After being stigmatized and ignored as a human – and consumer – need for centuries, the period is finally starting to get the respect it deserves. Major retailers are slashing the ‘pink tax’ that has kept the cost of menstrual products high; trains in Taipei are trialing free menstrual products for riders; while Scotland now offers free period products to all its citizens.
Over the past few years, DTC period-care businesses have followed this flow of menstruation positivity, advancing education and rethinking outdated products. Now that the ship is steering in the right direction, there are new opportunities popping up around the 28-day cycle – as well as some business model challenges to overcome as the political and consumer landscape shifts more than ever.
Upgrading the cycle
‘What menstruators demand from cycle care has changed a lot over the past years,’ says Kathrin Folkendt, founder of Femtech Insider. ‘It's no longer just about tampons and pads – it's about understanding your very personal cycle and making better choices based on its implications on overall health and wellness.’ While period-tracking apps have been widely used for the better part of the past decade, there's growing recognition that the menstrual cycle is more than just bleeding. Apps such as 28 provide cycle-based workout regimens (muscle-building exercises are most effective during the follicular phase, for example) while Moody Month offers hormone-based wellness tips. However, these apps will have to contend with renewed privacy concerns – post the overturning of Roe vs Wade, there was a flurry of people deleting period-tracking apps for fear of it being used to prosecute those who seek abortions (a not unfounded fear).
Just as apps have expanded their focus beyond the flow, period product brands are also looking beyond the basics. Ohne provides a CBD topical oil to help with cramping, prebiotics to boost vaginal health and even chocolate and bath bombs, alongside its lines of period underwear and tampons. ‘We diversified our product range as people experience a whole host of symptoms besides bleeding – bloating, stress, sore breasts, hormonal skin, mood swings, fatigue, etc – and not one menstrual cycle is the same,’ say co-founders Nikki Michelsen and Leah Remfry Peploe. The broader focus has also allowed Ohne to build an online community, not only offering discounts but creating a network where members can get support with period-related issues and workshops reframing the menstruation experience.
While the free and discounted period product movement is a huge win for healthcare accessibility (period poverty is real), it's also changed people's perception around pricing – why pay extra? That has meant DTC businesses have had to rethink their models and how they provide and communicate value. Instead of white-labeling period products with better branding, Daye founder Valentina Milanova invested in manufacturing capability from the beginning, allowing her company to create more innovative and sustainable products to stand out, including its CBD tampon (which eases cramps), the world's first flushable ocean-safe tampon wrapper and a diagnostics tampon that can detect STIs.
Still, DTC sales have proved more of a challenge (not helped by social media censorship of advertisements for women's sexual health products – something the company has experienced). Daye is now focused on business-to-business sales. Valentina points out that businesses are actually a fairly clear market, given estimates showing women lose nine productive days each year to period pain.
‘There's a lot of talk right now about encouraging period leave, but perhaps we should instead focus on solving the heart of the problem, which would, in turn, enable women to engage in whatever activity they'd like to, including work, instead of staying at home with a hot water bottle,’ she says.