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Aunt Flow

Aunt Flow: Toilet Paper Is Free, Why Aren’t Tampons?

Aunt Flow is a B2B company that is looking to make tampons and pads ubiquitous products in restrooms across the country. The company sells these feminine hygiene products to businesses and universities; and for every ten tampons purchased, Aunt Flow donates one tampon to those in need. I spoke with Claire Coder, the founder and CEO of Aunt Flow, to learn more about the company’s mission to make tampons accessible to everyone as well as the social movement they’re leading to change society’s perception and stigma around the topic of menstruation.

Claire Coder was at Columbus Startup Weekend when she unexpectedly got her period. Upon making an emergency trip to the restroom, Claire was able to find a wide assortment of hygiene products from mouthwash to toothpicks. Everything was available… except for tampons and pads. An unexpected visit from Aunt Flow at a male dominated event put Claire in an very uncomfortable situation, and being a 19 year old college freshmen certainly did not help. Out of options, she made up an excuse and rushed home. However, by the time she got home, tampon in hand, Claire had arrived at a revelation: If toilet paper is free, why aren’t tampons?

More Than Just An Inconvenience

What Claire experienced at Startup Weekend is far from uncommon. In fact, a national research study done by Aunt Flow in collaboration with Free The Tampons showed that 86% of women in the U.S. have, at some point in their life, been in a sticky situation where they got their period unexpectedly with no access to feminine hygiene products. Tampons and pads are usually not available in public restrooms and public tampon dispensaries are often out of stock. The situation doesn’t get better in the work place. Companies offer complementary mouthwash, paper towels, and toilet paper in their office bathrooms but not tampons, which also respond to a basic bodily need.

While many working class women do have access to a steady supply of tampons and pads, the same cannot be said for the millions living below the poverty line. For many of these women, the decision often come down to: food or tampons? At $9.29 for a box of Tampax Pearl tampons, purchasing from a local grocery store is not financially viable when you’re struggling to put food on the table. And unfortunately, programs like SNAP (Food Stamps) and WIC do not cover the cost of feminine hygiene products. Tampons and pads are rarely donated, and the organizations that do donate them do not have a large enough supply to keep up with the demand. Claire’s local YWCA, which gives out health care packages, can only afford to give each woman two tampons per month – enough for about half of a day.

Enter Aunt Flow

Shortly after the incident at Columbus Startup Weekend, Claire decided to pursue the idea of Aunt Flow. She felt so strongly about these issues that she dropped out of college, after just one semester at Ohio State, to devote all of her time to the cause. Claire rented out an apartment in Columbus and juggled three waitress jobs while working full time at a marketing company to pay the bills. And in the fall of 2016, after raising $20,000 from a crowd funding campaign, Claire launched Aunt Flow.

Being a 21 year old CEO definitely comes with its challenges, and Claire admits that she faces two big hurdles as a young founder. One, Claire does not have as much industry experience as her older counterparts, thus making her more susceptible to making mistakes that experienced professionals would not. However, Claire does not believe this is necessarily a bad thing. While it definitely has its downsides, being new to the game also means that Claire does not have a rigid mindset and is open to different approaches, leading to new solutions and innovations. The second complication comes during fund raising. Claire believes that her youth and gender make it more difficult to raise capital for a company that initiates a topic of conversation that many people try to avoid.

“It’s really hard to raise money as a female, it’s hard to raise money for a company that nobody wants to talk about the subject matter, AKA menstruation, it’s nearly impossible to raise money as a 21 year old and you’re trying to get people to trust you to manage hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.” – Claire Coder, CEO and Founder of Aunt Flow

How The Business Flows

Aunt Flow is a B2B business. The company focuses on selling 100% organic cotton and biodegradable tampons and pads to businesses and schools across the country. The buying process is quite simple for customers. When a business/school is ready to get involved, they can simply purchase products from Aunt Flow’s website just like how they would purchase toilet paper. Once they receive the product, they deliver it to their maintenance staff, who are then in charge of restocking the supplies. To support those women who can’t afford feminine hygiene products, Aunt Flow donates one tampon to those in need for every ten tampons purchased by businesses and schools.

