Women don’t exactly like to spend a lot of time thinking about sanitary products. The tampons and pads they buy once a month — adding up to more than $1,000 over a lifetime — are usually more of a burden than a blessing, something to purchase and then get on with their lives.
But Annie Lascoe and Margo Lang are thinking a lot about those products, and they want to change almost everything about them. They created their newly launched company, Conscious Period, to manufacture organic sanitary products so that women know exactly what ingredients are being used, given that in the U.S. companies aren’t required to disclose all the components in their raw materials. “We were both really concerned about the ingredients that aren’t being disclosed in conventional tampons,” Lascoe said.
They don’t want to stop there. They also want to help ensure that homeless and low-income women can access these basic necessities, repeal what they see as an unfair tax on sanitary products, mandate the disclosure of ingredients used in sanitary products, and create jobs for underserved communities through their manufacturing operations. No big deal. But they feel up to the task. “This is a space where we really both feel that there’s a lot of need for innovation, a lot of need for policy change, and also a very real shared experience [among women] that makes it even more profound,” Lang said.
CREDIT: Conscious Period
Conscious Period operates on a one-to-one giving model: for every box of tampons or pads that Lascoe and Lang sell, they will donate the same organic pads to those in need. They borrowed the idea from Tom’s, where Lang previously worked, a company that donates a pair of shoes to people in need for every pair it sells. The impulse to give out products came from personal empathy. “These products aren’t cheap,” Lang explained. “I remember having to swipe my credit cards and spend $15 every month for something I didn’t particularly want to buy. What would it be like to not have $10 to get something so basic?” While women make up a third of the country’s homeless shelter population, most shelters don’t get donations of sanitary products, and government programs like food stamps won’t cover them.
They conducted some market research and interviews with people experiencing homelessness and found that they much prefer pads to tampons. After all, without the guarantee of a safe, clean bathroom to change a tampon and wash her hands, a woman might not be able to do it as frequently as she needs. That “degrading condition” of lacking access to adequate facilities for changing feminine hygiene products was even cited in a recent report to the United Nations on the issues facing America’s homeless.
They also decided to partner with LavaMae, a nonprofit launched in San Francisco that is repurposing unused city buses as mobile showers and bathrooms for the homeless. All of Conscious Period’s donated pads will go to LavaMae to distribute. “We have major crushes on LavaMae,” Lascoe said. “We love what they’re doing so much, we want it to be all over the country.”
The company is committed to giving out the same quality pads as the ones it’s selling to its customers. “We don’t think just because you’re experiencing homelessness in your life you should have to sacrifice health or comfort to get an inferior product,” Lang said. And the two have found that the social good mission resonates with that customer base. “It’s humbling and really inspiring to see how easy it is to activate women around this issue just based on a simple product offering and an easy-to-understand progressive giving model,” Lascoe said.
But they don’t just want to give things out. “We can go beyond giving products by offering them jobs, creating a true sustainable social business enterprise model,” Lang said. “We can take it to the next level and address the root of the problem as well.”
Their initial Indiegogo campaign sought at least $30,000 — it ended with $35,751 — which would be enough to buy their first manufacturing machine and cover the raw materials for making the first 140,000 pads. The plan is to pilot the manufacturing base in Los Angeles, where they’re located, by partnering with nonprofits trying to train and employ their communities and putting those people to work making the products.
Once it’s all up and running, they hope to both sell their products online and in stores, starting in Los Angeles and then spreading throughout the state and nationwide.
They’re also already getting involved in the political aspect of tampons and pads. Besides supporting efforts to make companies disclose all of their ingredients — for example, Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s (D-NY) bill directing the National Institutes of Health to study which products contain potentially harmful elements and the Food and Drug Administration to disclose more information — they are also involved in the push to end the so-called “tampon tax.” All but five states levy a sales tax on tampons and pads, but some lawmakers are moving to get rid of it. On Tuesday, two California state lawmakers introduced a bill that would exempt feminine hygiene products from sales tax, which they say costs the state’s women $20 million a year, given that things like prescriptions and Viagra are already exempt. Other countries like Canada have totally scrapped theirs.
The founders of Conscious Period believe that these social causes pair well with their products. “At this time of the month, people don’t really look forward to it,” Lang said. But with their company, “You get to feel like you’re doing something good for somebody else when you purchase products for yourself.”