Changing The Conversation, Period: Olivia Cotes-James, Founder Of LUÜNA Talks Sustainable Tampons & Menstruation Taboo

Changing The Conversation, Period: Olivia Cotes-James, Founder Of LUÜNA Talks Sustainable Tampons & Menstruation Taboo

No chemicals, no taboos, no secrets: that’s the philosophy LUÜNA Naturals is built on. Founded in 2016 by Olivia Cotes-James, after realising she was allergic to the synthetic period products she’d been using for years, the company specialises in sustainable period products like organic cotton tampons and pads, as well as reusable period cups. Compare Retreats Founder Dervla Louli chats with Olivia about sustainability and health issues with the current period products on the market, and how we can break the taboo around menstruation. 

Image courtesy of LUÜNA

Tell us about LUÜNA? LUÜNA is Asia’s first female-led period company and we transparently create taboo-free content around women’s bodies, transparently made chemical-free period products, and a business model that supports the education for girls in need. We launched our organic line of period care in Hong Kong in April 2019, and we just launched our organic cotton line in Mainland China: we’ll be launching our menstrual cups next month and we’re developing many more products. Our goal is to be the one-stop-shop for trusted period care in Asia for products and information. 

See also: The Women Leading Hong Kong’s Wellness Revolution

Why is it so important to change the conversation around periods? For the last four years, I’ve been speaking to women across Asia about their relationship with menstruation and the majority have negative relationships. This restricts our lives, makes us accept debilitating symptoms as normal and stops us from enhancing our own personal lives. But it feeds into a toxic narrative around womanhood which is such a big barrier to the advancements of women and girls. 

The messaging is outdated, the approach to product development is outdated. We deserve insightful messaging that we can connect with as women. 

Olivia Cotes-James, Founder of LUÜNA

Who is Luuna for? LUÜNA is for all women and girls. We believe that as empowered modern women we should be seeking to enhance the lives of girls and women less fortunate than us. Our customers are empowered, modern, forward-thinking women who are curious about their bodies and lead conscious lifestyles. Through LUÜNA, we allow them to enhance their own lives and empower other women and girls.

See also: Chantal Wong: Why Eaton HK Is Giving A Platform To Women & Wellness

Why is breaking the taboo surrounding conversations about periods so important, and so difficult? We’re conditioned to think it’s dirty: I call it the period myth and it’s a global problem. It manifests itself in nuanced ways, but it is the belief that periods are shameful or dirty and I’ve noticed this over the last four years, from women from every background and culture. As women, we never graduate from this confusion, fear or shame so it feeds back into this notion that however empowered we are at home or at work, we will never be truly empowered until we start talking about menstruation as the very normal thing it is. This will help women from puberty all the way to menopause.

LUÜNA Double Cup | Image courtesy of LUÜNA

What is the biggest problem with the feminine care industry and what are you doing to change it? The global feminine care industry is not let by women: these are products for women that have been typically grown by men. My marketing manager has worked for many large feminine product brands and she will regale me with stories about sitting in a room full of men and the conversations are so old-fashioned. The messaging is outdated, the approach to product development is outdated. We deserve insightful messaging that we can connect with as women. Companies have never pushed women to think about what goes into our period care, and ultimately a lot of products aren’t good for our bodies. We’re in a situation in 2020 where women don’t know what they’re putting into their bodies. We’re talking to really conscious women who care about what they eat and put into their bodies.

It feeds into a toxic narrative around womanhood which is such a big barrier to the advancements of women and girls.

Olivia Cotes-James, Founder of LUÜNA

What role do schools, parents, corporates and hospitals have to play in changing everyone’s attitudes to menstruation? Everyone has a role to play, so our event series #NoMoreSecrets are designed as a deep-dive into menstrual health and aspects of modern womanhood that often go undiscussed but are important. I always ask people at these events about their sphere of influence and how they can create change. Every single person can help to change the perception. Even speaking at a normal volume about your periods.

It’s all well and good educating at a grassroots level, but society needs to shift at a higher level because women will feel frustrated until then. Corporates, schools, hospitals should all be carrying chemical-free, organic cotton feminine care as a prerequisite. They shouldn’t be stocking it secretively behind reception it should just be available. Surprisingly some of the wellness businesses in Hong Kong who are main health and fitness providers make it really difficult to access chemical-free period care, or they do so behind closed doors making it very difficult for women to feel brave enough to ask.

Image courtesy of LUÜNA

What does conscious feminine care look like? Being conscious about your period comes in three parts: knowing what your product is made of and understanding whether it’s safe and healthy for your own wellbeing; being conscious about the effect it has on the environment; and being loyal to a brand that you are absolutely sure has a purposeful mission, and that your purchase is contributing to societal good. 

See also: Retreat With Our Founder At ROAR Africa’s Second Annual Women’s Empowerment Retreat In Kenya

What are the differences between LUÜNA’s period products and regular menstruation products? A normal tampon is made from a combination of synthetics called rayon and conventional cotton, so if we start with the fact that synthetics take decades to biodegrade. It’s incredibly bad for the environment, but conventional cotton farming also is the dirtiest crop in the world: it uses 16% of the world’s fertilisers and pesticides. It uses toxic chemicals that can cause chronic health issues to the farmers and irreparably poison whole ecosystems. People don’t associate organic cotton with the fact that it means chemical-free, so we need to have open conversations about traditional cotton farming because these chemicals are in what we wear and what we put inside of ourselves.

LUÜNA works with a certification called GOTS that ensure the organic cotton is grown without chemicals, and they also ensure fair treatment of workers and no discrimination. When we talk about ethical production, we want to talk about the whole production chain. You keep seeing more people asking, ‘Who made my clothes?’ but it’s even more important to ask, ‘Who made my feminine care?’.

LUÜNA is for all women and girls. We believe that as empowered modern women we should be seeking to enhance the lives of girls and women less fortunate than us. 

Olivia Cotes-James, Founder of LUÜNA

Tell us about the full LUÜNA range and where we can buy it? You can currently buy our organic tampons, pads and panty liners at Just Green, Spice Box Organics and Sally’s Toy, and on our website. What’s exciting is our subscription service with delivery from Central to Sai Kung, so women can order their period products so that it arrives every month or every three months—we encourage the three-month subscription, to reduce your carbon footprint. We want to say come, customise what you need, and we’ll deliver it direct to your door.

See also: 10 Hong Kong Women On The Wellness Tips That Keep Them Balanced

What does the future hold for LUÜNA? In our pursuit of being the number one source of trusted period care in Asia, we are looking to expand our product line and develop new healthy sustainable period products which will come in the form of feminine care, but we also want to start looking at supplements and ways to manage PMS. We want to further develop our content platforms providing bilingual and relatable female health information created with our private healthcare clinic partners. For us, trusted period care is not only about the products but also about the information.

Stay in the LUÜNA loop on Instagram at @luuna.naturals

Dervla Louli

Founder

Dervla Louli is the Founder of wellness travel portal CompareRetreats.com and a Digital Editorial Consultant based in Hong Kong. She was formerly the Digital Editor of Hong Kong Tatler, the Director of Integrated Content at Edipresse Media Asia and the Managing Editor of Sassy Media Group. She has moderated events at The British Chamber of Commerce, Hong Kong University and Swire Hotels, and was the youngest panel member invited to speak at the Goldman Sachs' International Luxury Conference in 2013. She is a member of the Global Shaper Community, part of the World Economic Forum and a certified yoga teacher.

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