Lunapads founders Shaw (left) and Siemens create value for the world, not just their business
When fashion designer Madeleine Shaw teamed up with chartered professional accountant Suzanne Siemens in 2000 to produce and market non-disposable menstrual and bladder leakage products, the pair did more than build a business. They also became part of a revolution in body acceptance and feminist empowerment.
That sense of purpose has served them well. As a socially responsible business that diverts two million pads and tampons from landfills every month, Lunapads International Products—the 2017 EOY Special Citation: Social Entrepreneur winner for the Pacific Region—has struck all the right chords with conscious consumers. Today, it has a devoted and growing customer base of more than 200,000, even as competitors begin to crowd the space.
“We just try to use our voice and try to be as authentic as possible,” says Lunapads CEO Siemens. “That’s really our edge. We have been in it the longest, and we have been transparent about how we do business for the longest time,” she explains. “And there have been missteps by some of our competitors in terms of how they’ve come across in the market. People will figure things out and see through it.”
Rival Thinx is a case in point. The New York–based period underwear startup created a buzz in 2015 with an edgy marketing campaign, only for self-styled “She-E-O” Miki Agrawal to step down last year, amid allegations of hostile working conditions and sexual harassment. While that business fights to recover its reputation, Lunapads (which has been selling period underwear for years, Siemens notes) is cementing its status as one of the most socially responsible businesses on the planet.
That’s no exaggeration: for the past two years, the company has ranked in the top 10 percent of B Corporations—an independent global certification that is to businesses what Fair Trade is to chocolate. “Being part of this B Corp community has very much helped us improve, in a number of ways, how we are operating as a business,” Siemens says of Lunapads, which has held the certification since 2012. “There’s guidelines around how your third-party purchasing should be, guidelines around HR and governance. It provides a really good framework for helping us do better.”
Lunapads’ considerate and purposeful approach makes it choosy about business partners. Siemens says she and creative director Shaw have turned down wholesale customers who didn’t seem like a good fit, and they’re careful when it comes to investors. “I’m not seeking your traditional venture capital equity when we’re going for our next round of growth,” she asserts. “I’m very specific about ‘These are the kind of investors we’re looking for, because they are also trying to create higher value in the world through their investments.’”
Lunapads itself is an investor in Afripads, a Ugandan social enterprise founded in 2010 that manufactures and supplies cloth menstrual pads to individuals and NGOs. “They’ve just supplied their two millionth kit to girls and women in the global South—they’re a bigger company than we are,” enthuses Siemens, who points out that menstruating girls in developing countries often miss school because they lack access to menstrual hygiene products.
With the rise of period-positive advocacy—National Public Radio dubbed 2015 “the Year of the Period” after a swell of news stories and events that included a “free-bleeding” marathon runner and the lifting of Canada’s so-called tampon tax—Lunapads is primed to attract a new wave of consumers.
“What’s great about our industry is there’s always a new generation needing our products,” Siemens observes. “And each new generation is always thinking more progressively about environmental issues and social issues.”
Lunapads, which features real bodies and gender-nonconforming menstruators in its visuals, is well attuned to the millennial demand for values-driven, authentic consumer brands. That’s why Siemens believes the future is bright, for her company and the planet. “Millennials and Generation Z are way more aware that there are finite resources than the baby boomers and previous generations,” she says. “That keeps me optimistic and happy.”