It's a 90-degree day in New York City and as I sit on a bench outside a cafe in Union Square slurping iced tea with Lo Bosworth, I become hyper-aware of the way passersby are looking at us. It's not necessarily Bosworth's The Hills fame that's garnering attention—it's our topic of conversation.
"When doctors tell you not to wash down there, they're talking about the internal vagina, not the external genitalia like your vulva," she says with candor as if we were chatting about getting a blowout. A man on the bench next to us glances up from his coffee then walks away; two workers in suits do a doubletake.
Bosworth's chilled, matter-of-fact approach to talking about women's health is a refreshing change from the usual vagina euphemisms—something she intentionally avoided when building her personal care brand, Love Wellness. "Telling women that it's okay to talk about this part of their body is so important. It's a health care issue, not something that's private and embarrassing," she says.
She's certainly not alone with this message. Over the last five years, female-led brands have gained serious momentum in the feminine care industry, a space traditionally dominated by male-led multinationals. Formed by entrepreneurs who are fed up with male-concepted marketing, ill-informed products, and poor shopping experience, these brands are leading the charge with products made for women by women. Meet a few of our favorites.
Allie Griswold and Maria Markina, Co-Founders of Athena Club
Why is it important to you to have products made for women, by women? Throughout history, men have been trying—and failing—to understand periods. When the first female astronaut, Sally Ride, went to space, the NASA engineers asked her whether 100 tampons would be enough for a week mission. While this is an extreme (and actually pretty hilarious) example of the apparent mystery of period-care products, we are very attuned as a female-run company to how we can make periods as easy as possible.
We have lived and breathed (and bled) through many periods and annoying period care shopping experiences. When it comes down to it, we get it. From emergency tampon runs to stuffing big tacky tampon boxes in our bathroom drawers, we’ve been through it all. And we wanted to make it a heck of a lot easier, more affordable, and more aesthetic.
What inspired you to take on the industry and launch your own company? It all really started with one question: Why are tampon subscriptions so expensive? We wanted to offer women a new option: high-quality tampons without the high price tag, and the convenience of being delivered straight to your door.
We also want to prove to ourselves, and generations of women to come, that women are strong just as they are. We’re strong enough to run marathons, run businesses, and run the world—all while on our periods.
Has your perspective as a woman shaped your products? We pulled in our own experiences and surveyed many other women to design a product that really fits a woman’s needs. For instance, we noticed that many organic tampons on the market can fall apart when they get wet. We changed the design to add a woven protective mesh around our organic tampons to prevent the tampon from breaking apart and protect women from that experience.
Polly Rodriguez, CEO of Unbound
Why is it important to you to have products made for women, by women? For so long, sexual wellness products have been designed from the male perspective (also commonly known as "the male gaze"). This resulted in often large, phallic designs that didn't target the clitoris, where 70% of women need stimulation in order to climax. With the recent influx of female, femme, and non-binary designers, we've seen better-designed, intuitive, and higher quality products.
What inspired you to take on the industry and launch your own company? Quite simply, we just wanted to build the type of store we'd want to shop at. It was important for us to prioritize approachability in both in design and voice for womxn who were shopping in the category for the first time. Each of us had our own horror story visiting the local sex shop, and we thought there should be something less intimidating out there. And we didn't want to use women's bodies to sell products; we wanted to use a feeling of autonomy and independence.
Has your perspective as a woman shaped your products? When designing products we constantly ask ourselves How would I feel if I left this out on my nightstand and a stranger walked into the room? We want women to feel proud to own these products, not ashamed, so we design with that perspective in mind. For so long, women have had to carry the burden of hiding their bodies' natural needs—be it menstruation or sex drive. We want to turn that notion on its head and allow women to live natural lives without the fear of what others think.
Lo Bosworth, Founder of Love Wellness
Why is it important to you to have products made for women, by women? It's simple really. As a man, you have to guess how to address emotions created by female experiences that are biologically unique. Women don't have to guess. When it comes to sensitive products and decision-making, it's only appropriate that women lead the charge.
What inspired you to take on the industry and launch your own company? I felt uncomfortable and embarrassed every time I went to the drugstore to purchase a feminine hygiene product—even buying tampons every month is something women dread! We live in a society that teaches women early on that their body parts are dirty, smelly, and shameful. This anti-feminist culture is pervasive in the product offering of traditional feminine hygiene companies, and we aim to change the experience and culture of this category from top to bottom.
