Olivia of Luüna Naturals

Period stigma not just in rural Africa or India

“I started to hate being a woman.”

This is how Olivia Cotes-James, founder of Luüna Naturals, began to feel because of her heavy periods, which would overflow from her pads within an hour. It made her hate her periods and, in turn, hate being a woman.

She says that she now thinks she had a hormonal imbalance, but unsurprisingly, there was a lack of information around menstruation and she was told she was just “unlucky”. For the first two years of her period, the inconvenience led to frustration and shame; she stopped socialising, stopped playing sports. Being a woman, it felt, was hindering her from living her life.

When I think of taboos and stigma against menstruation robbing girls of opportunities and stopping them from attending school, I often think of rural Africa or the hinterland of India. But leaking through your clothing can do that to you, no matter where in the world you are.

Here was Olivia, a girl from the developed world, subjected to the same fate as victims of period stigma in the underdeveloped parts of the world. She forced herself to try tampons, which helped her start to socialise and play sports again.

Everyone saw my period products

In 2013, Olivia moved to Hong Kong. Tampons are extremely difficult to obtain in Hong Kong, and she would mule tampons with her whenever she returned to Hong Kong from the UK where she is from. On one of these trips, at Heathrow Airport, her luggage was over the weight limit, and she had to unpack her suitcase in front of a queue of people. All her period products laid out for all to see.

Olivia remembers feeling mortified. And why, was the question. Why was she embarrassed and why were there so few tampon options in Hong Kong, a cosmopolitan city?

Tampon Teas

After her airport incident, Olivia started to research menstruation in Hong Kong. She found out that a lack of menstrual education in Hong Kong resulted in a 1%-2% tampon adoption rate. She wanted to educate women on all options of period products.

During her time in Shanghai, Olivia started to conduct sessions she termed Tampon Teas, where strangers would come to chat about menstruation over tea. It was through these sessions that she was able to conclude that one in four women are unhappy with pads and willing to try alternatives.

And, also, that her own knowledge about menstruation was so lacking.

 

She was horrified, I was horrified

At these sesions, Olivia would also give out tampons as an alternative to sanitary napkins. At the end of 2016, at one of these workshops, a lady asked what the tampons were made out of. Olivia froze. She could not answer, because she had no idea.

“She was horrified. I was horrified,” Oliva says, as she pauses for dramatic effect. I was horrified too because I didn’t know either.

It turns out traditional tampons and pads are made with either traditionally grown cotton that uses pesticides, synthetic rayon or a mix of both. After learning about this, Olivia stopped using them. Perhaps by no coincidence, before she stopped, she had been prone to infections, which ceased when she gave up on bulge bracket tampons.

Olivia realised that she had to marry period education with better products, and that was the point Luüna Naturals was conceived.

Olivia today

Luüna Naturals is an ethical period care company that sells menstural cups, organic cotton tampons and pads, committed to tackling period stigma with bases in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore and London. Their global initiative, A Better Period, seeks to unite corporations, schools and universities, to shift attitudes and discussions about menstrual health by providing better products and conducting workshops.

Through her work with Luüna Naturals, Olivia seeks to empower the woman and carry us to true gender equality. The brand works to create change on the community level with customer purchases, organisational level with the brand’s A Better Period campaign, to eventually influence governments to invest in menstrual education for young girls.  

Any chance she gets, Olivia is knocking on company doors, walking into restaurants to ask about their period products provisions, or calling room service in hotels to have a sense of the period products they are providing female customers.

A far cry from someone who used to feel ashamed of her period.

Olivia warmly remembers a moment on the streets of Hong Kong where she bumped into a mother-daughter pair who had attended a brand workshop. The mother related that she had been hospitalised due to endometriosis complications, and her nine-year old had said, “don’t forget to eat this because you’re on your luteal phase,” referring to information given at the workshop. The mother also said that her daughter is looking forward to getting her period now.

That anecdote, to me, sums up all that Olivia is trying to do. I’m sure she would agree. 

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