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Co-Founder Q&A: ohne

This month we are all about uplifting our community, uplifting skincare stories and uplifting small brands. To further our collaboration with ohne (look out for something added in your Urban Veda online orders), we want to get to know Leah and Nikki, the co-founders of ohne better, the sustainable cycles brand who work to normalise conversations about sex education, menstruation, and period poverty.

1) Was there a specific moment when each of you realised that something needed to change regarding the conversation around periods?

Leah: It’s funny, we actually did get that ‘eureka’ moment. But looking back I know it had been a long-time coming. Nikki and I were both super passionate about using organic, all-natural products and ingredients; Nikki had experience working with School Club Zambia and had seen first-hand the effect of period poverty. And I had always known I wanted to start my own business. The three passions came together for us suddenly when we were complaining about periods one night (we’ve all been there). Nikki was waving around a pink and purple pad with flowery designs all over the packaging and the pad itself. Talking about how infantilising and outdated the mainstream period product industry is. It suddenly occurred to us just how much bloody plastic was in the thing too. We did our research and found out that there’s the equivalent of about four plastic bags in every (mainstream) pad. All the big-name tampons are made from a horrifying cocktail of toxic chemicals, bleach, wood pulp, and non-organic cotton. Moreover, we talked all night about the kid of period brand we would want. Organic, bold, actively fighting period poverty, and dismantling all the shame we’ve been taught to associate with periods. We just knew we had to build it ourselves.

2) Have you seen the conversation around period health evolve and if so, in what way?

Nikki: Definitely. Within our community, we’ve seen people totally falling in love with the shameless, bold, and fun way we talk about periods, sex, and all the weird and wonderful things our bodies do. Our customers feel empowered to carry this conversation back into their own communities. And we’re receiving messages of thanks for helping people to find ways of talking about these taboos. From our millennial and gen-z customers who proudly post pics of their tampons online. To mothers looking for a safe period product for their teen daughter. To post-menopausal women who say they wish we’d been around when they were younger! We’re not only seeing this conversation around periods change on a micro level, but on a macro level too. Big-name period brands are finally taking note of the sea-change happening with start-ups like ohne and our peers in the period and organic wellness industries; they’re starting to shift their marketing away from the shame-narrative of blue liquid ads and tampons wrapped like sweets to bolder, braver, bloodier imagery and messaging. Hopefully we’ll start to see them adopting the emphasis on sustainability and body-safe products too!

3) What makes ohne different?

Nikki: ohne is quite literally the only brand in the period space with a focus on the entire menstrual cycle. If you’re a human with a uterus, you’re literally never notat some point in your menstrual cycle. Your hormones and reproductive system don’t just cease to exist when your period ends. We’re providing resources and information about cycles, creating products that will support people when they’re not bleeding, and, above all else, creating a community of people who we think deserve better from brands, education, and society as a whole when it comes to their bodies. Leah: We’re really proud to be part of a tiny-but-growing number of brands taking eco-menstruation seriously. But we’re not stopping there. We focus on totally changing the way people shop for their periods. With hyper-personalised period kits delivered right to your door. All the information you could ever want to know about your body right at your finger tips. And a ready made community of incredible people who bleed ready to talk about anything from discharge to period sex anyplace, any time.

4) Talk us through your CBD oils and the science behind them

Leah: I’m obsessed with CBD. It helps us and our community with everything from hormonal imbalance to period pain. From the second Nikki and I started using CBD for ourselves, we realised we just had to share it with our community - we couldn’t believe there wasn’t already a conversation about using CBD for period pain! Our first CBD product was holy cramp. It is a topical oil that helps fight cramps. Our second is an ingestible daily supplement, yours, hormonally, that supports hormone production throughout the menstrual cycle. This helps to combat PMS and symptoms of hormonal imbalance. So, the science-y bit: CBD comes from the flowers of the Hemp Cannabis Sativa plant - yup, the same plant as marijuana. Don’t worry though. CBD (or cannabidiol) is one of over 100 cannabinoids found in cannabis and THC is the only one of these that is psychoactive. To get technical for a second, our CBD is extracted using a supercritical Co2 extraction process. This allows a wide spectrum of cannabinoids to be safely stripped from the plant - independent of the parts that get you high. There’s a system in the human body called the endocannabinoid system, which basically supports every important function we’ve got. It helps to regulate everything from pain and mood to things like appetite and sleep. Cannabinoids such as CBD work just like the endogenous cannabinoids naturally made by the human body, which evoke cannabinoid receptors found in various systems such as the gut, skin cells, reproductive organs, and the brain, helping to promote natural balance and skin healing.