Aunt Flow Products

Aunt Flow hopes that their products will improve the culture at these institutions as well as boost productivity in students and employees. For businesses, Claire hopes that a free supply of feminine hygiene products in the work place will make female employees feel cared for and safe. Offering tampons and pads to their workers is also a win for the companies themselves as it’s actually cheaper to offer these products for free then to have workers leave the office to get them, losing valuable work hours in the process.

“Nothing is worse than getting your period unexpectedly at work then trying to figure out how to tell your boss why you have to leave” – Claire Coder, CEO and Founder of Aunt Flow

In schools, offering free tampons and pads have been shown to increase attendance rate. A study done in the NYC Public School System to understand the effect of free tampons and pads on young girls’ attendance rate in school found that, just by offering free pads to students, there was a 2.4 % increase in attendance rate. In fact, legislation have been passed in California, Illinois, and New York that require Middle schools and High schools to offer free tampons and pads to students. In the fall Aunt Flow will be rolling out their first free menstrual product dispenser that is designed for middle schools and high schools.

The demand for feminine hygiene products is booming across the world. The global feminine hygiene products market is expected to reach $42.7 billion by 2022. The tampon market alone is projected to reach $4.6 billion by the end of 2020 and $6.34 billion by 2025. Aunt Flow stands virtually unchallenged in the market. Only one other company, Hospeco, sells menstrual products to businesses among their wide assortment of office supply products. And while there are many consumer packaging goods companies in the business of selling tampons, Claire does not consider them to be competitors as they cater to a completely different customer segment.

Aunt Flow has, in just two years, sold over one million tampons to over 200 businesses. The company has donated 350,000 menstrual products to organizations across the U.S. and is projected to hit the half of a million mark by the end of this year. And along the way Aunt Flow has picked up an impressive clientele, ranging from schools like Stanford, Brown, and Ohio University to corporations like Twitter, Viacom, LBrands… and the list goes on.

Champion Of A Social Movement

Aunt Flow is on a mission to change society’s perception of  menstruation, and selling tampons is not where their battle ends. In order to promote healthy discussion around these touchy topics, Claire and the Aunt Flow team act as facilitators of these hard conversations in the Columbus community. To educate younger audiences, Aunt Flow will be rolling out a menstrual education guide written by high schoolers for middle schoolers in the coming months.

The company is also very active in various campaigns, trademarking slogans like “Toilet Papers Are Offered For Free, Why Aren’t Tampons?” to get people to ask questions that lead to actions. The slogan “Shed Walls Don’t Build Them”, coined by Claire for the 2017 Women’s March after Trump’s election, went on to be featured in 7 countries in over 100 women’s marches across the world.

Women’s March After Trump’s Election

However, Aunt Flow’s crusade has not been without resistance. Ironically, while the company is based in the Midwest, most of it’s revenue comes from large corporations and progressive schools on the East and West coast. Although Aunt Flow has support from small businesses in the Midwest, executives at the corporate level aren’t as excited about the idea of giving out free tampons to their employees. It’s going to take some time to change Midwest corporations’ perception of employee benefits, but Aunt Flow is prepared to rise to the occasion.

What’s Next?

In the two years since its inception, Aunt Flow has taken significant strides toward making tampons and pads accessible to everyone, and Claire does not intend to step on the breaks anytime soon. The next step, according to Claire, is to expand into the global market. Countries like Scotland and the UK have recently passed legislation requiring middle schools and high schools across the country to offer free pads to their students. Aunt Flow is prepared to step in as the vendor for these institutions and cater to all of their tampon needs.

Ultimately, Claire envisions that no woman will ever have to go into a bathroom feeling uncomfortable about getting her period ever again and that, wherever toilet paper is available, tampons are as well.

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