Period products are the latest sector of the health and wellness industry that’s getting the Gen Z treatment. The modernization of menstrual care is way overdue; it wasn’t that long ago that menstrual product ads featured blue liquid and innuendo-laced messaging calling periods your “monthly gift” from an “Aunt Flo.” Driven in part by a renewed conversation around gender norms, modern period care brands are bringing a fresh new perspective to menstruation marketing, and gender-inclusive period care brand August is leading the way in changing the culture around menstruation.
Not only is August acknowledging and accommodating the diverse experiences of all menstruators, but the brand is also taking a stand for menstrual equity by covering the cost of the tax on menstrual products (aka the pink tax or tampon tax) for any purchases made through its website and retailers, including Target and Amazon.
Founded in 2021 by Nick Jain and Nadya Okamoto, August is the culmination of both of their lives’ work. Jain founded a Gen Z consulting firm called JUV Consulting when he was 16, helping brands like Unilever, Viaco, and Edelman better understand and reach the Gen Z consumer. At JUV, Jain saw firsthand how disconnected his generation was from the legacy hygiene brands that perpetuated harmful and outdated gender-based stereotypes.
“When I actually started seeing some of the research we were doing around period care, I started realizing young people really don't like period products. Young people really don't like the brands that exist, they didn't feel connected to any brand in the space. And to me, that meant that there's a huge whitespace and opening for disruption.”
Also at 16 years old, Okamoto founded PERIOD, a nonprofit organization fighting to end period poverty and stigma. The co-founders met when Jain hired Okamoto to be the Chief Brand Officer at JUV Consulting in 2018. By mid-2019, both entrepreneurs were ready to move on to their next project, having both become disillusioned with the nonprofit and consulting sectors.
“I think we're both at a point in our careers where we knew that consulting wasn't the way that we felt like we could each make the most impact,” said Okamoto. “I felt that discrepancy also in the nonprofit space. After six years I felt a lot of frustration with the nonprofit industrial complex as a whole.”
The nonprofit industrial complex is a term used to describe the system of relationships between the government, businesses, individuals, and nonprofit organizations. Given that a majority of nonprofit donations come from large corporations, some argue that this creates a power imbalance in favor of corporations (and the state) and perpetuates the oppression of communities of color and people in other marginalized communities.
“From a nonprofit perspective, I relied on the [major] period brands for funding. I wanted them to care about impact and take a stance on the tampon tax, and I felt every day that I was on the brand side, I could be the one to make those decisions.”
Jain started transitioning out of JUV in 2019, Okamoto stepped down as Executive Director of PERIOD in January 2020, and the two started raising capital for what would eventually become August in March 2020.
“Nadya and I put our heads together and realized that we could both see the opportunity there not just to innovate on the products that existed but also to create a brand and experience that better served a customer that really hadn't been served in this space before.”
Okamoto had plenty of experience raising funds for her nonprofit, but asking investors for money to fund a new brand (in the midst of a pandemic, no less) was a completely different beast.
“It took us a year and a half to close that pre-seed round because we didn't take all the money we were offered,” said Okamoto. “We were really careful knowing that these are long-term relationships we're entering into. We are coming out with a bold, gender-inclusive period brand, and not everybody we talked to agreed with that decision.”
“We made a decision very early on that the early investors were going to be strategic angel investors,” added Jain. “Some of our earliest investors were operators and successful founders at some of the companies that we were really trying to emulate. Not only did these people understand what it was like to fundraise for a pre-revenue pre-launch start-up, but they were able to then come in and help us actually make tangible improvements to the business that helped us then continue to raise the money that we wanted to raise.”
By October 2021, August had raised $1.95 million in a seed round from venture capital firm Hannah Grey, investment firm and brand agency Bullish, and angel investors. The brand has 65 investors, including former Glossier executives and founders of Chord Henry Davis and Bryan Mahoney; Black Panther actor Winston Duke; Lively founder Michelle Cordeiro Grant, and former Refinery29 president Amy Emmerich, among others.
August surpassed $1MM in revenue during its first year in business, which Okamoto attributes to the brand’s successful TikTok strategy. When August first launched, Okamoto was posting as many as 100 TikToks a day to test what types of content resonated with consumers. Due to the probabilistic nature of the algorithm, some videos always did better than others. Okamoto would archive the videos that didn’t get any traction and repost them later, often to better results.
Okamoto’s TikToks went viral when she did things like show her real period blood on camera, which also occasionally got her videos taken down. This type of censorship is exactly what August is trying to dismantle in its marketing efforts. August’s aggressive social strategy has paid off: the brand’s following grew 280% in 2022, and today, August has over 340,000 followers on TikTok and over 181,000 on Instagram.
