For Jordana Kier, disruption of the $15 billion feminine care industry meant a focus on differentiation.
The impetus for her innovative subscription-based feminine care company, LOLA, which was backed with a $1.2 million investment without even a prototype, came when Kier and her husband had a brainstorming session on what bothers them as consumers. “It [my period] is the one predictable thing that I know is going to happen to me every month," she says. "...but it always catches me by surprise." Offering 100% cotton tampons delivered to a consumer's door each month, LOLA was born during Kier's tenure at Columbia Business School. "I took this weird detour in a passion that [I] didn’t even know I had," says Kier, who founded LOLA with her business partner and friend, Alex Friedman.
Having casually mentioned the idea of a subscription-based tampon company during class, the response was laughter from her peers. Clearly, it was no laughing matter, as the business, which is now in its second year, is re-imagining what is already a familiar part of a woman’s life: the ubiquitous tampon.“Starting, building, and growing a company, [and] managing people” is not something Kier could do alone. “Honestly, having a co-founder is like having a spouse,” which is why Kier recommends “dating” your co-founders before marrying them."The goal is to provide any product that a woman needs throughout her whole reproductive life, from the moment you get your period all the way through menopause. We want to be there for her," says Kier, who is equally laser-focused on bringing attention to women’s health issues. "We have products but it’s much more than that. It's a movement, it's a mission around getting women comfortable talking about these topics, making it easier for women to know what's in their [feminine care] products.”
It was also her surprise at the lack of information provided to customers that lead Kier to create LOLA. “The FDA doesn’t require companies to disclose the ingredients in these products,” she says. “I’m putting this in my body and yet there’s more regulation around organic kale than there is about this product.”
For Kier, cotton was the obvious choice for her line, because it was a material consumers could trust. “Because there’s so little transparency in the general feminine care industry, we decided to go with a 100 percent organic tampon, which is a fiber we understand,” she says. “It’s a fiber used in hospitals. It’s what you wrap your babies in. It’s natural, and we feel ten times better using something we understand vs. something we don’t."
Additionally, the fact that many tampons boxes feature the phrase “may contain” with a host of undesirable ingredients like polyester, is another thing that enforces her mission. “It’s sketchy,” she said about the nameless ingredients that tampon companies aren’t owning up to using. “If we are going to sell a product that we are also going to use it needs to be something that we are 100 percent safe using ourselves.”
Changing the conversation is also an important element of Kier’s vision.
“A year and half ago when we were doing this phase of customer discovery, it really was about women just starting to get comfortable talking about these topics,” she says. “Never was I sitting back and thinking, ‘What is really my purchase behavior?’ or ‘How many tampons am I using in a cycle?’ There is so much lack of inventory management and ownership that goes into this thing that’s really emotional and hits you typically by surprise, and then you want to forget about it.”When it came time to get funding for her idea, Kier says she was galvanized to action due to the fact that the feminine care market has been under-innovated in recent years, and only "stale" products are available.
“We had this amazing opportunity to educate,” says Kier, about her interactions with male investors. “We were put in this position where we had this domain expertise and could educate men. We said look this is a pretty big market, it is an inevitable thing that happens to women. We think we can do it better because we are in our thirties and we are our own customer .”
The fact that her product was a commodity, much like razors, mattresses and eyeglasses-all industries which have seen incredible disruption in the past few years-Kier said investors got understood her vision. “They saw lot of similarities [to companies like Harry's, Casper and Warby Parker], even if they couldn’t use the product,” she says, adding that the transparency movement is also hot, as evidenced by companies like Everlane, which strip away the secrecy of product creation.
Clearly the Millennial-driven trend of proactive consumerism has become the new norm, and those companies like LOLA that embrace it rather than fight it will come out winning. Looking to the future, Kier is looking to continue her mission of solving woman's problems, but is open to expanding into complementary directions.
"We're still really small, and we're starting to see that those first challenges of how you step outside of what you've been used to," says Kier, who closed her second round of funding, $3 million to be exact, in February. "You say now that I have a little more mind space to think of the bigger challenges that we face, how can I tackle those?"
Jordana Kier. Photo Credit: Annie O’Neill
I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"
I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.
In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.
Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.
For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.
Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.
The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.
It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.
While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.
What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.
While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.