Claire Coder has a busy few months ahead. At 19, the Ohio native has already established and sold one business and is about to launch her latest venture, Aunt Flow, a one-for-one company that donates a box of feminine hygiene supplies to a charitable organization for each one purchased. The Ms. Blog caught up with Coder between meetings as she prepared for Aunt Flow’s October 20 launch.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You’ve talked about the impact your mother, an art therapist, had on you and how she was open with you at a young age about some of the difficulties that face homeless and low-income women face with regard to menstruating. Can you tell us a bit more about those conversations and what specifically inspired you to establish Aunt Flow?
I primarily attribute [the inspiration for Aunt Flow] to my mom. She’s an art therapist [whose done extensive work with low-income communities] and she would talk to me about the [therapy] groups she was running and about how the women she was serving [would] frequently miss group or wear multiple layers of clothing, [even] plastic bags to stop [their menstrual] flow… It wasn’t actually until November of 2015 that I started to put the pieces together. At the time, I was in at Ohio State University, majoring in Comparative Religion. College really wasn’t for me, but I didn’t have anything to say that I was working on; I didn’t have a job lined up or anything.
I went to [an event in Columbus] called “Startup Weekend’ … which is [a bit like] a 72-hour hack-a-thon for startups. I [was] one of the only girls, and all these people [were] pitching these ideas [for apps, etc.] I thought, “I’m not going to pay $100 to pretend like I know how to make an app.” So, this was the perfect time to pitch a concept [that offers] a sustainable solution for the problem my mom had been talking about for years. At Startup Weekend, I formed a team, we pitched the idea, and we ended up placing second, which was really exciting because one hundred and eighty ideas were pitched and out of those one hundred and eighty, Aunt Flow rose to second place.
How did you come up with the character of Aunt Flow? And why do you think she’s the most effective face of the company?
I have a few agendas, and I’m very, very open about my agendas. First of all, I want to be a motivational speaker. I love speaking to audiences. So, owning a business and creating myself as the face of the company fulfills that agenda. I wanted to create a character to fulfill to my personal need [to] do that. Thankfully that character has served very well, because, of course, talking about menstruation isn’t the most comfortable topic. But [by] introducing it with humor… I can bring it down into a [more] serious level after we get the giggles out. So that, to me, is the way that Aunt Flow has really helped to bring menstruation to light in a fun and educational way.
You mention that there are other delivery services for sanitary products on the market. What would you say further distinguishes your products?
Well, a few different things. Of course, we have our one-for-one [business model]. [Our product] is also 100% cotton, FDA regulated and biodegradable? What makes Aunt Flow different is [also] the opportunity to engage with Aunt Flow, [via] our YouTube videos, getting involved [and] coming to our Menstruation Nation events. Each of our [for purchase] boxes has different businesses that sponsor areas in regions that we’re working in, [which] offsets the cost of our give-one boxes.Giving within the United States is such an important thing to me. There are already some companies who are donating outside of the United States, but we really have so much need within the [country]. And we’re [among] the only [companies] that are giving back tampons and pads within the United States where its ingrained in [our business model]. Organizations [will only be featured] on our website for a maximum of three months. After those three months, we have to make sure [these organizations] still have a budget line item for these products, so we continue our giving with them making sure they have a budget line item, and we can still continue to give, although we aren’t giving the product to them pro bono. During the three months, they’re on our website, we make sure all of that is set in place and that they’re ready to go when they’re no longer on the program.
Lack of access to pads and tampons—to women’s sanitary products in general—isn’t something we talk about very much when it comes to women’s health. Looking forward, how are you hopeful Aunt Flow and similar companies will change that conversation to bring it more to the public’s attention?
