It's estimated that women spend more than $18,000 over the course of a lifetime on products related to having a period each month. Couple this with the long-existant gender wage gap (yes, women still only earn about 80% as much as men), plus the fact that many of the necessities women purchase regularly are subjected to what's known as the pink tax—the price difference between items marketed to women compared to those marketed to men—and it's pretty obvious that the price of being a woman is no bargain.
For these reasons and many more, Maria Markina and Allie Griswold decided it was time to take the cost and convenience of buying tampons into their own hands. The two former consultants left their steady careers to launch Athena Club, a feminine care subscription start-up that boasts high-quality tampons without the high prices.
"Maria and I had a lot of conversations just asking why is this so complicated?" Griswold explains. "Then we realized we could actually do something about it. We didn't have to sit out on the sidelines." Find out how these two women are changing the tampon industry and why it matters.
The Big Idea
Like most women, Markina and Griswold are no strangers to the repetitive hassles of menstruation. The monthly trips to the drugstore, stained underwear, cramps, headaches, and unexpectedly finding yourself without tampons are all bad enough without considering the fact that feminine care products are more often than not taxed as a luxury item, rather than a necessity. Although you'd be hardpressed to find a woman who would consider having a period each month a luxury, just nine states have exempted tampons and other feminine care products from sales tax.
With the goal of making something that's normally an annoyance better for women everywhere, Markina and Griswold set out to produce high-quality tampons free of harsh chemicals and dyes that women could customize and have delivered for a low monthly cost. With Athena Club's business model, women can have 18 tampons delivered to their front door for less than $7 month and can choose between premium and organic tampons, pick the absorbances that work best for their period, and choose how many bags they want to be delivered every one, two, or six months.
Making It Happen
After deciding that other subscription services were too expensive, the co-founders began researching ways to make this kind of convenience accessible to more women. "One thing we've noticed is that a lot of subscriptions that are affordable, that are very convenient, and that are there for you are geared toward men, and everything that’s there for women is often priced with a whole upcharge—with the pink tax," Markina explains. "We wanted to find a way to offer a product that’s a basic necessity at the right price without the whole luxury label on it," she says.
To do so, Markina and Griswold did extensive testing to find the right product and the right manufacturer before leaving their former jobs to pursue the start-up full-time. They held focus groups to hear what real people were looking for and worked to create a brand based on the experiences of women.
"We always saw Athena as an independent fearless, strong woman who had many talents, and we thought that was a great role model for ourselves and for women out there who can't be put into one box," Griswold says, explaining the origins of the company's powerful name. "We think that Athena represents the modern woman," says Markina.
Why It's Important
In addition to saving more people time and money, the women behind Athena Club are focused on making an even larger impact. To them, it's about education, open conversations, and giving back. "In the U.S., over 50% of women have at some point in their life felt embarrassed about having their period, and that’s something that should never happen," says Markina. "It’s natural, we've had it forever, it should not be something people are embarrassed to talk about."
One way they're addressing this issue is through a blog dubbed The Owl, in which they publish articles about things like how to deal with period stains and debunking vagina myths. "We wanted to create a space where women have—in a fun and interesting and relevant way—information that they need," says Griswold.
Most importantly, they're also working to help women globally who don't have access to tampons. "A lot of women in developing countries have to choose between education or going to work and having their period," Griswold notes. When you do the math, that quickly adds up to around 60 days a year that some women aren't able to freely live their lives and miss out on gaining an education or making money.
To combat this devastating obstacle, Markina and Griswold set up a program in which customers can choose to donate a month's supply to one of Athena Club's charitable partners like Support the Girls and Period.org when they refer a friend. Additionally, before they even launched the company, the entrepreneurs were able to donate more than 10,000 tampons to those in need, allowing more women the freedom to pursue the things that matter most to them.
By making tampons more accessible and affordable, Markina and Griswold are taking major steps forward in the fight to eliminate the luxury tax on tampons, reduce the stigma around having a period, and help women around the world continue to go about their lives no matter what time of the month it is.