As a young girl, the event looms large in the psyche. It’s the moment detailed in Judy Blume novels and gossiped about in the locker room, the giggles tinged slightly with fear.
Getting your period has been making adolescentgirls nervous for eons. But Helen Walsh wants to make the first period a moment that’s much more, well, chill.
The Milton-based mother of two daughters is the founder of LoveJane, an online, subscription-based feminine care service, launched last month, that targets adolescent girls with BPA-free products that are sized for growing bodies.
It’s one of several subscription companies launched in recent years that pitch a more modern approach to menstruation, each hoping to chisel away at the $19 billion global feminine hygiene industry that’s been dominated by players like the Kimberly-Clark Corporation and Procter & Gamble for generations.
Coupling convenience and dye-free products, these new subscription models are selling feminine care in an Instagram era, with a “this is not-your-mama’s maxi-pad” vibe. But most brands, in targeting young professional woman, have not left much room for adolescents, many of whom are just beginning their lives as consumers.
Walsh said she saw that as an untapped demographic and stepped in.
“My friend’s daughter got her first period in school and it involved a trip to the nurse’s office,” Walsh said. “I knew as a mom that I wanted my daughters to have a different experience.”
While subscription services only represent a small fraction of the marketplace, several companies, including Cora, L., Conscious Period, and Jessica Alba’s Honest Company, have begun offering subscriptions targeting the monthly cycle. In December, the company Lola announced $7 million in new venture funding, led by Boston’s Spark Capital, for its subscription offering feminine products made of organic cotton. The company has now raised more than $11 million, with actress Lena Dunham as an investor.
“We liked that they were going after a category that was an essential part of a woman’s life but not overly crowded,” said Kevin Thau, a general partner at Spark. He believes there is room to expand.
“If their target today is the young professional, they definitely will want to go younger, and they’ll definitely want to go older to stay with a woman and create a long-term relationship with her,” he said.
Walsh isn’t the first entrepreneur to target adolescents — both Kotex and Tampax began making first period kits for schools in the 40s, and Modess spent decades publishing the “Growing Up and Liking It” booklets for teens. Today, the U by Kotex brand has a special shorter pad for tweens. But Walsh says LoveJane is the first subscription service to target girls who are just starting to menstruate.
The site offers several kits — a $30 first-time period kit includes a book, a carrying bag, and a pair of backup underwear. Follow-up monthly boxes of tampons and panty liners cost $15.
Walsh hopes her service has an edge in that it targets the parents of young women at the beginning of their periods, when they start developing loyalty to one brand.
That tracks with a recent research report on the tampon industry from Global Industry Analysts, Inc. “Mothers usually introduce a specific brand preferred by them to their daughters,” the report reads. “If the daughter finds the product satisfying her requirement, she is least likely to shift brand.”
The report also found that pricing rarely factors into a purchaser’s selection, noting that “only a small proportion of tampon using women prefer an economical choice to fulfill their menstrual needs.”
This comes in contrast to seemingly analogous subscription razor models such as Dollar Shave Club, which was bought by Unilever last summer for $1 billion after positioning itself as a cheaper alternative to established shaving brands. Instead, these new feminine care brands typically orient themselves around a few common themes: offering a “healthier” product, and using feminist mantras that hail menstruation as a part of womanhood.
Perhaps most important, they’re pitching the convenience of not having to dash to the store to pick up supplies, particularly if you need one at an imperfect moment.
Chris Bobel, a professor of women’s studies at UMass Boston and the president of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, said the feminine hygiene industry is well-poised for the disruption of a subscription service. That’s in part because of the shame that’s long been synonymous with the purchase of feminine care products.
Getting tampons in the mail removes that awkwardness, she said, and hopefully, the stigma.
“It’s comedy gold,” she said, adding, “think about the number of sitcoms and movie subplots that have been animated by that tension of dad or boyfriend, uncomfortable or horrified” over buying tampons.
Indeed, Walsh said that she’s found an early audience in fathers, particularly single parents what want to have the appropriate supplies on hand should the first period arrive. The subscription model means they can’t make mistakes when they’re shopping, she joked.
She hopes that the company’s empowerment message sets young women off on a lifetime of positive associations with their periods.
“I feel like it’s the gift I’ve given them is that I’ve made the conversation so normal,” Walsh said. “Now my daughter comes home and says, ‘Mom, guess who just got her period at school!’”Janelle Nanos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @janellenanos.