5) What are your top 5 tips for period care?

  1. Use the lowest-absorbency tampon type for your flow. This means if it’s a light day, don’t use a super tampon with the idea that you’ll have to change it less frequently.
  2. Always wash your hands before inserting and removing tampons. Especially if you’re using naked (non-applicator) tampons, as your vagina is super sensitive.
  3. Track your cycle to understand your body and it’s needs better. You can lessen the effects of almost all PMS symptoms by understanding your cycle. And taking the necessary steps to ensure your hormones are balanced.
  4. Dark chocolate can help with period pain! Dark chocolate is full of magnesium. Which has been found to ease the pain caused by muscle spasms. If you opt for the good stuff (organic, real cacao) it’s much lower in sugar than the very sweet, milky stuff (which can make your cramps worse).
  5. When it doubt, always opt for organic. Your vagina has the thinnest, most absorbent, and most sensitive skin of anywhere in your body - you seriously want to avoid those nasty toxins and chemicals from getting up close and personal with it.

6) Can you explain the difference between PMS and PMDD?

Nikki: PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, is characterised by a number of physical and emotional symptoms that a person who gets periods can experience in the run-up to their period. These symptoms included (but aren’t limited to) tender boobs, bloating, mood swings, low energy, irritability, and a significant change in sex drive. They can vary greatly not only from person-to-person but also period-to-period for the same person. PMS can mostly be attributed to hormonal imbalances and a confluence of lifestyle factors. Developing healthy, regular exercise, eating, and sleeping habits and avoiding stressors can result in experiencing little to no PMS symptoms at all. About 75% of people who menstruate experience some form of PMS. Leah: PMDD, on the other hand, is a condition experienced by between 3% and 8% of people who bleed. The symptoms are far more severe. And usually result in a much more significant decrease in quality of life than PMS. One of the key things to look out for if you’re worried you may have PMDD is feeling out of control. From mood swings so extreme they can’t be overlooked. To uncharacteristically picking fights with your loved ones. To not being able to motivate yourself to do things that are important or that you’re normally passionate about.

7) Can each of you debunk a common period myth?

Leah: You only lose an average of 6-8 teaspoons worth of blood lost during an average period, but the reason that fact is so baffling to those of us with a heavy flow (or anyone who’s ever sneezed on the second day of their period…) is because what we know of as a ‘period’ is actually less than 50% blood. The menstrual flow is also made up of a mixture of cervical mucus, endometrial tissue, and vaginal secretions. Nikki: Everything you think you know about fertility is probably wrong. So many people are shocked by how hard it is to get pregnant when they start actively trying. You’re actually only fertile for a day or two every month (when you ovulate). HOWEVER, it’s really important to note that consistently and reliably identifying when you’re ovulating is really bloody hard. It can change month to month. So don’t just go around having unprotected sex with people who can get you pregnant if you don’t want a baby! Sperm can live in the body for up to five days. So yes, even though it’s not super common. You can get pregnant from having sex while on your period thanks to sperm clinging on in there, short cycles, and/or early ovulation!

8) How does ohne work to uplift and empower its consumers?

Leah: We’re really big believers in creating collaborative content. That means including the voices of those who will be experiencing the content into its creation. In the case of menstrual product advertising it means getting people who have periods involved. And including their experiences as a backdrop to how you advertise and discuss periods. Including the voices of the people our product is made for in the creative processes behind the scenes means that we’re making changes based on what people with periods need, want, and ask for. We’re not just trying to chase and profit off whatever is currently trending - there’s no brand longevity in that. At ohne, our culture is in our community. Part of creating this community comes from acknowledging that, whilst in the UK we have a lack of transparency and education when it comes to the products we’re sold, low income countries struggle with gaining access to products full stop. The social impact element of the brand was a core part of our business model from the early days.

