Six years’ worth of periods in a woman’s lifetime generates over 10,000 plastic pads or tampons as waste. LUÜNA naturals founder Olivia Cotes-James is on a mission to make periods better for you and the environment.
Moving to a new city can be very exciting, but it also has its challenges. Different food, new cultures, complex bureaucratic practices, and, for women, unfamiliar period products can take some getting used to.
LUÜNA naturals founder and CEO Olivia Cotes-James was excited to explore and connect with her mother’s hometown when she moved to Hong Kong from the UK in 2013. But tampons, her preferred period care product, were hard to find and expensive in the city.
“Due to heavy bleeding related to a hormone imbalance, I had really struggled with pads when I was younger. Therefore I was passionate about women being able to explore all our period options, like tampons, free from shame or misconceptions,” Olivia explained, “So I began holding ‘tampon workshops’ to support women who were curious to learn more about this product and see if it could improve their experience of menstruation, as it had mine when I was 15.”
I saw the negative effects of the traditional feminine care industry clearly for the first time; its uninspiring branding, shameful advertising and use of toxic product ingredients
Toxic for body, mind and the environment
The research Olivia did for the workshops made her stop and consider some of the things we’ve never questioned about our period care products.
“I saw the negative effects of the traditional feminine care industry clearly for the first time; its uninspiring branding, shameful advertising and use of toxic product ingredients,” she said.
Digging deeper into the industry’s reliance on synthetic materials to make pads and tampons, Olivia found that they can cause symptoms like odours, irritation, discomfort and infections. These synthetic materials are also linked to chronic health issues like endocrine hormone disruption, which can lead to infertility.
Beyond the repercussions on our bodies, traditional period care products also have an impact on the environment, from their plastic packaging down to the synthetic materials that make them absorbent and waterproof. Some pads are made from as much plastic as four plastic shopping bags! With the average woman using more than 10,000 pads or tampons in her lifetime, that’s a lot of plastic each of us is generating.
“These materials take up to 500 years to degrade, making the traditional period care industry one of the biggest contributors to plastic waste. I knew then that I had to create the period care company that I and all women deserve; those who value transparency, ethics and purpose,” Olivia said.
She left her job in branding in 2017 to focus full-time on product development, fundraising and launching LUÜNA naturals.
Some pads are made from as much plastic as four plastic shopping bags! With the average woman using more than 10,000 pads or tampons in her lifetime, that’s a lot of plastic each of us is generating.
The women-led company focuses on the creation of healthy and planet-friendly period care, education, and donating products to vulnerable groups through its social impact business model. Every $46 you spend on LUÜNA’s organic cotton pads, liners and tampons will enable the company to donate 100 pads to healthcare workers and low-income families. Similarly, every period cup sold will see one donated to communities in need.
Since its launch, LUÜNA naturals has seen an overwhelmingly positive response. “It proves how profoundly needed an empowering, relatable and ethical period care brand is in order to provide the trusted products and information we deserve,” Olivia opined.
Education is key
The company’s focus on education is an important part of its work. It has conducted more than 500 period workshops in schools, universities, corporations and communities.
“Through our research into menstrual stigma, we unearthed the myriad issues facing our Sisterhood in Asia with regards to our sexual, reproductive and gynaecological health. The status quo for most remains fear, shame and confusion,” Olivia shared.
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In order to reach an even bigger community of women, LUÜNA has organised Asia’s first online festival to drive conversation and provide education about gynaecological health, wellbeing and empowerment throughout the month of August. Called The Vagina Dialogues, the virtual event brings together experts and activists who are working to create change in this space and to support the community across the region to learn more about their bodies.
Looking to the future, Olivia hopes to see changes happen in three areas for menstruating people: products, education and access.
“I believe we can inspire an increased level of product transparency in the period care space, whereby all menstruators will know exactly what their products are made of and be sure they are safe for their bodies and the planet. This will reduce the negative consequences that traditional plastic pads and tampons are having on both our health and the environment,” she explained.
She also aims to take LUÜNA natural’s period education curriculum beyond Hong Kong’s shores to schools, universities and companies across the region to promote a deeper understanding of and respect for menstrual health.
Finally, the company wants to make its products more widely available, to ensure that many more people will have access to healthy period products. The team has created a dispenser system that it hopes will become the norm in bathrooms across Asia.
“One day, we hope women and girls will not be surprised to see that spaces have catered to our basic menstrual needs,” Olivia declared.
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