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Reuters/Chris Helgren
World wide web of tampons: That time of the month for you is a market for ecommerce.
GIRL DISRUPTED

In 2014, startups discovered women get their periods—every month

Lisa Selin Davis
By Lisa Selin Davis

A new kind of subscription service—many of them, actually—have joined the ecommerce fray, offering delivery of menstruation supplies. Yes, “monthly tampon club” sounds more like the name of a Nirvana song than a business category, and some services have folded since their initial launch in 2013. Still, at least eight such sites are still up and running in the US:

  1. HelloFlo: “Special delivery for your hoo-ha” (among other epithets for vagina).
  2. OTR Girls: “Worry about the important things…not your period.”
  3. The Period Store: “Reimagine the way you experience your period.”
  4. Juniper: “A smarter way to handle your period.”
  5. Sent Her Way: “Tampons delivered monthly.”
  6. Le Parcel: also “Tampons delivered monthly.”
  7. The Tampons Club: Apparently, no need for a tagline with such a self-explanatory name, though the copy says they “take the chore to the store out of the routine.”
  8. Club Monthly: “Feminine products at your door, without the shame of the store.”

Subscriptions cost as little as $15 a month (plus shipping costs, which tend to be around $5). Subscribers enter the date of their last period, the heaviness and the frequency, ranging from 27 to 31 days. They select the brand of tampons—organic or conventional—pads, panty liners, and the size and quantity.

Because the market is, well, flowing with competitors, each has been forced to differentiate. There’s pampering: Some sites offer comfort snacks, tea or chocolate in their packages; one even includes artwork—prints or collages made by artists of the founders’ choosing.

Others tout practicality. Naama Bloom, the founder of HelloFlo, was working in marketing for a tech startup when she saw a variety of subscription services take off. “They were really interesting,” she says, but “I didn’t feel like any of them spoke to me.” They were, in part, too indulgent, too much about pampering and gifts. “What I want isn’t something fun and treat-like. I want to eliminate the grudge purchases in my life.” It was less about things that excite you, she said, more about “things that you want simplified.”

Inspired to start her own period-delivery service (like “Santa for your vagina,” says the site’s promotional video), Bloom, 42, used her own funds, and raised money among family and friends. To kickstart things, she released a video titled Camp Gyno, about a girl who identifies as a “random loser” until she gets her period, and becomes all badass.

The video went viral—it has almost 10 million views—making for a quick audience and clientele. “It’s pretty girl power,” Bloom says. “It’s a very different take on periods than what people had seen before.”

Girl power is a running theme. Though they may specialize in a monthly infusion of period products, the sites also sell a kind of female empowerment—sometimes achieved via organic tampons.

Thus, Bloom’s site grew into repository of information for everyone from preteens to premenopausal women, functioning as a kind of hand-holder, especially for parents anticipating difficult discussions with their kids around menstruation.

Though she meant her revenue to come primarily from subscriptions, nearly 70% of her business comes from a combination of sponsorships and HelloFlo gifts kits for new moms, first periods and teens—that one includes a training bra, leak-free underwear and a guide for both girls and their parents. Her site is less about treats, as some of the others are, and more about women’s health.

“I very quickly realized there was this real need around puberty and this life stage transition and so I decided to focus there,” says Bloom. “It makes the market smaller but it makes me have more impact.”

Meanwhile, a site known as “The Period Store” focuses on “eco-friendly, reusable, international, body-friendly products,” says co-founder Ashley Seil Smith. (She adds: “We recognize not everyone who menstruates identifies as female.”) She says the market for products around menstruation is expanding globally, citing a sanitary napkin from Taiwan infused with essential oils.

Back in the 1970s, women turned to the iconic book, Our Bodies Ourselves to be in touch with, and proud, of their own bodies. The entrepreneurs note there’s no online equivalent of that book (even if there is an Our Bodies Ourselves website). “I realized women’s health is an underserved market,” says Bloom. “Credible content that feels really approachable—it’s just not there.”

And so tampon delivery morphs into a combination of WebMD and HelloGiggles, aiming to both appeal to and empower young women. From the “Ask. Dr. Flo” section on HelloFlo, two (female) doctors answer reader questions such as “Is it possible to get pregnant while on your period?” and “What’s up with vaginal discharge?”

“I thought I was going to sell tampons,”says Bloom, “but it’s evolved so far beyond that.”