9) What do you personally do to feel uplifted and empowered when on your period?

Nikki: I always make time to have a bubble bath with magnesium bath salts, which really help with the cramps! I take an ingestible CBD oil daily to keep my hormones balanced and I’ll also pair it with our topical (on the skin) CBD oil, holy crampright when I wake up to help ward off the cramps. Leah: my period-self care routine is always just a hot water bottle and snacks on the sofa whilst watching Queer Eye! Anything that’s cosy and relaxing is the best way to combat the crappy side effects of bleeding. I also use an old herbal remedy of my mum’s that I’ve been using for years to help with my cramps ( this space!)

10) Does OHNE have any charitable partnerships?

We’ve partnered with School Club Zambia, a grassroots social enterprise. Their Girl’s Programme is set up to improve the lives and educating of young girls living in rural Zambia. Rather than donating single-use, disposable period products, for every box of ohne tampons bought. Customers are directly contributing to long-term change in rural schools. A UK charity and Zambian NGO, School Club Zambia focuses on upskilling the children in the communities they work with. To ensure that education is directly leading to job opportunities and skills that will be useful later in life. Their work reaches almost 2,000 children per year. They’re doing incredible work. With the Girl’s Programme, they’re building brand new, clean toilet blocks in every school they work with. As well as, educating the students about menstruation, and equipping the girls with the skills they need to make their own reusable, sustainable sanitary pads from local resources. We’re incredibly passionate about this aspect of our business. Nikki has personally worked with the organisation in Zambia and seen first hand the incredible work that they do. Being able to support the community in an authentic, long-term way means a huge amount to us. We believe that every person has the right to manage their period without shame and with dignity. We commit to supporting efforts to eradicate period poverty in low-income areas.

11) What's your go-to period snack?

Leah: Popcorn! To be honest, that’s actually more of a go-to-everyday snack, but I need my favourite treats the most when I’m cramping!

12) What tips do you have for balancing work and social life whilst experiencing the common side effects of periods (cramps, hormonal/mood/skin changes)

Nikki: Don’t push yourself! Once you get into cycle tracking, you’ll get to know your body’s ups and downs. How to work with them, not against them. It’s important to listen to your energy levels, your physical symptoms. And your mood at each point in your cycle and do what feels best to you. The more in touch you are with your cycle, the more you’ll be able to plan your social life and work commitments in advance. Not pile too much on your plate at a time when your body needs more rest and relaxation. (And, equally, not leave yourself a barren schedule when you know you’re going to be full of energy and itching to socialise!)

13) What is next for ohne?

Leah: we have a lot up our sleeves in the coming months! I can’t reveal all our secrets. But our goal is to enable our customers to create their ideal cycle care kit. Complete with every product they need to manage their period. And products designed to support their hormones throughout the rest of their cycle and combat PMS. All we can say is watch this space!

14) The stage is all yours - if there was one piece of information you wish to share with our Urbanite community, what would that be?

Leah: If you’re afraid to talk to your friends or loved ones about something ‘taboo’. Be it sex, periods, mental health, or anything else that can be difficult to talk about. Know that the hardest part is right before you say it. Once you start talking about something you’re going through or something you’ve been thinking about. You’ll be amazed by how people respond. When we first started ohne. We had no idea if a brand like ours could work because we hadn’t seen it being done before. Sure, we faced some pushback from male investors and the occasional elderly family friend who baulked at the word ‘period’ being flung about. But on the whole we received nothing but enthusiasm and cries of ‘finally!’ from people who’d been feeling the same things Nikki and I had about the period industry and the shame it perpetuates. We still get messages every week from people thanking us for having the kinds of conversations we’re having online. So, TL:DR (too long:didn’t read) just say the thing. People will love you for it.