One of the biggest goals that Lunette founder, Heli Kurjanen, has is to bring the menstruation conversation to the mainstream. What better way to do this than by sponsoring an Emmy event? She glammed it up on the red carpet as she talked to celebs like Jamie Foxx, Justin Baldwin, and Emily Baldoni about menstrual cups and how they are changing the period game. One celebrity even announced, “I’m wearing my menstrual cup right now”. This is just one of the ways that Heli is furthering period positivity and making menstrual cups more accessible. Through global education and unexpected partnerships, she is shedding a new light on what it means to menstruate.
It all started in 2004 when she tried her first menstrual cup and found that it had some pretty big flaws. Taking matters into her own hands, she left behind the cloth diaper business she had created to start Lunette. Curious about what it was like to turn an idea into a successful business and how she is furthering period-positivity, I sat down with Heli to find out what obstacles she had to overcome, how her background impacted her success, and where she thinks the menstruation industry is headed in the years to come.
You started out with a cloth diaper business that you ran from home and now you’re the head of an international brand. What has that transition been like for you?
It has been so much fun! I was a stay at home mom when I started the cloth diaper business and I was expecting this menstrual cup business to be small, too. I thought I’d stay at home with the kids and do something that was interesting and fun but it kind of exploded quite fast. It has been growing ever since! It’s been fun - I’ve been learning a lot about what it means to run a business.
What would you say have been the biggest challenges to get Lunette to the level it’s at now?
The biggest challenge has been that nobody believed that this could be something big. Especially in the beginning, I had a lot of people who didn’t believe me when I said that this is the future, that this will change how we take care of our periods. Getting people to look past the misconceptions and see what it could be has been the biggest challenge.
The first menstrual cup went to market in 1937 - almost 80 years ago. What do you think has changed since then that has made using a menstrual cup more appealing to women?
I think that the biggest advantage that we have is the internet. It makes it so easy to share information. There was a huge online community - a menstrual cup forum - when we started in Finland. And those kind of places have been helping us a lot. It’s so easy to share the information about the product and about menstruation. We’re still a small company compared to disposable products. They have a huge marketing budget and we just don’t have that. Word of mouth has been so important to us.
Do you think that menstrual cups have helped advance feminism?
I think they have. I have been so happy to see the whole change in attitude towards periods. During these last couple of years, it’s changed dramatically. People are talking about periods more. They’re talking about gender neutral periods. In general, people are more open towards feminism. They understand it’s much more than just burning your bra.
One of the things that’s talked about a lot in the United States is that there’s such a lack of education around sex and menstruation. Most schools don’t teach it. If they do, it’s kind of cursory. Being from Finland, is it different there? Is there a more comprehensive education?
It is. The whole schooling system is different, it’s good. People know more about periods and their anatomy than in the United States. It could still be better. We are working with the school systems. We have a booklet that teaches about anatomy and all the products that are available - not just our own. The booklet is almost ready in English, so we can bring that to the U.S. It’s really important over here to have consistent health education in schools. Boys need to be educated on it, too. We can’t change how periods and “women’s issues” are viewed if we don’t teach men and boys. They need to be involved with this.
This brings us back to the point that feminism isn’t just for women. It’s about equality. So when boys aren’t learning about this, we’re doing them a disservice.
Yeah, that’s exactly right.
Speaking of period positivity, there’s a lot of talk about period-shaming whether it’s on an individual level or it’s pad and tampon companies that use blue liquid in their commercials instead of using something that represents actual blood or using gender specific language like “feminine care products”. What’s your take on all that? How is Lunette paving a new path for menstruation brands to not be involved in period-shaming?
In Finnish, the term for period products is gender neutral. Our language as a whole is gender neutral. Since English isn’t my first language, it’s something that I’ve had to work on. We are now changing our language from “feminine hygiene” to “period care”. We think it’s more honest.
Lunette is doing some really exciting partnerships right now. Can you tell me about that?
We do a charity program in Kenya where we educate school girls and boys about periods. It’s important to teach them what is happening with their bodies and what options they have and to make sure they can go to school. Also, it’s really important to have the charity aspect among adult women who are already working - this is why we’re so excited for our partnership with the fashion brand, Aeryne. We’re planning a trip to India with them to go and educate women about their periods. Women and girls get infections because they use rags and mud. Menstrual cups help eliminate this problem. We want to empower girls and women all over the world. It’s possible, we can do that. Also, there have been a lot of studies that show that when women make money, they pour it into the community. Men tend to spend money on themselves. So educating women about this is important.
You’ve been doing this for 11 years now. What tools or background do you have that has made it possible for you to grow Lunette like you have?
I think the biggest advantage I have is not having a college education or business background. I haven’t done things in a traditional way. It has helped me to approach things in a more authentic way, understanding what people want and need instead of approaching it from a marketing standpoint.
Do you think that menstrual cups or Lunette in particular will disrupt the menstruation market?
I think so, yes. I’m definitely working hard toward that.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to help further this period-positive movement?
It starts from small things. Talk about it. You don’t need to love your period and shout it out from the rooftops but I think it’s really important to talk about it. Have the whole period experience - it’s a normal part of life. Accept it for what it is and don’t be afraid to be open about it.