friendly pads and genderless Cycle collection are biodegradable and supports girls in need with every purchase.
The modern menstrual movement is: On display. “I want pads and tampons to stop being treated in class like drugs, tucked up our sleeves and passed on discreetly with furtive glances to make sure no one is looking. Period products must be treated like toilet paper—an essential.”
What still needs to change: “The barriers are significantly lower in the West than they are in developed countries. Periods stop girls from going to school and taking part in sports (79% of girls don’t do sports on their periods). The shame of periods is a hidden barrier to true equality.”
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Karla Welch and Sasha Markov
Founders of The Period Company
How they’re changing the status quo: By creating period underwear that is priced at $12 a pair. “That meant that period underwear was no longer a niche, highly expensive, almost posh way of dealing with periods—it was for everybody.”
The modern menstrual movement is: Taught from a young age. “When you get your period for the first time and somebody tells you what it is and how to deal with it—that conversation is so important. It’s the first real framing of the period in our lives. But most of us don’t have it, or we have a pretty mediocre version that still conveys the period as a burden, but imagine if you had an amazing first period conversation. ‘It’s not an obstacle. It’s a superpower. It’s part of you, and an amazing thing your body can do. Be proud of it.’”
What still needs to change: Half the world gets their period and most of them don’t have access to period products, so the period experience is pretty horrific. Not having that access means that an ordinary monthly event becomes a source of trauma, shame, stigma and an obstacle to participating in school, in sports, in life. This is a problem that can be fixed by giving access to sustainable period products, like ours, to everybody.”
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Co-founder of DAME
How she’s changing the status quo: By inventing the world’s first reusable, self-sanitizing tampon applicator, and expanding their offerings to include 100% organic tampons that are biodegradable (yes, even the wrappers) and reusable period pads. They’re also a carbon neutral and are B Corp certified.
The modern menstrual movement is: Talked about more openly. “Business has a part to play in this, from the language used on the packaging, to the way they advertise. The government needs to step up and uniformly set out the way we teach this subject in schools—with no stigma attached. Then, of course, all of us need to take responsibility for how we treat the subject. If I hide my tampon up my sleeve when I go to the loo, am I helping the taboo to continue?”
What still needs to change: “In the EU, period products are not well regulated, which means it's tricky to know exactly what goes into them. Even products that claim to be 'eco' often have an asterix attached. When you look at the small print, very often you'll discover that it's only a small part of the product which qualifies for this eco claim.”
Nikki Michelsen and Leah Remfry-Peploe
Founders of Ohne
How they’re changing the status quo: “Not only do we provide the natural products for every stage of the menstrual cycle (not just the 5 days you bleed)—think CBD for hormonal balance, elixirs for pain support, vegan probiotics for vaginal health, the world's comfiest period pants—but we also provide the support, education and peer-to-peer community to ensure every person who bleeds has the holistic tools to thrive their entire cycle round.”
The modern menstrual movement is: Holistic. “It's so important that people recognize that your cycle can completely shape your mood, diet, skin, sex drive—pretty much every part of you. If we were given the tools and education from a young age to understand our cycles, we'd be able to prepare ourselves more for these changes, which could lead to better health in all areas of our lives.”
What still needs to change: “All the taboos around bleeding need to be eradicated from conversation. No more blue liquid on adverts and no more 'feminine hygiene' signs in supermarkets.”
Meghan White and Lauren Cauchy
Founders of Period Packs
How they’re changing the status quo: By providing free essential menstrual products (through things like their donation drop box) and destigmatizing periods through their advocacy work on social media. “Our push for policy reform is a huge part of our impact. Currently we have had great success on a municipal level [in Canada] and are working in collaboration with other menstrual equity agencies to tackle access on a provincial and federal level. “
The modern menstrual movement is: Political. “By sharing our lived experiences as menstruator on such a mass scale, we are using anecdotal data to inform long overdue clinical research, igniting policy reform in the public and private sector, and growing whole new industries like ‘fem tech’.”
What still needs to change: “These conversations about periods need to extend into perimenopause and menopause. We need to talk about the whole life arc of having periods; what is an abnormal period, what to expect after childbirth, what does it mean when you don’t have a period, when you have extremely painful periods, when PMS is ruining your quality of life, or when you lose your period during menopause.”