Reinventing the tampon: Meet the brands shaking up the $21.6 billion period care industry

Modern period brands want to reclaim the conversation around menstruation.

August, which launched in June 2021, wants people to feel more comfortable talking about their periods. (Photo: August)
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In 2017, when U.K. period care brand Bodyform released the world’s first advertisement for a sanitary pad that featured red blood, rather than the strange blue liquid that normally features in promotions for these products, the world applauded. Or perhaps it was a slow clap – Bodyform had, after all, been around for 77 years by that point.

It would be fair to say the period care industry has traditionally been prudish when it comes to the ins and outs of menstruation, with ads more likely to discuss cleanliness and discreteness than share any insights as to what these products actually do, or how to use them.

“A lot of period care brands of the past were built by people who did not get periods,” says Nadya Okamoto, the founder of period care brand August, which launched in June. “The tampon we use today is not vastly different from what existed in the 1930s. I believe the product itself needs to be reinvented, because nobody says ‘I love my period care, there’s no leaks, I always have what I need and it feels great.’”

August, Okamoto says, is here to offer a fresh perspective on the $21.6 billion period care market, campaigning for better products and better conversations around the reality of having a period.

Its tampons and pads are made using biodegradable materials, and the brand absorbs the tampon tax in states where it still applies. For each purchase, it donates pads and tampons to underserved schools. Its website also serves as a knowledge hub for all things menstruation, with articles explaining how much blood is lost during the average period, or how taking testosterone might impact menstrual cycles and fertility.

A new wave of period care brands

August is not alone in its mission to make periods a bit better. In June, period underwear pioneer Thinx rolled out a lower-priced collection of its products at Target and CVS stores, while Cherie Hoeger, the cofounder of period cup brand Saalt, says demand for her products is expected to grow by almost 50% in the U.S. over the next five years. In September 2019, Daye launched the world’s first CBD-infused tampons, which aim to relieve pain and cramps. Sequel, which launched its waitlist this year, has used a spiral design for its tampons, which it says makes them better at absorbing blood, while Planera has designed a pad that can be flushed down the toilet, where it will fall apart like toilet paper.

Beyond pads and tampons, other brands are exploring how food and supplements can be used to manage period pains and reproductive health, such as Marea’s bloat relieving powders and Agni’s “hormone balancing” cookies and seasoning mixes.

But even as these brands push the boundaries of this industry, one problem still remains: advertising. Okamoto says that August has videos taken down by social media platforms “on a weekly basis, even if it’s red paint.”

“As a brand, it’s made us really scrappy, because we cannot depend on these platforms for ads,” she says. “Our launch video had fake menstrual blood, and we could not put any ad dollars behind it, so we had to make it go viral ourselves.”

The strategy is to keep talking about it: if a video is taken down, August will point out the absurdity of the situation. “We talk about it, we make TikToks about it, we just keep going,” Okamoto says, adding that this strategy has enabled August to build a highly engaged following of over 16,000 on TikTok. “We have to create a cultural change where we’re comfortable talking about periods.”

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