Co-founders Suzanne Siemens and Madeleine Shaw aren’t trying to start something –– but upon listening to them tell the story of their company, Lunapads, for just a few minutes, the parallels between their company and millennial favorite, Thinx, are numerous. While Thinx was plastering subways in millennial pink ads with suggestive grapefruits, Lunapads was quietly continuing to roll out panty liners, pads and menstrual health kits that empower women to take control of their periods. So quietly, in fact, that Lunapads surprisingly predates Thinx by roughly 10 years.
“I’m a feminist from way back, so it’s interesting to me to watch this notion of feminism evolve in a commercial way,” Shaw tells SheKnows.
As an aspiring fashion designer who had been experiencing allergic reactions to tampons, she began experimenting in the early '90s with the idea of cloth pads and sewing pads into underwear as a sustainable (after all, disposable menstrual products just felt so wasteful), marketable alternative. In 2000, Shaw teamed up with Suzanne Siemens, who is now the CEO of the brand, and the two now lead a tiny team of nearly 10 out of their Vancouver headquarters.
So how has Lunapads flown relatively under the radar, despite a reach of 40 countries and a product arsenal that includes various pads, panty liners, diva cups and more?
“Thinx’s marketing and PR efforts have just been really superb and have kind of blown us out of the water, in a way,” says Shaw.
But as innovation in the feminine hygiene market become increasingly mainstream, the co-founders can’t help but feel indignation about the widely overlooked foundations their brand has been laying in this field for years.
In a sense, Thinx’s immense success in marketing these alternatives as groundbreaking products for women has helped bring attention to Lunapads’ cause, and the recent scandal involving “She-E-O’ Miki Agrawal has left many women in search of a new brand that actually practices values of inclusivity and feminine empowerment, and that is where Lunapads hopes to come in as the trusted brand that has been here all along.
It’s a tough sell: swapping the convenience of disposable pads and tampons for cloth products that need to be washed and cared for? But the brand has risen to the challenge, and similarly, one of the most unique things Lunapads does well is that it isn’t afraid to tackle the niches of their market that are often ignored or simply overlooked.
Sure, many women get periods, but what about women who use menstrual products for other purposes? Lunapads products are openly marketed toward those experiencing incontinence, women who are postpartum or folks who are post-operation, not just women who are menstruating.
On their blog, the same inclusive culture is reinforced by featuring writers who talk about body positivity, endometriosis and bladder leakage. The co-founders say the rise of modern feminist icons like Rupi Kaur and Heather White have helped to elevate and broaden the conversation about women’s reproductive health, but oftentimes, these are conversations (Shaw cites trans inclusiveness as a key topic) the team at Lunapads has been having for many years before they reached mainstream consciousness.
Looking forward, with their demonstrated power to quietly trend-set in the field of women’s health, Shaw and Siemens have directed some of their attention to a charitable partnership with AFRIpads.
If the name sounds familiar, it’s because this is the same charity that Thinx partnered up with to bring much-needed menstrual products to schoolgirls in Uganda. The founders of AFRIpads came to Lunapads in 2008, realizing that sustainable pads and tampons would be a game-changer for their cause, and in 2012, Lunapads launched a one-for-one model, a favorite of brands like Toms, donating one product for every product sold.
Siemens also shares the little-known fact that Lunapads is actually a shareholder in AFRIpads, saying, “that was another really important step that for us, really went beyond. There are a lot of one-for-one programs out there, and what we were interested in was taking it another step further and seeing how we could really support their business from the inside out.”
The co-founders say they had no problem with Thinx discovering the nonprofit and piggybacking with their own program, but that this was a relationship that, once again, Lunapads had been working on for years before Thinx was even a brand.
Lunapads’ partnership with AFRIpads and its collaboration with Transformation Textiles, which turns waste from textile production from factories like Nike and Walmart into pads and underwear, can make it challenging to place the brand into a neat mission category: menstrual health? Trans inclusion? Sustainability?
The answer, in fact, is all of those things, and that’s what makes the brand so successful.
“We’re all about relationships, and we really like meeting people and looking at some more interesting social partnerships in the future”, said Siemens when asked about what might be down the road (getting an opportunity to work with organizations like Planned Parenthood is something both co-founders express great excitement about).
Keep an eye on Lunapads. They’ve been in the women’s health and wellness space for a while, and they’re certainly not going anywhere.