Honestly, I really hope all our companies can come together and lessen the taboo. There is a boom in the feminine hygiene industry [right now]. Whether [period panties], reusable pads, people are talking about [menstruation] and that’s a start. Aunt Flow doesn’t just talk to women about this movement, we also talk to men. [At Aunt Flow] we talk to [men] as Flo Bros. FloBros are [men who] are [comfortable] talking about menstruation, who want to be involved and engaged because if we just keep talking to [women], nothing’s going to happen! We wanted to engage [men] and continue the conversation. We have t-shirts available to buy online that our FloBros can wear with pride. We have YouTube videos where I appear as Aunt Flow and ask men questions that give them an opportunity to learn more [about menstruation] because, usually, they don’t know a lot! That’s what I really like about Aunt Flow [is the space it creates for those conversations and learning opportunities].
Will customers be able to choose from a list what organizations they would like to benefit from their purchase?
Yes. [The idea] is when you subscribe to Aunt Flow you’ll be able to choose. Every time we switch organizations, if you’re on a monthly subscription option, we send you an e-mail and we’re, like, “hey! these are new organizations, check them out, learn about them, engage with them, and then [choose where they would like the box from their purchase] to go to. It’s kind of a cool way to keep [Aunt Flow’s customers] engaged and for them to learn about different organizations throughout the United States.
If you’re using Aunt Flow’s products, ideally, they won’t be seen while you’re wearing them! How are you going to advertise Aunt Flow? Are relying on web traffic? Are you hoping the organizations you’re partnered with whether they’re companies, or a charitable organization, will help to get the word out? What does your advertising model look like?
We have a variety of goals. We really want organizations to be reaching out to their supporters. And additionally, we’re going to be tapping into influencer marketing, finding those awesome YouTubers who want to talk about menstruation and then [would be willing to tie in] Aunt Flow. We’ll also be adding our own YouTube channel into that mix
What are those Period Parties and Menstruation Nation events like?
Period Parties are crazy [and] hilarious—we have a variety of different games. We have “Pin the Period on the Pussy” which is like “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” but menstruation savvy. We have tampon piñatas, “Make a Badge that Looks Like Your Vag” which is a make your own badge kit, stuff like that. Those are different games and activities we do during the Period Parties.
Menstruation Nation is more like a curated event, broken into four different acts. Our first act is a period poem, where someone shares a personal poem that they’ve written about menstruation. The second act [involves] something along the lines of live music. So someone can [perform] live music, sing, dance [and] usually representing [some aspect of] menstruation. And then the third act is a personal story, where we bring it back to the more real, how do we live, how are we real with ourselves [kinds of questions]. [These stories] can be… about growing up without tampons, or an embarrassing story about how [someone] bled through their underwear, etc. My favorite is the final act because that’s our “Manel.” We have a group of three to five men on stage, and they’re fearless and they answer questions that quiz them about menstruation, like “How does a tampon work?” or “What actually happens when a woman’s on her period”… fun questions like that. [And] whenever someone wants to host [one] we work with them and plan with them to help put on [a Menstruation Nation event] in their city.
You’re 19 and are already throwing yourself full-time into the business world. Have you encountered much pushback from older colleagues? What are some methods you’ve used in those situations when people, male or female, have perhaps underestimated your abilities because of your young age?
Of course! The hardest situation for Aunt Flow is that I’m the 19-year-old founder of a company. So when talking and pitching to ask for [capital], to really ask for anything, it’s not only an age situation, I also have a gender situation, and also I’m talking about feminine hygiene which, really, only 50 percent of the population can understand and, typically, that 50 percent doesn’t [control] the investing. It has been a huge hurdle to overcome, but what I’ve been able to do is position myself in a way that I look and present myself as older and to [speak] directly. I don’t shy away from the[fact] I’m only 19, I just embrace it.
Where do you see Aunt Flow in five years? What are your hopes for the company?
My personal dream is to have feminine hygiene products accessible to every woman in the United States. Ideally, in five years we will make that happen. We have a few different products that are going to be coming out in the second quarter of 2017 and [just expanding the company’s reach].
Aunt Flow’s Presales are underway! Launch Fulfillment and Sales Begin December 1. Boxes of 18 pads, 18 tampons, or nine pads and nine tampons retail for $13 each, including shipping.