Tackling the taboo around periods
As part of our 'What I’m Made Of' campaign for Organic Beauty & Wellbeing Week (7th-13th May 2018), we’re asking some of the most inspirational organic brands we know, what they’re made of. Introducing OHNE...
What first inspired you to launch OHNE?
OHNE was born in 2016 - but, we actually met in 2010 when we were put into the rooms next door to each other at university. It was only years later, after we’d both gone our separate ways trying a few different things, that we got to talking about tampons (as you do).
Both already being organic converts, we were frustrated by the lack of options available and the dated packaging that the few organic menstrual products were being sold in. We couldn’t understand how there was so much progress in tech and other sectors, yet the menstrual health industry was still as much in the dark as it was a century ago. So, we decided to combine our passion for organic with a desire to create a service that we would actually want to use - organic tampons, delivered through the letter box, unique to your cycle. Overall, launching OHNE was a direct result of our combined passion for women’s health, our anger at the inequality and irony that sees women in the UK being sold unlabelled, pesticide sprayed products, while women in many parts of the world can’t access any at all; it was also a drive to make a real change to period stigma and the simple conclusion that we are all in this together.
How did you go about putting the wheels in motion, turning your concept of a cause driven sanitary product business into a reality?
2017 was our year of challenges! Once we'd well and truly fallen in love with the concept of OHNE, we had to start creating it. Sourcing 100% organic tampons, that were recognised in the UK by the Soil Association, was really important to us. In order for a brand to call themselves 'organic,' they simply have to have a proportion of organic ingredients. Given the health benefits of organic cotton and our mission for transparency in the menstrual health industry, we were adamant that all our tampons should be made of 100% certified organic cotton, and that's it. Add this to the fact that we wanted our products to come from Europe, where we could trace the supply chain, and you can start to see why it took us over a year to launch.
We then focused on the brand and how we wanted to represent menstruation. Half of the population, does, will, or has at some point, bled and we therefore wanted everyone who menstruates to be able to relate to the content we show. We were so fed up of tampon companies dealing with periods by showing pretty pink pictures and the reinforced negative stigma that this creates.
We’re really big believers in creating collaborative content and this had a big impact on how we created everything that is OHNE. This meant that we brought the voices of those who actually experience menstruation into the content creation process - in the case of menstrual product advertising, this meant getting women involved and including their experiences as a backdrop to how we advertise and discuss periods. Including real women’s voices in the creative processes behind the scenes meant that we’re talking about the things that women actually experience on a day to day basis, rather than creating adverts based on what’s trending. This, in turn, is a more powerful method of changing societal attitudes, bottom-up rather than top-down. This took a really long time, but we’re very proud of how the brand has developed as a result of this focus!
Finally, we had to raise capital. That meant going head first into the male dominated investment world, talking about tampons, vaginas and periods; to say this was hard would be a massive understatement. We got there, eventually!
"Women don't know what they are putting inside their body (on average 11,000 products in a lifetime)"
What drew you to organic and why should we all be going organic when it comes to our period?
In terms of the menstrual health industry, most tampon users don't know what their products are made of (and with no regulations requiring companies to disclose the product ingredients, they don’t). We quiz people every now and again, asking what they think tampons and pads are made of, and the most common answer we hear is "compressed cotton". Women don't know what they are putting inside their body (on average 11,000 products in a lifetime) and when they do know, it's very common that they make the switch to menstrual cups, and organic tampons and pads. Our mission focuses on the lack of transparency in the industry, and we’re calling time on the lack of disclosure. We feel that it’s every woman’s choice to make an informed decision about what products she decides to use, but this can only happen once companies start disclosing the real ingredients in their products.
What is the biggest misconception about periods and our sanitary products?
The biggest misconception about menstrual products has to do with what goes inside them. Unfortunately, the majority of people are under the impression that tampons, pads and liners are made out of natural cotton! Once you start digging a little deeper, however, things get a little scary.
If companies producing mainstream menstrual products were to disclose their ingredients list, it would go something a little like this: rayon, polyester, viscose, chlorine bleach (yes, apparently it’s ultra important they’re pearly white for the 3 seconds we cast eyes on them), and traces of dioxin, cyanazine, dicofol, naled, propargite, and triluralin (if you’re choosing a brand with odour neutralisation then you’re most likely looking at traces of artificial colours, adhesives, polyethylene, polypropylene and propylene glycol).
Many of these chemicals are linked to hormonal disruption, cancer, birth defects, dryness, infertility, thrush, inflammation and discharge. With an ingredients list like this, it really is no shock that the one piece of information that does make it on to the mainstream tampon boxes is the attention grabbing disclosure of the risk of toxic shock syndrome. TSS needs a certain environment in which to develop and this environment can be encouraged by the toxins in mainstream tampons. Interestingly, an organic cotton tampon has never, not once, been associated with TSS.
The worst part about all of this is that due to the taboo nature of period products and the lack of conversation around menstruation, this is still relatively unknown information.
Why do you think the ‘What I’m Made Of’ campaign is important?
We love the ‘What I’m Made Of’ campaign because it’s getting people to question the norm. Organic is becoming more and more fashionable, which makes it so important to encourage people to question what’s inside the products they are buying and how they are labelled. It’s easy to market a product as organic, but it’s not as easy to get a genuine certification that supports this, so it’s key to know what to look out for when shopping. It’s this reason that we were so determined to be certified by the Soil Association - we want our customers to know that our products are made from just one ingredient (100% organic cotton) and that’s it.
How can our sanitary purchases help end period poverty? (School Club Zambia)
There are still young women who will get their first period today and have no idea what’s happening to their bodies when they do, let alone have access to period products. We’re really passionate about bringing attention to the issue of period poverty, so we decided to collaborate with an incredible organisation called The School Club Zambia that Nikki has worked with in the past. Revolutionising period management in low-income areas is not just about the availability of menstrual health products (unfortunately) – so our approach to helping end period poverty will never merely be about distributing disposable products.
It’s about a whole lot more – affordability, a lack of sufficient information, ongoing social and hygiene taboos, a shortage of clean water and adequate sanitation, as well as waste disposal facilities. For every box one of our customers buy, they are directly contributing to a three tiered program that works to make menstruation more manageable for school aged girls in rural areas of Zambia. We work with The School Club Zambia to improve hygiene and sanitation in schools, teach girls to make re-usable pads out of locally available materials, and workshops that teach innovative menstrual health education that lies outside of the normal Zambian school curriculum. As a subscription business, we’re able to give donations regularly and that creates sustainability in the projects we support, which is really important to us!
Before you go, what tips or advice can you share when it comes to our wellbeing when we’re OHNE?
We’d start by encouraging everyone to start treating their vagina better than their face. When the nasty chemicals and toxins in mainstream tampons come into close contact with our skin (we’re sorry to let you know, if you didn’t already, that the skin of your vulva is among the thinnest in your entire body!), they’re absorbed straight into your bloodstream, making their toxic way directly to your delicate organs. And once in your body, they just build up. If you won’t eat chemicals and toxins, or put them on your face, they’ve got no business going into your vagina!
After you’ve got your products down, it’s all about keeping yourself informed. Learn about your cycle, your hormones and what makes you feel good (and what doesn’t). We’ve always got all the latest period self-care tips on our FEMSPACE - whether that’s period cramp solutions (that actually work) or what not to eat when you’re OHNE. Here’s the thing, though - every body is different and so is every period. Take everything you read with a pinch of salt and make sure that you’re doing something because it’s making you feel better, not because you feel like you should. It’s your period and you know best.
So, if you want to eat the chocolate…eat all the chocolate. We’ll never judge.