Organic Tampon Company Cora On A Mission To De-Stigmatize “That Time Of The Month”

It’s one of those completely natural bodily functions that is so stigmatized by society, it is more acceptable to give it a nickname than refer to it by its actual name – menstruation. You’ve all heard the “time of the month” phrase, perhaps others like “monthly visitor” or our fave, “surfing the crimson wave”…

And while it may not seem like such a harmful idea, referring to periods by a moniker and treating it as something “gross”, there is a deeper, sexist significance to the way it is discussed in society. Thankfully, we are starting to see a movement of activists, companies and entrepreneurs working to dismantle menstrual stigma, where in some countries it can literally be the difference between a prosperous future one steeped in poverty.

If you recently tuned in to Chelsea Handler’s talk show on Netflix, you may have seen her interview with Molly Hayward, the founder of organic tampon brand Cora, who not only spoke about her company’s mission to rebrand menstruation as something that should not bring about shame for women, but also explained how stigma around periods infiltrates policy and economics across the United States. Heard of the “tampon tax”? Do you know about the hypocrisy between men’s elective cosmetic health choices vs women’s necessary ones? Are you aware that periods are thought of as a “luxury” by some states? Are you angry yet?

We had an opportunity to speak with Molly Hayward, the brilliant 29 year-old, who Forbes named as one of their “30 Under 30” entrepreneurs, to learn how Cora is working to revolutionize the way society talks about periods, and how a trip to countries the developing world, witnessing the way women in poverty dealt with menstruation, became the spark for this company.

 

Cora’s mission is to revolutionize the conversation around menstruation, instead of the way it is currently viewed in taboo ways. Can you explain more?

Cora exists to give women healthy, modern solutions to manage their periods. Many women grow up being told to hide their periods and not talk about them. We want to make conversations about our bodies completely normal, and for women to feel proud of the awesome power of their female bodies. Cora is also dismantling the traditional period experience–eliminating the pink and blue pastels typically seen. Instead, we’ve created a brand that’s smart and grown up – just like our customers.

How can period shaming contribute to dangerous and harmful effects on women’s lives around the world?

Period shaming for women around the world is a huge problem and can often have long term debilitating effects. In some developing countries, women are exiled from their families and communities during menstruation because it’s considered unclean. Many girls will just stay home from school during their periods because they can’t afford or don’t have access to products like pads.

It’s crazy to me that there’s so much shame around something all women experience at some point in their lives. I think the more open we are, and the harder we collectively work to dismantle the taboo, the closer we will be to changing the narrative and taking away some of this unwarranted shame.

In the US, many states still tax tampons as a “luxury item”, yet Viagra is not. Can you talk about the systemic hypocrisy between men’s and women’s health, in relation to menstruation which is completely normal?

It’s frustrating and a blatantly gender-biased tax. As a woman, I’m outraged by this systemic misogyny and insulted by the fact that products that are so intimately tied to women’s health, well-being and dignity are not considered necessities. In addition, tampons are not covered by food stamps, yet we know that 25 million in the United States live below the poverty line and don’t have access to period products.

This is really a decision that has been made and maintained largely by male legislators who don’t understand what it’s like to have to manage your period once a month and spend your hard earned money on what should qualify as a basic good. 

In California, despite being a very progressive state, the current Governor vetoed a bill to change the tax status of menstrual hygiene products because of the revenue it brings in. How is Cora resisting this capitalist mentality toward women’s health?

At Cora, we’ve actually pledged to pay the sales tax for all of our California customers that buy subscriptions online. That means any woman in California who purchases Cora’s organic tampons will pay only for the products, nothing more.

We recognize that there are huge economic impacts for women as well when it comes to the tampon tax. In California, tampons are taxed at 7.5%. A woman can expect to spend around $2000 on tampons in her lifetime, meaning she’ll pay an additional $150 in taxes alone for the “privilege” of the health and dignity afforded by period products. Conversely, in many states, items like candy bars, Rogaine and Viagra carry no tax at all. 

There are many homeless women, and women in shelters and prisons who are denied access to tampons and pads. How is Cora filling the gap to ensure more women have the products they need?

I’m really proud of the work that Cora does in this space. We’re honored to partner with organizations like Jacob’s House, The Bowery Mission and Simply the Basics to provide period products to girls and women in need right here at home. We’ve also participated in disaster relief efforts and donated 10,000 tampons to Hurricane Harvey victims.

The first federal bill concerning stigma around menstrual health was only introduced this year in Congress by Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY). With so few women still in political leadership, how can an increase in numbers potentially change the period landscape? 

The truth is many of the detrimental decisions being made around women’s health today are made by men – and that is largely because there are still so few women in political leadership roles. I believe that having more women in politics who understand the female perspective when it comes to issues like menstrual health is essential in order for progress to be made. I was excited to see Representative Meng’s bill and look forward to seeing more legislation that is period conscious as we get more women in office.

Your travels to a number of developing countries impacted your desire to change the status quo about periods. Can you share how women dealt with menstruation in some of these countries?

The idea for Cora came to me while I was volunteering with a non-profit organization in Africa, where I saw first hand the dangerous and harmful impacts for women who don’t have access to the period care products that they need. Millions of girls around the world lack access to the period care they need. In India, one in four girls drops out of school at puberty. Many resort to using rags, sand, ash and newspaper to manage their periods. Women have reported that they engage in prostitution in order to make enough money to buy menstrual pads.

It’s incredibly unsafe for women to go to these lengths to manage their periods and detrimental to their futures to not be able to attend school for 3-5 days each month. We’ve partnered with incredible organizations like Aakar Innovations and ZanaAfrica to purchase and distribute safe, clean and quality products for women and girls in India and Kenya. For every month’s supply of Cora that you purchase, we help provide a month’s supply of pads and health education to a girl in need.

Cora is made from organic materials. Why was this important to you?

I strongly believe that what you put in your body matters. Before I started Cora, I had absolutely no idea how many harmful ingredients were in tampons. The period industry isn’t required to disclose ingredients, so I really had no way of knowing what I was putting into my body. That really frightened me. As I did more research, I found out that most brands are made with cotton that is grown with pesticides, or synthetics like rayon. These materials and chemicals are linked to serious health issues, not to mention environmental devastation.

I wanted to create a brand that represents the smart, modern, conscious woman of today, which is why Cora’s tampons are 100% certified organic cotton and don’t include any pesticides, synthetics, chlorine bleach, fragrances or BPA.

Clearly Cora is more than just a menstrual hygiene product company. So what do you hope the impact of the brand will be long-term? 

Our mission is to change the experience of womanhood for the better–for all women everywhere, and our goal is to ensure that no person’s health, dignity or opportunity is ever at risk because she can’t access the period care she needs. On that front, we have some exciting new announcements about how the brand will be growing in 2018, so stay tuned!

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