"You unwrap a tampon and throw it on the table, and a conversation gets started," says Jordana Kier, cofounder of Lola, an all-natural tampon brand. She has spent the past year educating conference rooms full of male investors about absorption, applicator design, and the artificial fibers that the majority of tampons contain. "We had the benefit of insight into a market that hasn’t been given the spotlight at all."
Now, that spotlight is starting to shine brighter. Women are increasingly seeking out natural and organic products, due to concerns about chemicals in their food, cleaning supplies, and makeup, and at the same time looking to reduce their waste. The leading feminine-care brands have taken a hit as a result, with market research firm Euromonitor attributing recent declines in sales and volume to "the national trend towards conservation and concern for the environment." According to the firm’s report, "This same sentiment is driving growth in eco-friendly and ‘green’ brands and products."
Lola isn’t alone in seeing this shift as an opportunity. The startup joins activist-brand Maxim, which distributes its all-natural tampons and pads through local pharmacies and health stores, and Honest Company, which founder Jessica Alba says will introduce a toxin-free tampon later this year.
"If and when Honest enters the market, it’s just helping to validate and continue the conversation around transparency and what you’re putting in your body," says Kier.
For months, she and cofounder Alex Friedman, who met through mutual friends, have been testing Lola's 100% cotton tampons, available in light, regular, and super absorbencies. No fragrance, no chlorine, no bleach: Lola contains none of the chemical additives that have prompted physicians and lawmakers to advocate for new research and regulations. Kier and Friedman plan to sell the product as a monthly subscription, charging $10 for a box of 18.
Lola's model echoes that of Harry's and Dollar Shave Club, which are online retailers that sell men's razors via subscription at wholesale-level prices. The men's shaving market in the U.S. is worth $2.9 billion, Euromonitor says, which is roughly on par with the $3 billion U.S. sanitary protection market. (Within that category, tampons represent $1.2 billion.) Dollar Shave Club, which says it has 2 million members, recently raised $75 million at a $615 million valuation; Harry's, with its higher-end branding, yesterday raised $75.6 million at a $750 million valuation.
Kier and Friedman, who have raised $1.2 million so far, aim to follow in their footsteps—without compromising on their brand principles.
"We like the name Lola because it makes us think of a woman who’s smart and knows what she’s putting in her body, who has a sense of humor," Friedman says.
"It also didn’t remind us of our period, which is nice," Kier adds. "You can put this box out in your bathroom and it doesn’t scream, 'Here are my tampons!'"
They've been traveling the country to talk with groups of women, and now intend to grow the business by dispatching ambassadors to existing friend networks. "Women aren’t going to tweet about their period or their tampon; if they find a new product, they’re going to talk about it in small circles," Friedman says. "Once you start the conversation, women have a lot to say."
Investors, as it turns out, do too. "We were mostly pitching men, but they all have wives, girlfriends, sisters," says Friedman. "I think you’d be surprised how much men enjoyed talking about it. We weren’t sure going into the first few meetings, but it was fun."
What were they curious about, this reporter wondered? Friedman and Kier exchange a knowing glance. "Everything."