Cora on Menstrual Health, Breaking Down Stigma & Blessing It Forward

This month, you’ll find something a little different in your Bless Box – a sample pack of 100% certified organic menstrual products from Cora! Menstrual health is soooo important, and a totally natural process for every woman. I fell in love with Cora’s mission, and I want to share their amazing work with you! This month, I got to interview Cora’s founders, and hear a little bit more about what they do.

Tell me a little bit about why you founded Cora?

A few years prior to founding Cora, I was volunteering in Kenya and met a young girl named Purity. She told me about how she and other girls in her village didn’t go to school when they had their periods because they didn’t have access to pads. They resorted to using sand, dirty rags, and other products that were ineffective and bad for their bodies. After talking to Purity and doing some research of my own, I came to realize her story is all too common. It also made me take a hard look into how my own period experience was broken—the stigma and shame that girls like Purity felt was prevalent in the lives of women around the world, of all cultures, socioeconomic backgrounds, and belief systems.

While in the U.S. I was lucky to have access to products, I still hid tampons up my sleeves when walking to the bathroom. I knew there had to be a way for women and girls around the world to manage their periods with dignity. From the start, social impact was—and remains—absolutely core to our business. I was galvanized by the belief that every woman has a right to safe and healthy wellness products, and by the fury that it’s taken far too long for menstruation to be destigmatized, and for women around the world to have the ability to safely manage their periods.

Cora products are always made with pure, ethically sourced ingredients. Why is ingredient transparency so important to you?

In doing my research to launch Cora, I learned the FDA doesn’t require feminine care brands to fully disclose the ingredients in their tampons, meaning the industry lacks transparency and regulation. For example, you may see “fragrance” listed as an ingredient of a scented tampon; the company is not required to disclose the sometimes thousands of chemicals that make up that fragrance. Additionally, cotton is one of the dirtiest crops around. Synthetic pesticides and fertilizers possess a chemical structure that is not easily broken down by natural processes. Some brands use chlorine to bleach the cotton, which can leave behind traces of dioxin, a known carcinogen. The vagina is an extremely porous, highly absorbent part of the body. Knowing exactly what you’re putting there isn’t just a “nice to have”—and it shouldn’t be treated as such by governments and large, antiquated period care companies.

What ripple effects for users, manufacturers, farmers, and the environment do you see when you use 100% natural, body-safe ingredients?

In addition to containing harmful ingredients like bleach and synthetics, traditional, mass-market tampons are typically made using conventional cotton, which is often referred to as the dirtiest crop in the world. The pesticides and insecticides used in farming conventional cotton contaminate water systems and soil, poison animals, destroy ecosystems, and put farmers’ and community members’ health at risk. What you put in your body matters, which is why from the very start, Cora has used 100% certified organic cotton to make our tampons, and have recently added an organic cotton topsheet to all of our pads and liners. Choosing products with responsibly sourced ingredients is better both for your body and the environment.

Periods are a sticky subject for many folks. Why is it so important to deconstruct the stigma around menstruation?

While the taboos around periods are a serious social burden around the world, I think that women have actually been waiting for a brand like Cora that is celebrating women and their bodies by breaking down barriers and providing modern options for managing their periods. They’ve been waiting for Cora, a brand that understands them and is also sophisticated and accessible. While more women than ever are openly talking about their periods, the products on the market that support this wave of change are few—the menstrual hygiene space hasn’t seen true innovation in decades. In the U.S., the menstrual care industry is worth nearly $5 billion, and has been dominated by three major brands since the mid-20th century. Those brands have offered women unhealthy synthetic menstrual products that evoke feelings of shame and stigma.   

What impact does providing menstrual supplies to girls in developing nations have? How does access to menstrual supplies impact education and community development?

When girls are forced to drop out of school because they do not have what they need to manage their periods, menstruation becomes a global issue—politically, economically, and socially, the repercussions are immeasurable. This isn’t rocket science. People who bleed makeup half of our global population. When even a portion of these people miss out on basic education because they are too ashamed—due to stigma, culture, and lack of adequate resources—to go to school, their opportunities are severely limited. When these opportunities are limited, it affects the entire world—literally.

Why have you focused your efforts in India (with Aakar Innovations) and in Kenya (with Zana Africa Foundation). Can you tell us a little bit about your work in these regions? What wins have you celebrated?

The choice to partner with Aakar and Zana Africa was a very thoughtful and careful decision; I spoke with dozens of nonprofits in order to understand where Cora might have the greatest impact. Both places have need for products—1 in 4 girls in India drops out of school once she reaches puberty—but we’ve always known that donating product isn’t enough. Both Zana and Aakar have an educational component that enables the girls and women they serve to thrive. Zana provides reproductive education to teenage girls, while Aakar uses a co-op style social enterprise, empowering local female entrepreneurs who may otherwise be working in the sex trade.

In 2018, Cora sales resulted in over 1 million pads being given to girls in need in India and Kenya through Cora’s giving programs. Since our founding, we’ve given more than 2 million total. And we’re proud that 15,000 girls in India and Kenya benefit from the health education and pads that Cora provides.

There is a need for access to menstrual supplies right here in the US. Could you talk a little bit about the struggle American women face, and the tampon tax?

A shocking 25 million women in the U.S. live below the poverty line without consistent access to period products; especially as period products aren’t covered by food stamps. Here in the U.S., Cora’s commitment is the same as it is globally: to elevate woman through education, economic empowerment, and access to period care. We recognize the continuing struggle of women in the U.S. for equality and are dedicated to doing whatever we can to change that. We’ve given thousands of products to women’s shelters and organizations that provide products to women in need, including, The Bowery Mission, NY Rescue Mission, Jacob’s House, and Simply the Basics.  

Thirty-eight states still tax tampons and other menstrual products as non-essentials. In the majority of states, menstrual products are taxed as a luxury, further perpetuating economic inequality between men and women. As a sign of protest against this unjust and sexist tax, Cora pays the sales tax on all products sold through our website for all of our customers, because we believe you shouldn’t have to.

What’s one thing you hope each woman reading this takes away from your mission? What’s the most important message you want to leave us with?

Right now, we’re in the time of feminine consciousness—of awakening to our full and inherent power. In a society that historically views menstruation as taboo, remember that bleeding is a sign of health, of life, and is nothing to be ashamed of. Through Cora and our content site, Blood and Milk, we aim to provide women with products that are good for their bodies and our planet, as well as the knowledge they want and need to wake up their bodies, minds, and the world around them to the beauty and power of femininity in all its forms.

Learn more about Cora and their projects here

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