When Valentina Milanova began meeting with investors to try to secure funding for Daye — her CBD-infused tampon start-up — she was met with a pretty bleak and bizarre set of responses. “Why do you have this weird string on your tampon, what is the point in that?” asked one. “People won’t buy 18 tampons a month from you!” chimed another, “I’ve never met a woman with an 18-day period!”
Two years later and thankfully times have changed. After more than 200 pitches, she eventually managed to secure $5.5 million (£4.23 million) funding to launch her brand and today a new wave of start-ups are ushering in the tampon 2.0: boutique sanitary products that are organic, sustainable and, in Daye’s case, CBD-infused to provide relief for period cramps.
The idea behind Daye is simple. Milanova — whose background is working with start-ups as a venture associate — read some research about marijuana. On discovering that extracts of industrial hemp boast both absorbent fibres and pain-relieving properties, she decided to create the first CBD-infused tampon.
“Everyone thought it was a ridiculous plan,” says Milanova. “They said if it was a smart idea, Procter & Gamble would have already come up with it.” It turns out they had. While researching, Milanova discovered that the conglomerate had in fact looked at introducing pain-relieving tampons 25 years ago. “They decided it was a niche market, the product was never made.”
This sheer lack of innovation within the tampon space fuelled her to launch Daye. “There are so many brands making different claims around their products but they’re all made on the same machine, with the same materials, in the same factory,” she says. For Daye, she brought production in-house, hiring women who used to be in the prison system and employing a team of design engineers predominantly from the art world. “It was quite difficult to find engineers who are interested in working in tampons rather than trains and cars,” Milanova explains.
Her final products are 100 per cent organic cotton tampons with sugarcane applicators. They either come “naked” or pre-soaked in CBD oil and while investors might have scoffed at the idea, Daye’s medical testing found that when used to combat period cramps, women felt results within 10 to 15 minutes, compared with 40 to 45 minutes with a painkiller.
By the time Daye launched last year, the era of the boutique tampon had truly begun. Today her competitor brands include Dame, that offers reusable tampon applicators, Callaly, which has merged tampons and sanitary towels into one with the “tampliner” and Cora, which offers heat-relief pads and rosemary and eucalyptus body cloths along with its tampons. Meanwhile, menstrual cups and period-proof underwear — once heavily stigmatised — have truly broken into the mainstream. Just last year, Broad City star Ilana Glazer was the face of a campaign for Thinx, a range of reusable underwear designed for use during a period.
At the heart of most of these brands is a desire for simple, chemical-free products made from organic materials that have less environmental impact. Studies have shown sanitary products generate 200,000 tonnes of waste per year and so, like the rise of keep-cups and reusable water bottles before them, biodegradable tampons are becoming a popular ethical alternative to their traditional counterparts.
“People care about their plastic waste and I think that’s the main reason there’s this rise in organic tampon brands,” says Milanova. “It’s that realisation of, ‘Hey, wait a sec, we assumed tampons were made of cotton but they’re actually made of plastics.’”
Much of the charm of brands like Daye, Dame and Cora lies in the frankness of their branding. For years, the marketing of period products has been shrouded in euphemism, garish packaging and blue liquid used to represent blood in adverts. Instead Ohne offer “100 per cent organic tampons, 100 per cent bulls**t-free”, while Freda promise to put an end to the practice of “shoving tampons up our sleeves”.
Of course, the revolution comes at a cost. Daye retails at £7 for 12, 18 for £10, while a regular box of Tampax costs about £3 for 18. In the UK, period poverty — having little or no access to sanitary products due to financial reasons — affects one in 10 women aged 14 to 21. But while boutique brands may not be providing affordable options, they are active in raising awareness and fighting to eradicate period poverty. A percentage of all of Ohne’s sales goes towards supporting a partner programme in Zambia that works with rural schools, while Daye has commissioned several articles around the topic, stressing that the problem isn’t unique to developing countries and calling for free tampons and sanitary towels in the UK.
Things are looking promising. Just last month, Scotland voted in favour of a Bill that would provide free access to sanitary products on a universal basis, while in England, state schools can now order free period products.