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LOLA Co-Founder Talks Feminine Care Disruption

People

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

Career

Male Managers Afraid To Mentor Women In Wake Of #MeToo Movement

Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.


In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.

What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.

Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.

Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.

While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.

According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.

In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.


Source-Alex Brandon, AP

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.

Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.

The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.