Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
Lola has some concerns about the way women buy, and think about, tampons. While "that time of the month" subscription services already exist, they come stocked with products that have long been on the market, and that’s a major part of the issue. For something many women put inside their bodies, there’s very little knowledge of what’s actually in those products. The FDA doesn’t require tampon companies to list the materials,some of which have been linked to higher risks of TSS, on the box, and to be honest, most women probably wouldn’t even think to look. Lola, on the other hand, are made of 100% cotton. Racked met up with founders Jordana Kier and Alex Friedman to talk about breaking into the tampon industry, getting people to invest in periods, and the value of knowing just what we’re putting in our bodies.
According to your press release, one of you spent some time at college restocking tampon machines.
Alex: That was me.
So have tampons been on your mind for a while?
Alex: I was a member of a community group on campus, so that was just one of the things the group did that was female-focused, because it was an all female group trying to improve the female experience in college. The focus was women helping women, trying to help them with things and have what they needed when they needed it, which I do think ties into what we’re doing here. Certainly over the years we’ve both been involved in a number of organizations dedicated to helping women, but this is the first time we’ve ever taken that mission and brought it to a company.
What was the initial idea?
Alex: The original idea was actually a subscription business. Jordana had been thinking about this while at business school, and thinking through: "what are the things that annoy me?"
Jordana: It’s frustrating. You’re waiting at the store every single month with a box of tampons, and you know this is going to happen! So you think, "Why am I still running to the store every single month?" So the business started more as a delivery concept; you could just get these delivered to your house every month or every other month. You can just take it off your list.
That literally happened to me this month, I totally forgot I needed to buy more, even though it comes every month!
"You’re standing there in line with a box of supers like, why is this my life? Every single month."
Jordana: It happens all the time! And you’re standing there in line with a box of supers like, why is this my life? Every single month. And I think Alex and I consider ourselves pretty on top of things, and this is something that we had not yet found a good solution for. So it started as a subscription and delivery, and that meant we could source our own product, and customize it and do all these cool things. But it got us thinking that we had never thought about what was in the product. When we go grocery shopping, we probably examine an orange more closely than we examine our tampons. It was kind of shocking to think that we’re pretty conscious consumers, and this is a very overlooked piece of our monthly routine. So that prompted us to look even deeper into materials. We immediately found that cotton resonated with us the most. It’s a natural fiber, we understand it, we’re all comfortable wearing cotton clothes.
One major concern for many women is also TSS, which has gotten more attention recently with Lauren Wasser, the model who lost her leg to TSS. But even then, a lot of people just aren’t educated as to what’s in their tampons or what the risks are. Was education about these issues part of your plan?
Alex: That’s the main mission here. It really comes to life on the box, where you see the ingredients listed. The box is required to say the product may cause TSS, but no tampon brand is actually required to list the ingredients on the box. The FDA doesn’t require full ingredients disclosure [for tampons].
Jordana: There also probably hasn’t been enough lobbying to change that, so they don’t. When Alex and I started, we thought we could get in front of this. We could put all our ingredients on the box because we have nothing to hide. We understand cotton, and that it gives women peace of mind about what they’re putting in their bodies.
Alex: And cotton works, so why add anything to it? We’ve been using it for about a year, and our friends use it, and there’s never been a leakage issue, so why not?
You’re two women trying to sell the world on a tampons, a distinctly feminine product. Was it hard to find funding, or convince investors this was important?
Jordana: A lot of the investment community is men, so these meetings consisted of us walking into a room and sort of throwing tampons on the table. You just have to get past that you’re talking about your period. Once we could do that, most people were really receptive. It’s this space which, from a brand perspective, had never really been updated. As two women in our 30s, any other product that’s in our bathroom is not the same product we were using when we were 12 or 13.
Alex: Everyone that we talked to understood the value of knowing what was in your product, that’s a trend that expands beyond feminine care. And the size of this market—it’s women!
In designing the product itself, what were you going for? It seems like tampons have stayed with, for lack of a better term, a pretty "classic" design. Were there any other things you were looking for that you felt other tampons were missing?
Alex: Absolutely. It’s compact, and we wanted to do that just because it’s more discreet and easier to store. The main reason for starting this company is to have a simpler product, so it’s 100% cotton. But the construction of the tampon itself is unique in that it expands widthwise instead of lengthwise.
Jordana: You’d never feel the expansion widthwise, but in testing it, women do like that it doesn’t go lengthwise, where you might feel it. And it’s a non-porous wrapper. Some tampons use that "whisper quiet wrapper," but it’s pretty porous, so particles in the air can go into the tampon, and cotton reacts to humidity and all sorts of things. [Our wrapper] helps the cotton stay intact and unaffected.
Women are getting more concerned with the products they use and what goes into their body, and a lot of them are turning to products like the Diva Cup to feel more "in touch" with their periods. In your research, did you find women still wanted tampons?
Alex: We're happy to hear that women are thinking about the products that they put in their bodies and considering alternatives. A majority of American women use tampons and that's currently where we can have the highest impact, though going forward we'd absolutely love to provide the full spectrum of products that women use.
Jordana: Our primary goal is to encourage women to ask questions around their products; regardless of whether they use tampons or not, at least they're making that decision in the most informed way.
So what does a subscription look like?
Jordana: People can sign up on the site and refer friends to earn free boxes.
Alex: It’s $10 a box, which includes shipping, and customizing the entire assortment. We really wanted to make sure the subscription worked for us, and that it could fit every woman. So if you wanted a box of 16 regulars and one light and one super, it’s the same cost as getting all supers.
If this launches well, do you have any other plans for the Lola brand?
Alex: We’re hoping we’ll be a trusted brand in feminine care across her reproductive cycle. Tampons are really a great first step and we’re building that this year, and after that we’ll be thinking about what other products she uses, and how we can make them natural and be transparent about what’s in them.
"Any other product that’s in our bathroom is not the same product we were using when we were 12 or 13."
Why do you think tampons are important? Besides the obvious, that they stop blood.
Jordana: When we first came up with the idea, we went around the country and talked to as many women as possible and did a ton of focus groups. For me, it was this idea that this was a really overlooked part of my life, most women’s lives. The idea that we could feel a little more empowered to make educated decisions about the products we’re using, including tampons and any sort of reproductive product. I wanted to include tampons in the products I could trust.
Alex: I don’t think women think a lot about the scale of tampons you use in your life. Your period comes and you try to block it out and just use a bunch of tampons until it goes away, and then you forget about it for three weeks. But we use a ton of them! For this to be a product you use so much but never think about it, that was the moment when I knew I wanted to get involved in something like this.
Jordana: We want Lola to be an easy solution for a woman who wants to make a small tweak to her life. It should be easy and attainable.