Madeleine Shaw and Suzanne Siemens are the founders and innovators behind Lunapads, a social mission driven business based in our hometown of Vancouver. They have been making and refining their lines of menstrual products, Lunapads and LunaUndies, since their first prototypes in 1993, believing that using reusable menstrual products are an empowering way to honor and care for women's bodies and the planet.
We don't use the term innovator lightly. The alternative and reusable menstrual product industry, while still a small fraction of the $19 billion dollar global menstrual products market, has gone mainstream with major marketing campaigns, glossy ads in magazines, word of mouth advocacy and prominent product placement in retail stores - all of which are driving record growth. With the average woman in the Western world spending thousands of dollars on menstrual products over the course of her lifetime, resulting in thousands of pads and tampons entering the landfill, reusables like Lunapads are now having their day as increasing numbers of women opt for more hygienic, affordable and sustainable period products.
We were delighted to have a conversation with Madeleine and Suzanne and ask them some questions about how they got started and their road to success.
Madeleine and Suzanne, can you tell us a little bit about yourselves and what Lunapads is exactly?
We are social entrepreneurs who are best known as the co-founders of Lunapads, a manufacturer and web retailer of globally recognized brands of cloth menstrual pads and period underwear. In addition to our retail business, Lunapads has been creating partnerships with NGOs to support menstrual health and education for girls and women in the Global South since 2000, and our work has been recognized with numerous awards for environmental and social impact. We also lead a non-profit society that produces G Day, a national rite of passage celebration series that welcomes tween girls into adolescence while increasing the understanding and acceptance of the changes girls experience during this important time in their lives.
What inspired you to launch your business? How did you come to do what you do? What path did you take?
(MS) I started making washable cloth pads and customized menstrual underwear in the early 90s initially to solve for my own needs, however I quickly became inspired to commercialize the products by how switching from disposable products changed how I felt about my periods - and by extension my body overall - for the better.
(SS) When Madeleine and I met, I was working as a Controller for a large public utility company and feeling very burned out and misaligned with the values of the corporate world. The idea applying my business skills as a Chartered Accountant to a fledgling social impact business like Lunapads appealed to me. That was in 1999: I have never looked back!
Menstruation is finally starting to get the recognition is deserves as human rights and gender equality issue in the public discourse. Why has it taken so long for people to understand this?
(MS & SS) Unfortunately it is simply because of the extraordinary persistence of menstrual taboos: it’s hard to get people to talk about something that they have been so strongly conditioned to hide or be ashamed of. The good news is that menstrual equity advocates are now being heard and sharing stories about challenges around access to menstrual products for low-income or other marginalized populations, and the importance of menstrual health in the Global South.
Lunapads is an early innovator in a market that has, in recent years, begun to take off and see a range of new products launch, as well as big marketing campaigns. How has your market and audience changed since you launched in 1993, and what has been the impact of new entrants?
(MS & SS) We are really excited to see all of the new activity in the space in recent years. For a long time it felt like we were in a very isolated niche, so having more colleagues not only validates us, but more importantly grows the market in an “all boats rise” kind of way. Our market has expanded from highly eco-conscious early adopters, to more mainstream customers concerned about their health and the environment. Having our products available at retailers like London Drugs, Whole Foods and Target.com also speaks to this: reusables have gone from being seen as radical to being relatively commonplace.
Where are you at and where do you want to take Lunapads in the next couple of years? Do you have a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal), either for yourself or the business?
(MS & SS) Like many other entrepreneurs, we are trying to grow our business doing the usual things: managing cash flow well, finding the right people to join our team, working on product innovation and so on. The other core aspect of our business practice has to do with social impact: Lunapads is a founding Canadian B Corp, a globally recognized assessment and certification of a company’s social and environmental impact. We are always trying to up our game on this front, and earlier this year we were recognized as ranking among the top 10% of BCorps globally, earning us a “Best for the World” distinction.
Our BHAG or Beautiful Healthy Awesome Goal - for Lunapads - is to build an inclusive global community where individuals celebrate a positive & shame free connection with their bodies. As business leaders, our goal is to create high impact, sustainable and profitable organizations that inspire others to lead with heart & impact.
We love how you customized BHAG - so much more appropriate.
What kind of challenges do you currently have with Lunapads? How do you tackle challenges, past or present?
(MS & SS) Lunapads’ success to date has been largely in the online marketplace, finding niche customers who value healthy and sustainable choices for their periods. Our new Lunapads Performa line - a high-absorbency, multi-functional iteration of our Classic Lunapads - was recently piloted in 200 Target stores across the US. This opportunity challenged us to find new and effective ways to market to US mass retail customers, a segment we have not traditionally connected with.
We address challenges by avoiding a fear or scarcity-based perspective and have a very non-traditional approach to competition, for example. We are curious, creative and try to learn from ur customers as much as possible. In preparation for the Target launch we gathered data from customers who shop at mass retailers and learned that many experience symptoms of bladder leakage. In response, we adjusted our packaging to explicitly market our products as suitable for both menstruation and bladder leakage.
It helps a lot that we think quite differently and have unique skill sets, allowing us to handle challenges differently. By listening carefully to our respective positions, we invariably end up with a better solution than if we made the decision independently. When we’re stuck, we ask for help from colleagues or our Advisory Board.
If you were to start again, would you do anything differently ... and do you have any advice for startups or aspiring entrepreneurs?
(MS) Yes - I would say that entrepreneurship is a viable career choice, however not to be undertaken lightly. You will work your behind off, so make sure that whatever you choose has some sort of personal stake or interest to you.
(MS & SS) Raise more capital than you think you need. If you’re successful, it’s just a matter of time until you will need another round to support your business growth. Look for opportunities to reframe competition into collaboration. And always keep innovating your business practices to enhance your social and environmental impact: if we are not making the world a better place, why bother?
Are there any books that you've read recently, or even old favorites, that have been influential for you and that you would recommend to our business audience?
(MS & SS) For anyone interested in social entrepreneurship, check out The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World by Jacqueline Novogratz. This book might also inspire more traditional business executives to pursue a radically different path. For women thinking of starting their own businesses, we are huge fans of Think Like a SheEO by Vicki Saunders and The Boss of You: Everything a Woman needs to know to Start, Run and Maintain her own Business by Lauren Bacon and Emira Mears. A book we both enjoyed that's a great read for established entrepreneurs in growth mode is The A Method for Hiring by Geoff Smart. What we appreciated most about it is the rigour they recommended in the screening and interview process: predefine the essential goals you want the employee to achieve and ask pointed questions to assess if they will succeed in your organization.
Do you have a favourite inspirational quote when it comes to Lunapads?
(MS & SS) Yes - Body Shop founder Anita Roddick's, “Be daring. Be first. Be different. Be just."
- G Day - G Day is day of celebration and empowerment, as well as social movement, to welcome, witness and receive girls as they enter the next phase of their life journey. Vancouver 2017 G Day will take place Friday, October 20, at the Ismaili Center in Burnaby.
- One4Her - The One4Her Lunapads and AFRIpads Pad-for-Pad Program aims to improve access to education for girls, while supporting local employment for women in Uganda. For every eligible product you purchase at Lunapads.com, a student in need will be provided with a Uganda-made AFRIpad to support her education. One for you. One for her.
- Vancouver's Lunapads addresses neglected menstrual product needs of transgender and homeless people
- This Is What A Feminist Business Looks Like - Madeleine Shaw and Suzanne Siemens reflect on the current conversation about marketplace feminism – and how entrepreneurship done right can be a deeply feminist choice.