Nikki and Leah are the fearless entrepreneurs and founders of bespoke, organic tampon subscription service, OHNE. Both under 30. Both organic converts, the two young women are going up against mainstream brands to drive much-needed change in the period industry helping to re-shape the way women shop for their period products.
The pioneering service not only allows you to choose your tampon size and amend delivery dates to suit your cycle, but they’re also working with The School Club Zambia to help underprivileged women to overcome period poverty. To date, they have helped more than 600 girls in their menstrual education and improved access to continued schooling.
#TeamCoco chatted with the female founders helping to champion healthy periods and giving young women around the world the knowledge they need to have complete autonomy over their menstrual health.
Nikki and Leah – what is your background and what inspired you to launch OHNE?
We honestly never imagined we’d go into business together but now we can’t imagine doing anything else. Leah previously founded and ran her own small business and Nikki has worked with NGO’s in Asia and Africa – both experiences have contributed hugely to the way we run OHNE and the vision we had for it before we started, but honestly, it’s been a totally new experience for us.
We’re both really inspired by the change that’s happening across many industries towards being more sustainable. We knew that organic tampons were a ‘thing’ but we just found them so hard to access and we didn’t really feel represented by any of the brands that we could find. When we first started to come up with the idea for OHNE – mostly in between rants about the mainstream period product industry and their apparent obsession with pink and purple swirly designs – we realized that despite the huge amounts of progress when it comes to tech and consumer-focused businesses, there was still a huge gap in the market when it came to businesses catering to women’s health, especially their reproductive and menstrual health. We thought it was about time that someone offered a completely bespoke solution to periods; one which catered to real women’s needs.
Was it difficult to do – how did you get the business off the ground?
We started working on OHNE about a year before we launched and spent the majority of that year conceptualising the brand, sourcing our products, and building the website. A huge part of launching OHNE was creating an ethical and socially responsible business so we spent a lot of time working through our supply chain to ensure that women could trust our products. Once this was all ready we had to raise money to launch the company… which took a lot longer than we thought it would! Pitching our tampon company to a room full of male investors definitely had its challenges. However, we found some really amazing, passionate investors at the beginning of this year.
OHNE’s big selling point is that it’s 100% ethically and socially responsible – tell us more about how/the brand’s mission and your incredible efforts to tackle period poverty both here in the UK and beyond?
A huge part of starting OHNE for us was creating an ethical and socially responsible business. For us, the community comes first. We want to create space both online and in real life for women and people with vaginas to talk freely about periods, menstrual cycles, and their bodies without the shame and stigma that is all too often attached to these topics. Periods are not taboo and treating them as though they are leaves a lot of people who have periods in the dark about how their bodies function and perpetuate period poverty because a lack of menstrual health education contributes to people not knowing how to safely manage their periods or missing school due to the stigma and embarrassment. This is a hugely prevalent problem in rural Zambia, which is where our NGO partner, School Club Zambia, works. They identified that one of the biggest reasons behind girls missing – or dropping out entirely – school, as they got older, was that there was no way for them to safely manage their periods. The stigma around bleeding was so big that they couldn’t ask for help and certainly didn’t feel they could risk bleeding through at school. So SCZ established their Girl’s Programme, which is the program OHNE customers support every month. In each school they work with they build new toilet blocks, hold menstrual education workshops (for the boys too, because ending the taboo is everyone’s responsibility) and teach girls how to make their own reusable sanitary pads out of local resources. Not only are these long-term, sustainable solutions to period poverty in these communities, they’re also equipping girls with skills they can use in their later working lives.
Working with SCZ is definitely one of the most rewarding things about what we’re doing – Nikki has first-hand experience working with SCZ and we really trust them to do the absolute best for the communities they’re working in at every stage of the programme.
Have you seen any major changes since you began your involvement with School Club Zambia?
Since the start of the program, more than 600 girls have been supported in their menstrual education and access to continued schooling – which is incredible. When you think about the fact that roughly half of the Zambian population is underage, schooling becomes even more crucial an investment – the risk of hundreds of girls not getting the education they deserve because of their totally natural biology is heartbreaking, not only for them but for the future of their communities.
One of their most jaw-dropping stats comes from one of the schools where they’ve implemented their Girl’s Programme. In 2018, every single girl at the Kariba South school passed her Grade 7 exams; where six years earlier, not a single girl had passed.
We’re really seeing the shift in equality and access to opportunities in rural areas, and we honestly couldn’t be happier to be supporting SCZ however we can. To learn more about what they do with the Girl’s Programme and beyond, check out their website.
What are the risks of using the sanitary products on the market today – what should women be mindful of?
