Most women know little about the integrity of the menstrual products that they use and their effects on their bodies. The conventional, non-organic tampons that most women use are made with rayon, a synthetic material that increases the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome, and with cotton that has been contaminated with toxic pesticides that have been linked to cancer, infertility, and other serious illnesses. The cotton bleaching process also produces a chemical byproduct called dioxin, a known carcinogen that accumulates in the body with exposure over time. The average Western woman will use 11,000 to 16,000 menstrual management products in her lifetime. That is ten years of cumulative direct exposure to these harmful chemicals and materials.
Furthermore, many girls in developing countries are unable to afford menstrual products, so they resort to using old rags, mud, and even animal dung to manage their periods, which are ineffective and can cause serious infections that are difficult to treat. Unwilling to risk a humiliating leak in public, girls will stay home from school during their periods, causing them to fall behind in their studies or drop out completely. In India, only 12 percent of girls and women have access to and can afford sanitary pads. Not surprisingly, 23 percent of girls in India drop out of school when they reach puberty. These figures mirror those for girls across the developing world.
Cora is solving this problem by utilizing the one-for-one model, which has been popularized by TOMS Shoes and Warby Parker. The company makes safe and healthy organic menstrual products more accessible through convenient monthly deliveries, and for each monthly shipment to a customer in the US, the company provides a month’s supply of its Anandi sanitary pads to a girl in India so she can stay in school during her period. Anandi pads are made from environmentally sustainable plant fibers, making them disposable, biodegradable, and affordable. They’re made by women in small-scale manufacturing units in rural villages and urban slums throughout India. These manufacturing units create jobs for women, support the local economy, and create an affordable source of sanitary pads for the entire community. We spoke with Molly Hayward, Founder and CEO of Cora, about this inspiring endeavor.
What inspired you to start this company?
Molly Hayward: I spent years travelling to developing countries as a student, as well as on my own after college - from Vietnam and Cambodia to Kenya to India. I was always focused on women’s education and economic empowerment, and when I learned that an estimated 100 million girls in developing countries stay home from school during their periods each month because they can’t afford menstrual products, and met girls for whom this was true, I immediately wanted to start a company that would serve as a catalyst for ending this injustice and removing this barrier to education that they face. I decided on Cora’s current model because I also wanted to improve the experience of menstruation for women in my own society - to provide them with safe and healthy organic products in a convenient and fully customizable format that focuses on their physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being as women - and connect them with women and girls around the world in our one universal experience as women: menstruation.
Can you tell us more about your decision to be a for-profit company, rather than becoming a nonprofit?
MH: I believe in the power of the market and profitability to propel social change. I also believe in the responsibility of businesses to solve and mitigate social and environmental problems as much as any individual. When I founded Cora, I saw an opportunity to engage the woman in my own society who purchases menstrual products by necessity each month and to connect her with the social and environmental issues that are associated with menstruation and women’s health globally. I love the idea of taking something that all women need and purchase and tying it in a quantifiable way to a cause. Our customers know that getting their monthly box in the mail means a girl in India is getting the products she needs, too. Our boxes literally change lives.
Entrepreneurs like Yvon Chouinard [of Patagonia] and Anita Roddick [of The Body Shop] have inspired me from the beginning because they didn’t start their companies with the intention of becoming global do-gooder brands, they just wanted to incorporate the beliefs they held and the lifestyles they valued into the products they sold. For the same reasons, we became a certified B Corp through B Lab last year to firmly establish our belief in the power of profit to fuel movements, because we knew it wasn’t about creating another charity and simply asking for help - it was about creating awareness and changing women’s lifestyles, and in turn fostering social and economic justice for those in need.
Does your bottom line directly benefit from your sustainable business practices? If so, how?
MH: Absolutely. Our customers are women who have made a conscious decision to honor the purity of their bodies by using safe and healthy organic menstrual products and to support a cause that empowers women and girls in need. They use our service not only because it’s convenient, but also because we stand for something - namely, consciousness and social responsibility as an integral part of a healthy, fulfilling lifestyle.
What’s next for Cora?
MH: We’ve been a boutique-sized company for the past year since we officially launched, which has allowed us to develop strong personal relationships with our customers and gain tremendous insight into our product and service. Now we’re ready to scale our business - both in the US and internationally - so that we can provide safe and healthy products to more women and girls, and, in turn, help more women and girls in need. We're confident that as women learn more about their bodies and the obvious problems posed by conventional products, they’ll begin to see the value in a company like Cora that gives them a way to manage their periods that truly honors their bodies and spirits at the time each month when they need it most. For us, that means doing more than sending products in a box each month - it means taking responsibility for leading a larger movement for women’s health and empowerment by providing thought-leadership, advocacy, and education about issues affecting half the people on the planet.