Calendar +

Stories, Weekly Interviews, things to see and footnotes.
Stories, Weekly Interviews, things to see and footnotes.
Stories, Weekly Interviews, things to see and footnotes.

November 20, 2020

In Conversation

When it Comes to Periods, Karla Welch Says Let it Flow 3 minute read

Original Kotex 'Dear Mother Nature: Thank you' ad, reinterpreted by The Period Company
Soko wearing the ‘Dear Mother Nature: THANK YOU’ tee by The Period Company.

If half the world bleeds every month, why aren’t we talking about it? Why is there so little research and investment into making periods easier, and better for ourselves and for the environment? Why is it expensive, and why is it still seen as shameful to menstruate?

Olivia Gagan

Interview Olivia Gagan

The short answer is likely ‘the patriarchy’, but 2020 has at least seen some small, but significant, shifts in the way we see, talk about, and pay for periods. The UK will abolish tax on menstrual products from 2021. The German government hasn’t gone that far, but has at least declassified them as luxury goods. A clot and a blood-soaked tampon effortlessly found their way into a positive sex scene in Micaela Coel’s I May Destroy You. 

A few weeks ago, when Los-Angeles based stylist Karla Welch posted a video on Instagram of her washing period blood out of her underwear, it felt like another shift in the narrative. 

The Period Company, launched by Welch alongside co-founder Sasha Markov, is not the first company to make blood-absorbent underwear. “But I just didn't think there was a great product that I felt like using,” Welch explains. “I felt they were really cost-prohibitive, and at the same time, I had really started exploring my own period. I was kind of shocked at how much waste I produced. Then you find out that tampons and pads never decompose. And why does it all have so many wrappers? So, I just decided to do it for myself.”

After decades of advertising capitalising on the fear and shame of leaking blood, Welch says her period underwear is based on another idea entirely: just letting blood flow. “A tampon company saying, ‘Plug yourself up’ – it’s like there’s something wrong. We're not diminishing the pain people can experience with their period. But we're saying, ‘That's actually the antithesis to how nature works. Nature and water always finds a way to flow. Tap into it. Let it flow. You're going to actually have a way more enjoyable period."

​Inclusivity and accessibility are important to Welch. “We didn't want to leave anybody out. Nobody has the exact same period.”

The Period Company’s underwear is made of a range of materials, including organic cotton, polyester, and nylon microfibre. The latter two fabrics can take 20-200 years to decompose, but Welch argues that purchasing a few pairs of underwear, which can be worn for years, is smarter than adding to the tampon and sanitary pad plastics waste pile. The underwear’s packaging, meanwhile, “is cassava. It decomposes in 30 days. You can compost all our packaging.”

Price is a big differentiator, with a pair of underwear coming in at US$12-14. Other period underwear tends to be at least double the price. In the U.S., The Period Company also covers the sales tax in states where taxes apply. “We think it's absolutely outrageous that menstrual products are taxed,” she says. “It's just sickening. It's wrong. We have to participate in it, but we don't want our customers and our community to have to pay tax on it. So, we're going to take care of it.”

When asked about how they make the numbers work, Welch’s answer is simple: they won’t make as much money, and they won’t make as much product. “You don't have to have a huge mark-up. You can just make less margins and make it really affordable. We're not about being a billion-dollar company. We're about making a huge impact in waste.” 

Marketing any company or product as sustainable runs the risk of greenwashing, but Welch is pragmatic about building the brand’s credentials as a responsible, low-impact business. “It's not like we're going to be perfect. If we make a mistake, we're going to correct it.” As an example, she explains that “one of our styles has come in smaller than we expected. So instead of just scrapping them – why would we scrap 20,000 units? – we're going to put something up on the site that says, ‘Hey, our sizing is a little bit of a mistake here. Please size up.’ A traditional company might scrap that product and let it go to waste.” 

Inclusivity and accessibility are important to Welch. “We didn't want to leave anybody out. Nobody has the exact same period.” An adaptive underwear product, which has easy-to-grasp loops and Velcro closures for people with mobility issues, has already sold out on the site. Boxers are available for people who have periods who don’t want underwear cut for women – or who just find boxers more comfy. The business appointed a medical adviser, Indiana University’s Dr Sade Imeokparia, who is asking questions and making tweaks. “She's brought us insights. For instance, Black women tend to get blood clots later in life and can have longer periods. So, what's our absorbency level going to be? What about the width of the gusset?”

The Period Company has also repurposed iconic advertising campaigns into tongue-in-cheek new ones, Calvin Klein’s 1980 ‘Nothing Comes Between Me and My Calvins’ ad being one of them. “If you look at vintage menstrual ads, they're gross,” Welch says. “They're all, "Ooh, don't smell.’ [The women in the ads] have to be gorgeous, or sexualized, or they're running around in their underwear. Nobody runs around on the beach in their underwear when they have their period! So we’re all, "Well, you can also just lie in your bed if you want to."

The Period Company is only a few weeks into its launch, but Welch has big plans. “Our goal is to bring period underwear to the mass market, so that we're right on the shelves next to pads and tampons. We've already had orders on every continent, with the exception of Oceania and Antarctica – we can't deliver there! Our big goal is to probably work with another company to harvest growth globally, but right now it's just about building a brand, and building our own community. But we want to be global. We want to be everywhere.”