“Brands in this space have historically shied away from having real authentic organic conversations about periods, and that's not something that we ever thought was right,” said Jain. “So much of our content is around education and having real conversations about periods and trying to normalize them as something that is natural.”
Since the first day of launch, August is the first DTC brand to cover the tampon tax for any purchases made through their website. As of May 10, August is expanding that initiative to include any purchases made from the brand’s retail partners, Target and Amazon, making August the first menstrual care brand to eliminate the tampon tax in retail stores.
The tampon tax is a tax on period products that considers them non-essential goods in 22 states. In other countries, such as the United Kingdom and Scotland, this tax has been either reduced or completely eliminated for those who menstruate. In most states, items like over-the-counter and prescription drugs are tax-free, along with certain groceries like flour, sugar, bread, milk, and eggs. For many people, the tampon tax is a financial burden that makes it difficult to manage their period.
“From day one, that was something that we believe is fundamentally unjust and disenfranchises people just because they get a period,” said Okamoto.
August partnered with cashback app Aisle to reimburse customers for any taxes paid on in-store purchases of their products. Once they sign up, customers can text August a photo of their receipt and the brand will reimburse the amount they paid in sales tax via Venmo or Paypal.
“We want to get to a place where customers don't expect to pay this tax, where the norm is that period products are tax-free. If more private companies start doing this alongside us, that'll only give us more ammunition and more of a voice to actually push legislation through in the states as well.”
August doesn’t believe the tampon tax should exist and is willing to cover the cost of this tax to take a stand for menstrual equity—and in the hopes that it will send a message to lawmakers that the tampon tax is unfair and needs to be eliminated. Coming from the nonprofit world, which must abide by tight government regulations when it comes to advocacy, Okamoto has been able to adopt the changes that she always wanted to see major period care brands make while also vocally advocating for legislative change. As a private company, August has the freedom to take a strong stance and hopefully influence others to do the same.
“We hate the tampon tax, so we're not going to charge the tampon tax,” said Okamoto. “We can just make decisions like that, and that’s a really exciting part of being on the company side.”
Jain also felt limited in his previous role as a consultant. With August, he hopes to demonstrate that brands that stand for something bigger than their products can have a bigger impact on their consumers and are more profitable for their shareholders than their competitors.
“These large companies think that a lot of these things that we're trying to do aren't worth it because they look at them as sunk marketing expenses and not something to actually drive consumer engagement and loyalty,” said Jain. “The model that Nadya and I are trying to prove with August is this idea that you can be a super socially minded brand that cares about its customers, and ultimately, that's going to generate more success than doing everything for the purpose of your bottom line. We fundamentally believe that those types of decisions ultimately pay off.”
Currently, August offers tampons, pads, and liners that are sustainably made with 100% organic cotton and biodegradable materials, are hypoallergenic, fragrance-free, and free of harmful chemicals. August has plans to expand their product offering to additional period products for the consumer that doesn't want to use tampons and pads, and regularly taps their community of over 4,000 fans and consumers on Geneva, a messaging app for groups, to test new products and provide feedback on upcoming launches.
“One of the coolest parts about watching our community grow has been watching that authentic and organic conversation take place in real time,” said Jain. “Gen Z and millennials in particular want to have conversations about periods. They want to talk about what they're feeling on their period. That's not something that they're ashamed of or that they feel should be taboo. There just hadn't been a real environment created for them to be able to do that.”
Jain describes August as a “consumer-built brand,” which he believes is different from a “consumer-driven brand,” which leverages data from customers to grow. “We wanted to have [our consumers] actively involved in building the brand,” he says. “A lot of that comes from this place of when we started August and seeing that this customer was not being served, and there's an opportunity to build something that didn't exist before. And I think the only way to do that is to actually have them be involved in that creation process.”
While August’s mission is to make menstrual products more accessible and affordable to all, it’s also hoping that it will inspire other companies to do the same. This collective change can make a huge impact in ending period poverty, which is something that Okamoto says is more attainable than some might think.
“Poverty in general is really hard to solve,” said Okamoto. “However, there are tangible things that laws and companies can do to address period poverty. And like that, that feels very motivating because it does feel in some way solvable.”
So much progress has been made in the last 10 years, no doubt thanks in part to Okamoto’s initiatives, from starting a nonprofit to co-founding a period care brand. The tampon tax existed in 40 states in 2014. Today, in 2023, it's only in 22 states. In another 10 years, it’s entirely possible that the tampon tax may be eliminated altogether. August is at the forefront of this cultural shift, and they hope other period care brands will join the fight for menstrual equality.
“It's really, really rewarding and fulfilling to see and there's a lot more work to be done, but it feels doable.”
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