Euromonitor International is pleased to present an interview with Molly Hayward, co-founder of Cora, a tampon subscription service that provides consumers with 100% organic cotton tampons in a discreet and elegant format. Cora, launched in February 2016, seeks to build upon the success of other lifestyle brands, such as TOMS shoes and Warby Parker, and be able to engage consumers from health, aesthetic and social impact perspectives.
How and why did you get into the business of feminine hygiene?
Several years ago I was travelling in Kenya, where I had the opportunity to meet young women who were getting the chance to attend school for the first time. However, their education was constantly being interrupted as they were often missing an entire week of school every month during their periods because they couldn’t access or afford products like sanitary pads. My entrepreneurial lights went off during this period of travel and I began to brainstorm ways to help solve this problem in the developing world, while also creating a business that sought to bring greater consciousness to period management in the US. As I started to research the industry, I was shocked to find that many women in the US had very little understanding of the menstrual products that they used on a monthly basis. Specifically, that most tampons are made with synthetics like rayon and polyester (both made through chemical-heavy processes that involve bleaching), and that non-organic cotton is heavily sprayed with toxic pesticides that are known threats to human and environmental health.
My co-founder, Morgan Newman, on the other hand, came to the world of feminine hygiene from a design perspective. Having previously been a co-founder of the whiteboard paint company, IdeaPaint, he also had an entrepreneurial mindset. He was out with his wife one evening when they had to run to a nearby convenience store because his wife had forgotten her tampons. As she was perusing the aisle, Morgan started to look at the design of the bright pink and rather loud packaging of the tampons and began asking his wife questions about what goes into the product and the reason why it was made that way. Thus began our quest to create and elevate the experience of tampons in order to fit the values and the healthy lifestyle of the modern woman.
Why tampons and why the subscription model?
There are really two points to this question. We went after the tampon market because of where this product is placed in a woman’s body. We felt that as a product placed next to a woman’s most absorbent tissue, it should be improved upon first. We recognised that we did not want to utilise cardboard applicators or even go the non-applicator route for our tampons as traditional organic brands had, given that the majority of women in the US today are most comfortable using a plastic applicator, we decided to put a better tampon into this format. We wanted to keep our product as familiar as possible for the consumer without sacrificing the organic qualities that we believe in.
As for the decision to use the subscription service to distribute our products to consumers, the rationale was based on our own understanding of how women want to purchase tampons in general. Our analysis suggested that up to 70% of women prefer to buy their tampons in-store. However, 30% of the market wants the convenience of delivery when it comes to purchasing these products. Cora is aimed at this 30% demographic of women whose main motivating factor of convenience allows us to supply them with a safe, quality product and also allows for greater interaction with our brand. The subscription model allows us to have a much closer relationship with our customers and therefore we have a better understanding about how they feel about our products and how we can best serve them.
Speaking of demographics, who is your ideal consumer?
Our customer is a woman in her late 20s to mid-30s who is a professional and is really starting to accelerate into her career. There is something about that stage in life for a woman, where all of a sudden she is starting to be more conscientious about her body and starting to think more about both her reproductive and overall personal health. Many women are beginning to think about their use of birth control and if they should move to a more natural birth control option. A byproduct of all this recognition of personal and reproductive health is the recognition that conventional non-organic menstrual products may not be the healthiest option. Women are asking for more transparency and better quality products and this has been quite evident in the feedback that we have received from numerous surveys.
How educated do you find the consumer? Do they just buy certain products due to habit?
Indeed, there will always be some learning curve and a degree of education that needs to come from us in order to provide the consumer with the information that they need in order to make the best informed decision regarding our products. We really try to address this by generating our own content in order to be a one-stop resource for women. Additionally, because we are investing in informing our consumer base, this feeds into growing our brand.
How do you spread your message?
Our informed customers will often bring up the subjects of periods and tampons when they are amongst their friends. In order to capitalise on this moment we have created a product called the Stowaways, which are individual lipstick-sized cardboard capsules containing our tampons that can easily be passed to friends. In fact, each Stowaway has a unique code that allows the new user, and the woman who gave it to her, a free month of tampons from us. This has been a refreshing and unique way for us to get our name out there and capitalise on word-of-mouth advertising. Additionally, our Instagram account has done very well for us. Our tampons and accessories have an aesthetically pleasing look to them and many of our fans enjoy the way that they look in the bathroom or when they are out on the town.
Can you talk a little bit about the price point of Cora Tampons?
There is no denying the fact that we offer a higher-end product. However, the price does vary a bit due to the quantity of tampons chosen as well as the additional accessories a customer orders. By allowing this to fluctuate, our customers are able to control their spending a bit more. We feel that the quality of our tampons, the experience of using a Cora branded product, and the opportunity to raise social awareness of the plight of young women in the developing world who need more access to feminine hygiene products, makes us an appealing brand that women want to consume.
Could you elaborate on the social aspect of Cora’s mission?
Cora has partnered with Aakar Innovations, a social enterprise that seeks to enable women to produce and distribute sustainable biodegradable sanitary pads in their communities within India. This grassroots organisation allows us to purchase products from them which are made by local women, many of whom would have been unemployed had it not been for this organisation. These locally produced sanitary pads are then given to girls in local schools, so that they continue to stay in school and get a full education. This is very much a part of a holistic model that we as a company believe in. We want to get the products into the hands of these girls as soon as possible in order to allow them to spend more time in school.
How do you view the competition for tampons in the US?
Between Cora and the big brands out there, I think the difference is obvious. From our branding, packaging, and all the way to the quality of our single ingredient, we know we provide a much different product than the big brands. In regards to some of the new products on the market from other start-ups, the differences are primarily in the product ingredients. Many start-ups are making claims of being “natural” or “all cotton”, but consumers need to understand there is a vast difference between “natural” and “ organic” – natural is a vague and under-regulated label, whereas certified organic products meet rigorous standards of purity. However, I feel we also excel in the depth of the Cora brand. We are looking to address all the different pain points associated with women’s periods. These pain points range from the actual ingredients that go into the tampon, to dealing with periods at work, at home, or even when out socialising with friends. Our Little Black Clutch allows for a woman to confidently keep her tampons with her at work, she could literally have it next to her laptop on her desk and most people would not even bat an eye. Our Little Black Box elevates tampons from being discarded in a box under the bathroom sink and allows it to move to the countertop in an elegant fashion. Finally, Stowaways allow women to be in a social setting without worrying about having to hide a tampon up their sleeve while they head to the restroom. All of these items are included in every woman’s subscription.
How do you balance the idea of discretion, versus the idea of female empowerment and being proud of a completely natural process?
Our brand is committed to removing any shame and embarrassment that surrounds menstruation. However, we want to create an experience that is sophisticated and provides a sense of empowerment. There is a big difference between being ashamed of or embarrassed about menstruation and allowing it to be a personal private experience. Cora aims to elevate that experience, while celebrating the female body.
We see an appetite from the consumer for our products and we believe our entrance into the feminine hygiene category is just part of a larger overall cultural movement. Issues surrounding women’s health and feminine hygiene in particular are now widely being discussed through the media. For centuries the topic had been private and taboo, but the wall is finally coming down and we are starting to have an open and honest conversation about things such as the tampon tax, transparency of ingredients, and overall regulation of such consumer goods, and we are very excited to be at the leading edge of all of it.