Let's Get it OHNE - An Interview with the women behind OHNE
We sat down with the fantastic women behind the organic cotton tampon company, that is working hard to fight the taboos surrounding those of us who bleed, OHNE. If you haven’t heard of OHNE then you’re in for a treat because what this company is doing is revolutionising a very male dominant industry, and handing the reigns back to those who actually understand how periods work. I wanted to interview Leah and Nikki because they’ve created a wonderful eco and vagina friendly alternative for those who cannot bare the thought of a menstrual cup, but would like to use something in conjunction with reusable pads / period pants. There should be absolutely no judgment or period shaming in any community, and so I wanted to offer another alternative and some wise words from the women themselves. So strap in and jump OHNE because you’re in for an education.
Who are you and what do you do?
First and foremost Nikki and I are best friends! We actually met in 2010 on our very first day of Uni when we were put in the rooms next to each other. We’ve been friends ever since.
OHNE (our baby aka company) is the most bespoke organic (and biodegradable) tampon subscription service in the UK - but it’s also a knowledge platform and the core of an incredible community dedicated to smashing outdated period taboos and starting conversations about anything and everything to do with periods, menstrual health, sex, feminism… the list goes on. We want OHNE to serve women+ in all the ways the mainstream ‘feminine hygiene’ (that phrase, ew) industry has been failing them.
Why periods? How did you discover fighting period poverty and toxic tampons was your calling?
I'd been using organic period products from a young age to help with cramps (try it!) but hadn't realised what mainstream tampons were made of. It wasn't until 2016, when Nikki opened a mainstream pad covered in purple hearts and wrapped in plastic that we started chatting about the current menstrual health industry that we believed served to disempower and perpetuate a feeling of shame. We explored creating new products for women+ and it was during the exploration that we realised the lack of transparency in the industry (we’re always shouting from the rooftops that hamster food has more disclosure regulations than tampons do!) We hate to think of how many women are using toxic, synthetic and non-biodegradable products without even knowing it. The fact that mainstream tampons are bleached and that each pad contains the equivalent of 4 plastic bags was enough for us to turn all our energy and efforts into creating positive change.
We decided that 21st century people who bleed deserved 21st century products and we realised we could actually do something about it - so we did!
Having your blog Fem Space makes it feel like you're more than just a company, and are actually creating a pretty wonderful community. What are you hoping to achieve (or have already achieved) through this space?
Our community is the most important - and most rewarding - part of what we’re doing. We love having conversations with women+ from all over the country about periods, hormones - hell, anything really! As I’ve said, obliterating these bullshit taboos is really the goal - until that happens, we can’t expect to have real, honest, productive conversations about period poverty, period products, or even educating young girls on wtf is actually happening to their bodies when they’re starting to bleed once a month, which is pretty disturbing when you think about it.
FemSpace is our platform to talk about everything and anything we think is important. We’re mad at just how bad most of our education was when it came to anything sex/puberty related. I’m sure we can all remember a P.E. teacher awkwardly standing at the front of the class rolling a condom on a banana… and very little else.
We’re interviewing all kinds of women and inviting guest writers to contribute to FemSpace on a regular basis, because we know that other people have expertise we don’t and that our experiences aren’t everyone else’s. We’re keen to make the space as inclusive and fun as it can be - we want it to be the kind of resource for young women+ that we never had growing up.
It's great to actually see a women owned period company. What are some of the biggest issues you've faced building your company?
We definitely find it a little (okay, very) crazy that most of the companies in this industry are run by men with absolutely no experience of using or needing the products they’re making.
We have, of course, come up against some real challenges in this area… One of our biggest hurdles was in manufacturing. We wanted to create 100% organic cotton tampons (and 100% means even the string has to be stitched rather than glued) that met the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), were 100% biodegradable and using a manufacturer who believed so strongly in what we were doing that they’d lower their (normally huge) minimum order quantities to meet our tiny pre-launch budgets! Our second big one was investment - two young women pitching tampons to a room full of older, white men blushing and refusing to make eye contact is never going to be easy! But we were fully prepared for the hurdles we’d have to face (and continue to face) going into this.
Where do you think we are lacking in knowledge when it comes to period education?
