In 2015, a few things happened that moved menstruation from the margins and into the center of the cultural conversation. The term “tampon tax” entered the lexicon. Instagram removed a photo of poet and artist Rupi Kaur wearing pants stained with period blood. Kiran Gandhi ran the London Marathon while visibly menstruating. After Megyn Kelly sparred with Donald Trump during the Republican presidential debate, he suggested she must have been menstruating. Period underwear brand Thinx claimed that its ad campaign for the New York City subway, which featured imagery of grapefruits and egg yolks juxtaposed with women, had been unfairly sctutinized by the MTA’s ad partner. In the years that followed, this shift from shame to pride inspired a bumper crop of modern period care brands predicated on the idea that a box of pads or tampons could or should be displayed on a counter rather than hidden away in a drawer.
“Self-care is driving this brand forward,” said Lola co-founder Alexandra Friedman in a 2016 Vogue profile of the early DTC period care brand. The piece attributed Lola’s success to “the awakening of women who wanted their tampons to be as healthy as their acai bowls.” Brands have used self-care as a marketing tool for years. But until the mid aughts, that now trite concept of equating self-worth with a dollar amount spent hadn’t yet been applied to tampons and pads. Seemingly overnight, period products were repositioned from an unglamorous necessity into a premium product that could be separated into “elevated” or not.
It’s surprising that the recent rebrand from Cora, which launched with organic cotton pads and tampons in 2016, takes a similar tack as its main competitor did six years ago. Because while the positioning is the same, the resulting brand is very different. The full-scale redesign by Mother features warm, rich colors, and an oversized logo with a storybook feel — a sharp turn from the brand’s original largely grayscale palette. In a recent interview with CreativeBoom, VP of brand and creative Andrea McCulloch said Cora wanted, “to evolve period care to feel more like self-care,” citing skincare and beauty packaging as sources of inspiration.
This is the same strategy Lola used at launch, back when minimalist Glossier reigned. (Vogue described the Lola box as “a chic, inconspicuous white and slate blue.”) But today, younger skincare brands like Topicals have found success, in part, by creating visual identities awash in color and unpolished images. It makes sense, then, that Cora’s new look feels like a midpoint between the vivid look of a brand like Nixit and the relative blandness of Lola. Many of the menstrual product brands — and there are many — that have appeared in the past seven years have taken this approach. Brands like Ohne, Daye, Viv and even the rebranded Cora are louder, more irreverent and more relatable than aspirational. They’re less about normalizing periods through neutralization and more about leaning into the reality of them. So alongside memes from pop culture produced roughly twenty years ago, brand social media accounts also include education around endometriosis and period pain, hormonal health, and Kaur-esque images of people wearing pads and tampons.
If the first wave of modern period branding was about negation — no flowers, no pink, no imagery of women dancing or running — the second wave is about expansion. August, which launched in January 2020, embodies this shift. Its packaging, designed in-house, features saturated colors and imagery — burgundy, blue clouds, night skies, a flared A mark — printed on recycled paper. It’s fun but not overtly feminine, which is another way of saying it’s very Gen Z. Gendered branding has been on the wane for years, but it’s not just the way brands look that can be alienating to consumers — it’s the way they sound, too. Not everyone who menstruates identifies as a woman, and today, more brands recognize that.
“In the last 4-5 years, packaging has changed, branding has changed, and language has changed around menstruation, and part of that shift is inclusive language,” said Kim Rosas, a reusable period products educator and expert, and creator of Period Nirvana. “It’s not just feminine hygiene, it’s not just for ‘women by women,’ a popular phrase 10 years ago. You don’t see that as much any more,” she said. Since 2012, Rosas has been advising on reusable menstrual products, both in workshops and on social media. In recent years, her audience has shifted from YouTube to TikTok, where she’s developed a following with Gen Z. For younger people, she said, “there’s no taboo, or at least there’s less amount of taboo. We’re talking about periods more.”
In 2020, Rosas launched Period.Shop, an online store with a tight edit of products, mostly menstrual cups and disks, sourced from around the world. Her number one criterion for inclusion on her site is proprietary design. Rosas says that white-labeling — the practice of buying a product from a manufacturer and putting a brand name on it — is a big problem in the industry. “There’s 50 brands of cups that are identical and they’re all different prices,” she says. “You’re just buying the box or the brand.”
Because that’s the thing about period products. No matter how you spin it, for the most part, they all do the same thing. There are only so many ways to design products that serve the same function. But there are infinite ways to market them. Perhaps more than most other personal care products, with period paraphernalia, you’re paying for a brand. In a deeply personal, largely invisible product, there’s never been more opportunity to feel part of something bigger than yourself.