As part of our founder interview series we speak with one of the &SISTERS founders, Lucy, about what it's like to start a sustainable feminine care brand and the &SISTERS fight against period poverty.
What were you doing before you started &SISTERS? What inspired you to launch the company?
I first became aware of the taboo & hardship surrounding feminine care when travelling through S.E. Asia in my mid-twenties. Whilst visiting countries such as Nepal, Myanmar & India it was hard to find sanitary pads let alone tampons. And I was the lucky one. Unable to afford menstrual products many girls & women resorted to using leaves, bark, ash, mud & even animal dung. Of course these not only caused serious infections but were often ineffective. Fast forward twenty years & whether through poverty, politics, stigmatism or lack of awareness, easy access to feminine care products is still not the norm in many parts of the world.
Having spent 20 years gaining experience and earning an income advising companies on how best to market their products, making a difference & giving back is also something I feel strongly about.
Why did you choose the name &SISTERS?
From day one, the &SISTERS mission has been about female unity and empowerment and supporting disadvantaged girls across the world. I wanted to create a name that embodied the meaning of Sisterhood, here in the UK and further afield.
The icon marque plays on the idea of both an infinite number of ‘sisters’ and the bond between women. Other interpretations are the idea of generations (mother, daughter, grandmother) and the play on the word ‘ancestor’. It also lends itself naturally to both the brand ethos of ‘By Women, For Women’ and the tag-line “Sisters For Sisters”
Why is choosing organic cotton and biodegradable ingredients so important when it comes to menstrual care?
Periods are natural, and I believe that feminine care should be too. Mainstream brands are often made from non-breathable, non-biodegradable synthetic fibres. They also tend not to list their ingredients and probably for good reason! From our research, most women are in the dark as to the products they use on a monthly basis, believing them to be made from cotton. Having been a fan of organic cotton products for a while and never one to shy away from a challenge, a more natural & healthy period that was better for the body and our planet seemed a cause worth pursuing.
A lot of women are a bit scared to try a menstrual cup. What advice would you have for someone who is a little hesitant?
We believe that women should have a choice. About what they put it their body and what they don’t. Our nüdie cup took 18 months of extensive research, design innovation and numerous prototypes. The unique design has Tri-flow™ air release holes, the Pebble™ pull for hassle-free removal and is made from silky smooth hypoallergenic medical-grade silicone for extra comfort. However, we know the nüdie cup may not be for everyone. We would encourage women to go easy on themselves; try using it when not on their period, try using it when feeling super relaxed, and for the first couple of times, try using with a liner or pad to put your mind at ease that there will be no leakage. We also recognise that not everyone ends up with the correct size of cup and so we offer a free exchange if this is the case. The sizing of cups is different to tampons and pads as they are based on age and strength of pelvic floor muscles rather than absorbency. So, for example, if someone is in their mid-30’s and has really strong pelvic floor muscles a ‘medium’ might be a better fit than a ‘large’ or similarly someone in their early 20’s might find a ‘Small’ is more suitable than a ‘Medium’.
What does the term “Period Poverty” mean and how is &SISTERS working to fight this?
Period poverty is a global issue: UNICEF estimates that at least 1 in 10 girls in Africa and India miss or drop out of school because of their periods. Why does this matter? Because for every year a girl stays in school her future income increases by 10%-20%. &SISTERS believes that everyone deserves respect and should not be stigmatised by the taboo and shame surrounding periods and that’s why 10% of our profits go to the &SISTERS Foundation, supporting women’s health, education and economic empowerment.
&SISTERS has a beautiful social media presence and editorial arm, Crimson Conversations. How do you think your branding and company ethos have contributed to breaking menstrual taboos?
&SISTERS believes that women should be given all the facts they need to make an informed decision. With our Instagram, we want women to feel that periods and menstruation are normal and natural, and even, dare we say it, ‘cool’. We always go back to that discussion of what came first the chicken or the egg, and we are just in total awe at how amazing women and their bodies are. We think with taboo ‘words’ and ‘sayings’ being used more in day to day pop culture that this will de-stigmatise the taboo that surrounds them, and hope one day women will be able to talk about vaginas without them being sexualised.
As a branding expert, do you think more companies will encompasses social missions into their business models for marketing tactics? And if so, how can we tell which brands are authentic in their fight for a better world?
We feel passionate about the social mission aspect of our business; it gives us direction and focus. It also helps us to realise that although we are trying very hard, we are still such a small piece of the pie, and the more we can do to encourage others to follow the better. Unfortunately there is a lot of ‘green-washing’. If a brand is really authentic in their efforts to make a change, they will either be affiliated with an approved charity, or have a charity arm of their business (we have the &SISTERS Foundation)
How do you try and live more sustainably in your day-to-day life?
There are certain things I have been doing to be more sustainable for many years, only now have they become much more mainstream. Years before Anya Hindmarch did her ‘I’m not a plastic bag’ bag (and that was in 2007!) I was using canvas shopping bags for food. My husband has always been a stickler for recycling so that’s second nature to me now. I have lived most of my life supporting ‘slow fashion’ – there are pieces in my wardrobe that have gone from me, to my mother, to my daughter and back to me again.
What do you look for in other brands that you support?
I love a social mission. Toms One for One model is of course very impressive. In general, I look for natural and organic products, although I am very low maintenance when it comes to beauty regimes. In terms of clothing, I avoid buying those made from synthetic fibres and look out for anything that mentions fair treatment of workers.
How would you like to see &SISTERS grow in the future?
We would love every woman to have a nüdie cup in her period armoury, even if they only use it occasionally. And of course when they’re not using their cup to use organic cotton feminine care, to ensure that each woman treads as lightly as possible on the planet and avoiding using non-sustainable and harmful plastic wherever possible. Our hope is that along the way we can educate, support and help break period taboos as we go.