Why More Women Need To Be Building Companies For Women

Flip over a box of cereal, and you’ll find the ingredients neatly listed. The same goes for most packaged items — cleaning supplies, makeup, etc. But oddly enough, that convention doesn’t carry over to feminine-care products.
When LOLA cofounder Jordana Kier started researching her future company, she was seeking a solve for a common pain point around her period: never seeming to have a tampon when she needed one — hence the origin of the brand's optional subscription service. But as she dove deeper, it struck her that most boxes of tampons sold at her local drugstore lacked a comprehensive ingredient list. In fact, many used the phrase “may contain” in regard to rayon, polyester, and other materials. “I was like, What? May contain? How was it possible that there was such a lack of transparency in this extremely intimate product? It made me really angry,” Kier says.
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There lay the spark of inspiration that Kier and her cofounder, Alexandra Friedman, would turn into a feminine-care brand with a whopping $35.2 million in funding. Today, four years since its inception, the company's growth is showing no signs of slowing down. Not only did the brand open its first dedicated NYC HQ, it also launched a line of sex products in May.
How did she do it? We teamed up with Reebok, another brand dedicated to building better products for women and shining a light on those who create them, to discover how Kier and LOLA are disrupting their industry, approaching growth, and putting women’s health and wellness in women’s hands — which if you ask us, is exactly where they belong.
I understand why you were inspired to start LOLA, but how did you know the idea would resonate?
“The really interesting thing was doing this customer research in the beginning, because Alex and I were both like, ‘Are we the only two people who have never thought about what’s in a tampon? Or does nobody really talk about this?’ What we found through doing a ton of different focus groups throughout the country was that nobody really knew. That was, I think, the moment when we realized that if we could start the conversation and create an environment where women could ask questions and talk about their reproductive health in a way that then led the way to better solutions, that would be really special.”
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And it is! How did you go about building the brand from there?
“One of the first questions was what we wanted to do in house versus what we were comfortable working on with an external partner. We’re not industrial engineers, and we weren’t necessarily from the get-go trying to drastically alter the way that a product is constructed. What we’re trying to alter is the messaging and the way we talk about the product. So we decided we needed to have in house and be experts on marketing, branding, and tone of voice.
“From there, it was truly one step at a time. You’re standing at the foot of a mountain and you’re like, How am I going to climb this mountain and get to the top? One day, we would ask where we'd source our products. We would do a big, deep dive into the supplier landscape, get on a lot of phone calls, and make trips across the world to wrap our heads around how these products are made and what standards we would want to be applied on our specific brand of products. Then, we’d wake up another day and wonder how we'd go about building our website. We would talk to a bunch of friends who have either built companies or maybe knew of folks who knew of folks who ran web development agencies, and we started having conversations with potential partners.”
What specifically did you want to change about the tampon production process?
“What we wanted to do was find a partner who was excited about creating something that was made with 100% organic cotton with a plastic applicator. It was a marriage of what the big brands do and what the smaller, organic ones have, which is organic tampons without a plastic applicator.
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“We were already embarking on trying to change the way women thought about the category. That was a challenge in and of itself. We knew we needed to achieve that before we could take feedback from the market and actually improve the product based on what we heard. We’re now really starting to think about how we build something special for this next wave of innovation in tampon design.”
Despite not being fully transparent about the ingredients, the FDA assures consumers that with proper use, conventional feminine-care products are safe. What's different about LOLA's product?
“For us, the big value prop is giving you that peace of mind of knowing what you're putting in your body verses something that isn’t required to have a comprehensive list of ingredients. I don’t know why there need to be trade secrets around what goes into a tampon — it’s going into a woman’s body for 40 years. Ten times out of 10, I would rather know. We would never put something in a product that we wouldn’t be comfortable using ourselves. We’re a mostly female company, we all use the products, and what we develop comes from the personal journeys that we’ve had.”
Who would you say is your target audience?
“It’s every woman who has ever thought about what goes in and around her body, in and around her baby, or in and around her family. We are setting out to normalize a conversation around women’s reproductive health and her body in a way that makes it less stigmatized and more just part of the mainstream health conversation. In that way, I don’t think that we’re just going after a subset of women who, say, only eat organic. We believe that every woman has the right to know what she’s putting in and around her body. That’s what I think any woman could get on board with.”
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So how did you go about getting her on board?