Oof. There are a lot of risks associated with using mainstream tampons that contain chemical additives, are bleached, and made from cotton sprayed with pesticides, from BV to TSS. When you’re putting something in your body that contains harmful chemicals or toxins, you have to be mindful that, while it’s quite possible you never contract anything serious, there is a very real danger associated with the use of these products. Especially if you’re putting them in your vagina, which has the most absorbent, thin, and sensitive skin of anywhere in the body. We’ve got to be really careful about the products we’re getting all up close n’ personal with. We joke that if you wouldn’t put something in your mouth, you shouldn’t put it in your vagina, but we’re actually deadly serious about that. A 100% organic cotton tampon has never once been linked to a case of TSS.
Fortunately, there are a LOT of safe, organic, sustainable alternatives, from tampons to reusable pads and menstrual cups. These are better for your body and better for the environment too – just do your research before you buy and make sure you’re looking out for brands that aren’t just greenwashing (saying their product is organic when it contains only one organic ingredient in a list of ten, for example). OHNE is currently the only period product brand in the UK to be certified by both Soil Association and GOTs, a fact we’re really proud of. It was incredibly important to us to get these certifications as we wanted to be able to be hyper-transparency from the get-go.
You recently expanded to include CBD oils to help alleviate menstrual cramps – what are the benefits of using it instead of traditional paracetamol/ibuprofen?
We love CBD. It’s an all-natural alternative to traditional medications like paracetamol, which is great for those of us who are starting to turn away from synthetic products or who (like us) are just totally obsessed with all things organic!
NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen, have huge lists of side-effects which we’re not always willing to risk. Paracetamol is usually not classified as an NSAID because it only has minor anti-inflammatory effects – but this is where CBD can (yet again) shine. CBD can help to reduce inflammation, without any of the associated risks and side effects of NSAIDs or paracetamol and with the added bonus of being totally natural and plant-based.
We’d never shame anyone for the medication they chose to take. You can never really know what another person is experiencing or how their cramps affect them – and I’m sure you’ll catch the OHNE team popping the odd headache pill every now and then too! We just want to educate ourselves and our community a little more about the risks associated with these drugs and the fact that there are natural product alternatives available.
Part of what makes OHNE great is the branding itself – everything from its playful photography and beautiful packaging. Where did you start with this – did you work with an agency or did you always have a vision for it and kept the process in-house?
Thank you! No, we never used an agency for our initial branding concept – for the longest time, we were a two-woman team so we really had to do everything ourselves! We’re mood board pros so we just collected images from all over the internet, brands we liked in other industries, colour palettes we thought evoked the vibe we were going for… We were never trying to hide the fact that we’re a period product brand founded by two young women who don’t have a whole marketing team at our disposal. We didn’t want to look like a mainstream period product brand, so we gave ourselves the freedom to let our passions and the aesthetics we really liked ourselves develop organically. Even our iconic papaya shot is only the result of one of the models messing around at the lunch table and holding it between her legs suggestively – we were like this is genius, and sent her back in front of the camera, papaya in tow!
You recently received investment from Matches Fashion and LoveHoney – congrats! – any future plans to expand into a physical retail space in the near future?
Thanks! We’re so excited to have such amazing investors backing us – it really means a lot to us as a young brand to get these votes of confidence from people whose work we admire so much. We’re more interested in innovating in the online world at the moment; our initial mission was to rethink the way women experience their periods, so we’re very much interested in the many ways you can use technology to shake up an established industry. We’d never rule out anything though, and physical retail spaces can be incredibly creative outlets for community engagement too… so watch this space, I guess!
To those women who are looking to start their own business and perhaps don’t have the courage, what is your advice to them? Any tips to get started?
That if you want to make a name for yourself or shake up change in a specific industry, the most important thing is that you believe in your product/business/idea more than anything, because you’re going to have to fight for it! You face a lot of ups and downs, it takes a thick skin, and a commitment to carry on even when things get a bit tough. That’s not to sound fear-mongering, though, we really believe that any idea that’s got you excited enough to want to make a reality is 100% worth seeing through. And if you’re anything like us, once that idea has wriggled into your brain, nothing we could say would be able to put you off making it happen anyway!
What’s next for OHNE?
So. Much. We’re just hitting that place where we’re able to start really expanding our team, our product range, our community – everything! We’ve got big things planned – obviously we can’t spill all our secrets, but we’re really excited to see the tech side of OHNE really take off… we know we’re being cryptic, just keep your eyes peeled.
OHNE boxes cost £5.80 (naked tampons) or £6.80 (applicator tampons) for the number of tampons and the absorbency type you need. And, because they’ve always got your back, both the shipping costs and that pesky tampon tax is on them!
For more information, please visit their website www.ohne.co