Women and their bodies should be celebrated, and the experience of caring for one's health should be body-positive. Love Wellness's mission, in addition to providing women with natural and safe products, is to help create and nurture this more open and proactive self-care culture we desire.
Has your perspective as a woman shaped your products? It goes without saying as the founder of a women's wellness company that my perspective as a woman would inform our product offering. We tackle the most common issues women face with compassion, honesty, and a care-free vibe that makes it no big deal to have intimate conversations.
Jordana Kier and Alex Friedman, Co-Founders of Lola
Why is it important to you to have products made for women, by women? It's crucial to have women at the forefront of companies that address women's reproductive health (and frankly any company for that matter!). As people with first-hand experience using these products, we get it. Why shouldn't we be leading the innovation and solution-driving for such incredibly personal products?
What inspired you to take on the industry and launch your own company? We founded LOLA with a simple and seemingly obvious idea: As women, we shouldn't have to compromise when it comes to our reproductive health. It all started with tampons. Like most women, we'd been using the same feminine care products since we were teenagers. But when we found out that brands, including the same ones we were loyal to all those years, aren’t required to disclose exactly what’s in their products, it made us wonder What’s actually in our tampons?
Since our launch, we’ve extended our feminine care portfolio and have also expanded into Cramp Care, a First Period Kit, Sex by LOLA, and now a brand-new Sexual Wellness Kit launching later this month, a resource that incorporates our suite of sexual health products alongside an expert guide to navigating a healthy and satisfying sex life.
Has your perspective as a woman shaped your products? In these categories?! Definitely! Every decision is informed by our own personal experiences; at each moment in our own reproductive journeys, we've had to navigate new and sometimes confusing experiences. We also tap our community to ensure we are delivering women exactly what they want and need, and as a result, our product offerings and new category expansions have been directly driven by their feedback.
Alexandra Fine, CEO of Dame Products
Why is it important to you to have products made for women, by women? When it comes to anatomy, it's very difficult to understand the experience of someone else's anatomy. I don't claim to understand the physiological sensations of people with penises, so I wouldn't expect that they'd understand my own. I make toys for sex for people with vulvas, so it makes sense that I would need a vulva to be able to do that to the best of my ability.
What inspired you to take on the industry and launch your own company? I've always been interested in sexuality. I went on to earn my masters in clinical psychology with a concentration in sex therapy from Columbia University [and] soon realized that my skills could more effectively improve our culture’s sexual psyche by being put to use designing and marketing vibrators. So that’s what I did. I began developing my own vibrators at home and asking friends to give me their feedback.
Eventually, after I put the word out that I was looking to start a sex toy company founded by people with vulvas, for people with vulvas, I met my co-founder, Janet Lieberman. Janet is an MIT-trained mechanical engineer and was also working on starting a sex toy company. We are two smart, savvy, young women trying to make the world a happier place. We really believe that we can do that by starting important conversations, designing superior tools for sex and, well, by being honest ourselves.
Has your perspective as a woman shaped your products? Not only do I feel that having the same anatomy as the people for whom I'm designing is essential, but I also feel that understanding the shame and repression that our society places on women's sexuality has helped me message this company in a more powerful way. I've learned that it's important to talk about sex the same way I would any other topic—without embarrassment or shame—in order to allow others the permission to do the same.
Georgina Gooley, Co-Founder of Billie
Why is it important to you to have products made for women, by women? It's important that women are represented in every industry—and, even more so, when the products that are being developed are specifically targeted toward them. All of Billie's products are designed for womankind, and we believe that when women, the end users, develop the product, you end up with designs and formulations that are more thoughtful. We're always asking ourselves Would I be happy using this product, and how can I make it even better?
What inspired you to take on the industry and launch your own company? It seemed strange that most shaving companies are created for men when comparatively just as many women shave. Women’s razors lacked innovation and, to make matters worse, we were being charged more for razors due to the pink tax. Out of principle, I used men's razors for years to avoid paying the pink tax, the idea that women should have to pay more for is offensive and totally absurd. My co-founder and I came together to launch Billie because we knew there was a way to create a better product designed for the way women shave and to price them affordably, without the pink tax.
Has your perspective as a woman shaped your products? Absolutely—the Billie team is predominantly female, so we're creating everyday products that we want to use as part of our daily routine. We're creating high-quality body care products that have healthy ingredients, that are delivered to your door to make life a little easier and that look chic in your shower. At the end of the day, we want Billie to be a brand that women are proud to have in their bathroom.