“I think we changed the conversation first. We hear from one in four customers about their reproductive health. We get handwritten letters. We have customers show up at our office just wanting to chat. It’s been amazing to see that the platform that we are creating is something people really want and are actually engaging with.
“When we launched our sex category, we did a big campaign and launched a national hotline where you could call in to a number and hear stories around facts and different folks’ take on their own sexual experiences. For example, Lena Dunham talked about sex after surgery. You can also leave a message, and at the end of the campaign, we’ll be calling people back to make sure we’re engaging in the conversation. We’re even taking some of what we’re hearing in the messages and putting specific sentences on our social channels. It’s amazing to see the dialogue continue online, on the phone, and in people’s own personal networks.”
Speaking of your new sex category, tell us how that came to be.
“Condoms are traditionally marketed primarily to men. They are certainly a user of the product, but they are not the only user of the product. Why isn’t there a brand out there that speaks to both partners in a productive and humane way that’s not sexualized, not feminized, but something in the middle where there are two people who use this product whose needs and desires matter equally? These have historically not been products that people talk about. Big brands have just relied on very rote behavior of people running into a drugstore, picking up what they know, and trying not to make eye contact with the cashier.
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“Fun fact, too: There also aren't ingredient requirements for condoms. The only thing we see on a condom box is whether or not they’re made with latex, because a lot of people have very severe latex allergies. But there’s nothing about the lubricant or any of the other raw materials. And yet it’s going in my body.”
Your First Period Kit has also generated some buzz. What’s the thought behind it?
“It was really inspired by our customers. We were hearing from a lot of women who had young daughters, like, ‘Hey, do you have a bundle that I can share with my daughter? She’s about to go through puberty. I’m terrified. I don’t really know how to broach the conversation with her, but I want her to be prepared. Do you have any suggestions of something you’ve come across, or do you have something yourself?’
“We also heard that young girls are way more mature than you and I were when we got our periods. They don't want to be spoken down to. They don’t want to have code names for their vaginas. That inspired us to rethink how we could approach this important inflection point in our lives where you start to become aware of your body and its changes. What could we provide? Yes, it’s product. Yes, it’s content. But I think the most exciting thing was seeing the conversation that started to happen between daughters and their moms or dads or aunts or cousins, whomever. We want to equip young women with the information first, because we often approach these milestones or inflection points without the information first, and we find ourselves in reactive positions. So many first-period stories are so similar, and that doesn’t actually change as you get older. That feeling of vulnerability is the same.”
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To shift topics a little, did being so female-focused affect raising money? I imagine you spoke to a lot of male investors and venture capitalists, just given how that industry tilts.
“Certainly in the beginning, we were met with a lot of blank stares and people who were like, ‘I don’t understand what the problem is.’ That frankly encouraged us to go back to the drawing board to see how we could create a connection with people who aren’t living this directly. It also gave us the opportunity to educate in a special way. [When we were raising] our series A, we had a ‘vaginas 101’ slide. It showed everything that happens to a woman throughout her life as far as her reproductive health. To be able to shape the story for somebody sitting across the table who potentially doesn’t have a personal connection to these products actually ended up being really successful.”
LOLA's shown an ongoing commitment to making positive change. Why have you continued to push that?
“It all goes back to building something that you personally feel needs to exist, and I feel like a brand that takes me through my entire reproductive life should. We do want to run a good business and have healthy business fundamentals, but we also want to feel like our values are aligned with something that’s greater than just having a successful business. We donate product to women who don’t have access to tampons, pads, and liners throughout the U.S. There’s no perfect playbook for having a positive impact on your community, but as humans, it has to be part of what we do. Our mission is to start a conversation and provide women with access to information to make sure they’re making informed decisions around their bodies. That doesn’t just mean women who can afford these products. It means every woman.”
What’s your best advice for others who are looking to launch something disruptive?
“About a year ago, I was on a panel with Nadia Boujarwah, CEO and cofounder of Dia&Co. Somebody asked her what other businesses she was thinking of starting. She explained that she wouldn’t have started a business if it wasn’t for this. She saw a problem, started with that problem, and it turned into a business. I feel like right now, a lot of people are just looking to start companies. I don’t know if I would have started a company if it weren't for this one. It is all-consuming. You have to be fully ready for it to be part of your personal, professional, physical, and mental life. Don’t start with starting a business. Start with a problem that really pisses you off.”
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