How the All-Women Tampon Company Lola Started a National Conversation About Periods
At most offices, getting your period can feel like a dirty secret. In addition to negotiating for equal pay, women must master the crucial job skill of tucking a tampon in their closed fists and attempting to slyly make it to the ladies' room unnoticed. But there is no such nonsense at the Midtown New York office of Lola, the 100-percent cotton tampon subscription service celebrating its one-year anniversary today.
"We talk about our periods all the time," cofounder Alexandra Friedman said. "At times, we've synced," adds her cofounder Jordana Kier of Lola’s all-women team.
At Lola, tampons are everywhere. The unofficial office mascot is a tampiñata — a traditional, colorful donkey piñata stuffed with tampons instead of candy, which Lola sent to editors and VIPs like Karlie Kloss (who happens to be an investor) at launch time last year. For perhaps the first time ever, Instagram lit up with #Lolagrams and #Lolashelfies: women proudly sharing their tampon boxes beside peony bouquets and Chanel No. 5 bottles. (It helps that the Lola box is a chic, inconspicuous white and slate blue.) Suddenly, periods weren't to be hidden, but celebrated.
"We've created this space-brand-product for women to feel really comfortable to talk about this topic," Kier said. At early Lola focus groups (sometimes fondly referred to by friends as "period parties") women reminisced about their first periods, and revealed their go-to toilet paper–as–tampon hacks. "We got to the point where people were like, 'Do you wrap it around your underwear, or do you fold it into squares, or do you make it into a ball?'" Friedman added with a laugh. According to Kier, there was a simple takeaway from these, ahem, free-flowing conversations: "Of course, it's so normal and so natural for everybody to get their period."
In the year since its launch, Lola has sold millions of tampons, and raised $3 million in seed funding from investors including entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk’s Vayner/RSE and the founders of Warby Parker. (Before its launch, Lola received $1.2 million in funding from angel investors.) And, over the last year, it’s almost as if the world woke up, read "Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret," and realized women got their periods. NPR called 2015 "the year of the period": The tampon tax catapulted to national attention; free bleeding started trending; the "Broad City" girls canvassed a birthright flight for tampons in a memorably hilarious episode; Newsweek declared on its cover, "There Will Be Blood. Get over it." And Lola, a new start-up, arrived to disrupt the feminine care market.
The goal was to start a tampon subscription service, eliminating the need to run to the drugstore late at night for tampons. But early research led Lola’s founders to some disturbing discoveries. It turns out, Big Tampon isn’t so transparent about what’s in the drugstore tampons women have been putting inside their vaginas since their teen years. While the FDA regulates the feminine care industry, manufacturers aren’t required to disclose ingredients, which, Lola says, are typically a blend of cheap-to-produce artificial fibers like rayon and polyester.
"Most of us see a fluffy white product and assume it's completely cotton," Lola says on its website. "It's not."
At those candid aforementioned focus groups, Friedman and Kier, both Dartmouth grads with MBAs from Wharton and Columbia, respectively, would ask friends: “Hey, have you ever thought about what’s in your tampon?” Friedman recalled. “And we got these blank stares from people.”
In an all-organic-everything era, "It was kind of horrifying to realize that you didn’t know what was in a product that you put inside your body," Kier said. "And, by the way, your vagina is the most absorbent part of your body."
And yet, Friedman added, “it’s so typical because women don’t think about themselves as much as they think about their baby and their family,” she said. “Self-care is driving this brand forward.”
Lola’s answer is a 100-percent cotton, hypoallergenic, biodegradable tampon free of chemicals, synthetics, and dyes that arrives at your door automatically every month (a single box is $10; two are $18), customizable based on your preferred mix of super, regular, and light.
Friedman and Kier knew it would be a challenge to take on the long-reigning tampon titans. “Every month, you know you’re gonna get your period but you’re still surprised by it, and then you run to the store, you’re bleeding in your pants, and you’re just grabbing the first thing you see that you’re kind of used to buying,” Kier said. But they were encouraged by the awakening of women who wanted their tampons to be as healthy as their acai bowls. “Women were super receptive to the message of, ‘Wait a minute, I can make a better choice about my body because I’ve been doing that in every other aspect of my life.’”
Their initial, pre-launch pitch to investors got interesting fast: Of the 20 or so angel investors Friedman and Kier approached, most were men, who had never held a tampon in their hands before. “There was a hilarious question of, ‘Why are there different sized tampons?’ ” Kier remembers.
With their new round of funding, Lola now has its eye on expanding its product line to become a go-to brand for women’s wellness and health care, though it won’t reveal specifics. They are expanding their conversation about periods at their blog, The Broadcast, which tackles everything from infertility, online dating, healthy eating habits, and first period stories, including one from Allison Williams (she was on a class trip to France).
The conversation, according to Friedman, quickly grew beyond periods. “There are all these topics that have been taboo to talk about, like trying to get pregnant, and freezing your eggs, and mental health,” she said.
As for the new wave of alternative period products emerging on the menstrual market, from DivaCups to Thinx period underwear, Lola doesn’t see them as competition, but comrades in the crusade for period awareness. “We’re all so excited when we get our period because we get to test every product on the market,” Friedman said. And, compared to menstrual cups and period briefs, Lola “actually just feels like kind of a ‘duh,’” Kier said. “If you’re using tampons, shouldn’t you know what’s in them?”
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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Lola/@lola