Luüna Naturals Founder Olivia Cotes-James Wants You To Reframe The Relationship You Have With Menstruation. Here's How
Luüna Naturals wants you to have your period and your fun, too. In its brand imagery, it features women with tampons dangling like earrings, or smiling while waving organic pads. “We’re really proud of the way we get people laughing and warmed up,” says Olivia Cotes-James, who is serious about reframing the negative relationship many women have with menstruation.
Cotes-James recalls feeling sad and scared herself upon getting her period around age 11 in the UK. “My first thought when I looked down was that my life, as I knew it, was over,” she says. “It’s a testament to how shrouded in shame this topic is around the world.”
Her instinct was right in that she quickly began to suffer from debilitatingly heavy periods that compelled her to stop playing sports and socialising, and filled her with dread. She secretly tried her mother’s tampons a few years later and found them empowering.
After university, Cotes-James relocated to Hong Kong, where she experienced the first of three frustrations that inspired Luüna: lack of product access. As a result, she became a tampon mule, bringing a stash back from London each time she visited. In 2015, she was stopped at Heathrow because her bag exceeded the weight limit and forced to unpack tonnes of tampons as the passenger queue grew behind her.
“I reacted the same way I might have if they actually were drugs,” Cotes-James recalls. “I was faced with my own menstrual stigma because the fact that I was so mortified that people had seen these products—balls of cotton, basically—was really shocking to me.”
Cotes-James began talking casually about periods in Hong Kong, where tampon use is minimal, and then in Shanghai, where she encountered similar taboos and lack of education (the second frustration). At her workshops, the feedback was eye-opening. One attendee revealed that her boyfriend asked her not to use tampons because he didn’t want them to change the shape of her vagina.
Another woman’s question about what is in tampons brought the third frustration to light: lack of transparency. Cotes-James didn’t know offhand, and her research revealed synthetics and conventional cotton treated with carcinogenic pesticides. Horrified, she stopped using tampons, and her recurring yeast infections also stopped.
“If you put plastic or synthetics in your body, it can lead to hormonal disruptions and increased rates of infertility,” says Cotes-James. She became inspired to develop Luüna’s organic, hypoallergenic pads, liners and tampons, as well as reusable silicone menstrual cups, a more eco-friendly and cost-effective choice—and the first such product to be stocked at major retailer Watsons.
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I’ve literally been stopped in the street by people saying that we’ve changed their lives
— Olivia Cotes-James
Luüna partners with schools and offices to supply product dispensers; runs workshops for both mothers and daughters as well as male-dominated companies; and donates to underprivileged communities across Asia. In Hong Kong, Luüna collaborates with the Zubin Foundation to combat the period poverty right on our doorstep and is developing online expert resources written in traditional Chinese to reach more people. Cotes-James wants to educate all women to better manage their health and not be dismissed by any doctor who says bad period pain is just a problem to live with.
“I’ve never been so totally consumed by an issue, and every conversation I have reminds me of how needed what we’re doing is,” says Cotes-James. “I’ve literally been stopped in the street by people saying that we’ve changed their lives.”
See more honourees from the Gen.T List 2021