I’d say it’s getting better, because we’re seeing a lot more chat about periods and period poverty in the media and online, but education is definitely still not where it should be. We’d love to see sex ed in general be more inclusive, for a start - not everyone who has periods is a girl/woman. Secondly, some of the so-called ‘facts’ we teach students about periods can be pretty damaging in terms of perpetuating taboos.
There’s very little discussion of conditions like Endometriosis or PCOS, which everyone should be taught about from a young age as absolutely nobody should be having to miss school because their periods are unmanageably heavy or painful. Yet, on the other side of the same coin, the teachings state that a period lasts 3-5 days and a ‘perfect’ menstrual cycle is an exact 28 days (the reality is that less than 10% of us have a regular 28 day cycle). When young girls and other people with periods have experiences which differ from this, their worries and questions go unaddressed because we haven’t opened up that conversation.
We’d also love to see more - well, any - discussion of period products and birth control and the various side effects of each. TSS shouldn’t just be a scary rumour whispered about in the girl’s loos, birth control shouldn’t just be a vague idea of condoms and some nondescript ‘pill’ when there are many, many more options, and tampons and menstrual cups shouldn’t just be mentioned offhand, they should be extensively discussed and the way to use them adequately explained.
I got a little carried away there, I know! But really there’s just so much that could be better and it would really change the way we all talk about periods and the way people who have them feel equipped to manage them.
What are some of the biggest period taboos that you've discovered, and how have you been trying to break them?
What isn’t a taboo when it comes to periods! Period poverty is a massive issue - obviously - because, in a world that’s too embarrassed to talk about periods, the challenges of how the hell you afford to manage one when you’re struggling financially or living below the poverty line go completely undiscussed. This is, thankfully, beginning to change. We’re very proud of the work we’ve been doing with School Club Zambia to reduce period poverty through long-term, sustainable methods, keeping young girls in school and getting the education they deserve.
One of the biggest taboos surrounding periods that I think we’re still, even in the most ‘woke’ online communities, shying away from discussing openly is how difficult or life-altering periods can be for many people. This applies to everything from your ‘average’ (again: no such thing as normal!) PMS that makes it really hard to get motivated at work, have the energy for socialising, or feel ~up for it~ in the bedroom, to truly debilitating period cramps that could be a sign of Endometriosis. We’ve got this hangover from 20th century feminism that ‘anything a man can do I can do too!’ and while, yeah, we’re absolutely never going to tell anyone their biology holds them back from becoming or doing anything, it’s no longer revolutionary for women+ to be molding themselves to fit into the ‘man’s world’. The world has got to change. And when it does, it’s got to be mindful and accommodating of the fact that some people who have periods can’t necessarily go on as normal when they’re menstruating.
We want OHNE to be a space where all of these conversations are welcome and encouraged. No one should have to suffer in silence or feel like they’re betraying the feminist cause if they admit that they find their period really disruptive to their everyday lives, for whatever reason. There’s no wrong way to have or experience a period.
It all comes back to encouraging conversation around menstruation in order to normalise periods. Half of the population has, does, or at some point will, bleed and it doesn’t get much more normal than that. Combatting taboo takes more than a brand telling you to talk about the subject. We all need to be taking the subject into our daily lives, opening the conversation and frequently repeating it. Only then will we (all genders) be able to think in that language. Only then will things be normalised.
Lastly, any advice you would give to your younger selves about getting and managing your period?
Where to start?! I’d definitely tell my younger self to tell shame and taboos where to go and to talk about periods to her heart’s content. Just having conversations about the things that we’re experiencing, without feeling like we’re confiding a shameful secret, is so liberating. And don’t be afraid to reach out to other people for advice or support. There’s literally no such thing as a normal period or normal experience of puberty! We all spend way too much time being embarrassed of a thing that is so bloody common when we could be saving that energy for having fun/learning/smashing the patriarchy to smithereens.
A massive thank you to Leah and Nikki for taking the time to answer our questions and educate us a lot! We hope you found it helpful and will choose to support this women owned business working hard to bring better products and education to us all. I have also written an article for their website so head over there to give it a read (it’s all about my vegan and low waste journey so its a good’un).
If you’d like to try OHNE then we have a special code for you to get a free box: IMMYVIP - There’s a £1 (one off charge) for postage but your custom box is absolutely free. Any tampon type, any quantity, any absorbency range. ENJOY!