Beauty marketers are some of the best in the world of consumer package goods (CPG) products. A byproduct of that skill is sometimes crafting categories of products to solve problems that don't really exist or are simply not necessary―often done through the antiquated binary lens of male versus female.
Beauty industry veteran Katy Cottam identified white space in the shame-shrouded feminine care category with her brand Luna Daily―a microbiome-balancing body care brand for all skin, even your most intimate. The brand's head, vulva, knees, and toes tagline reinforces its belief that feminine hygiene products are not necessary.
BeautyMatter sat down with Cottam to discuss why the feminine care category should be eradicated and the mission to connect women to each other and their entire bodies.
We’ve seen a flood of start-ups launched to disrupt the outdated feminine care category. Luna Daily has a very different approach to that disruption. Can you share your view of the category?
Luna Daily's mission is to inspire women to connect to each other and their entire bodies, making products for and conversations about womanhood as natural as they should be, for women of all ages and stages. Starting by revolutionizing the stagnated 'feminine hygiene' category with a range of expert-developed, microbiome balancing body care products for all skin, even the most intimate, supported by the Luna Daily collective―a cohort of brilliant female dermatologists, gynecologists, and formulation specialists.
My ultimate vision is that the whole ‘feminine hygiene’ category is eradicated altogether. Designed for ‘everywhere’ (from your head, vulva, knees, to toes…) Luna Daily means no more harsh soaps or shower gels that you have to keep away from intimate skin, and the end of embarrassing ‘intimate’ products hidden in the cupboard.
Now, while I don’t agree with the feminine hygiene indstry, and how it has persuaded women that they need specific products to ‘clean’ their vulvas (even the word ‘hygiene’ implies something is dirty), I understand completely why a woman would want to use a product to wash their vulva. Unlike the vagina, the vulva doesn't have its own self-cleansing mechanism. The vulva―which is the area outside the vagina, including the labia—is covered in sweat glands very similar to those under our arms (called apocrine glands). I created Luna Daily because I want to use something more than water (and it turns out I’m not alone―64% of women feel the same). I don’t want my vulva to be rose scented. I don’t want to follow any industry fads. It's my personal choice. And so, I feel very passionately that it should be the same for other women.
And yet, choice is exactly what women are lacking in this area. When it comes to skincare and haircare, there’s a plethora of products and routines available, and a plethora of information along with it.
Eighty-seven percent of women we asked were never taught about caring for their vulva. We’re a generation of women who, more than ever, consider all the aspects of what we buy, eat, and put on our faces. And yet, for so many women, their intimate skin was an afterthought, only prioritized when there was a ‘problem.’ So, I decided it was time for a new approach.
And revolutionizing a new category of products is only part of our mission―we want to connect women to each other and their entire bodies. We are building an educational platform to ensure that the brand eradicates shame around intimate care and educates women about their bodies. Our female intelligence platform includes educational resources and a live chat function with medical experts (in progress to being available 24/7).
As with many founders, Luna Daily is grounded in a personal experience that happened to you as a teenager. What was the impetus for launching the brand now?
Luna Daily was born from my own teenage experience of getting thrush after an intensive course of antibiotics, fundamentally changing my gut and skin microbiome. From that moment onwards, I wasn’t able to use traditional body products to care for my intimate skin, but I really resented having to use the ‘feminine hygiene’ products available, with all the “what’s wrong with her?” associations.
It got me thinking, “Why are we so ashamed to talk about a part of our body that’s so important to us? Why should the vulva even need separate products to the rest of our bodies?! And how many other women are hiding products in their cupboards because they feel this way?” It turns out, too many.
I knew something had to change, so, in the midst of the pandemic, I gave up my job as Global Head of Brand at Charlotte Tilbury, to set up Luna Daily. We’ve just celebrated Luna Daily’s first birthday, having closed a $3.7M investment round and launching into North America as the first exclusive UK intimate care brand to launch at Sephora online and across 260+ stores in their ‘Next Big Thing’ wall.
What was your vision for Luna Daily when you set out to build the brand and what did the process look like? What were your nonnegotiables?
My mission with launching Luna Daily was not only to revolutionize a new category of products, but also to inspire and educate women, while connecting them to each other and their entire bodies.
From a product perspective, I knew we needed a range that was gentle enough to use on all skin, even your most intimate; versatile enough to consider the changes women go through daily, weekly, monthly (from getting your period, through motherhood, to menopause); and desirable enough to feel confident leaving it out in the bathroom. Luna Daily has three core ranges: Original (for daily care); Fragrance-Free (for sensitive or allergy-prone skin, including pregnancy and post-birth); and Hydrating (for dry, dehydrated, or hormonally changing skin, including perimenopause and menopause)―all approved by our dermatologists and gynecologists and tested on all skin types.
And I decided to get real with these products; what they would do and not do.
First, pH: For years, the feminine hygiene market has told us that one of the reasons we need specific products is due to skin pH (acidity levels). Now, it’s true, the vagina (the inside bit, remember) is more acidic (pH3.7–pH4.5) than typical skin (pH5), so it could be more susceptible to irritation and disruption than elsewhere. But the reality is that so many shower gels/soaps are a much higher pH than your skin, so your whole skin would probably be better off with a wash that’s a lower pH altogether. Our range has been formulated at a pH that suits all the skin on your body, including, yes, the vulva.
Soap: We don’t use it. Because, by definition, it’s an irritant, with a typical pH of 9–10 (!). So, following the recommendation of dermatologists, it’s not included in any of our products.
And it’s not just about ‘washing.’ Our products are formulated to strengthen, nourish, and protect the skin microbiome―we do more than just ‘wash’ our faces, after all. All our products are formulated with our trademarked [THERMA-BIOME+™]; a unique complex of thermal water, which mirrors the body’s NMF (Natural Moisturising Factor); prebiotics (inulin and lactic acid) to enrich the skin microbiome and foster natural protection; and Vitamins E,C, and F to deeply nourish and hydrate skin. Because your skin deserves that level of care, everywhere.
Luna Daily contains only natural and necessary ingredients. That means no sulfates, no harsh chemicals, no common allergens, alcohols, or irritants. That also means effective formulas, vegan and sustainably sourced, suitable for all skin types, and all over the body, also with the Clean at Sephora seal of approval.
Sustainability and ethical sourcing have also been a top priority. I’m particularly proud of our ‘Spray to Wipe’ innovation born out of seeing a gap in the ‘wipes’ market. Simply spray directly onto skin or onto a tissue to create a refreshing, skin-friendly eco-wipe for all skin, even your most intimate. One recyclable bottle is the equivalent of 300 single-use wipes. In 2022 alone, sales of the product saved two million single-use wipes. We’re also working on a refill solution.
From a brand perspective, being a positive force for good and doing business in the right way are absolute nonnegotiables. I'm passionately committed to helping close the gender gap in the workplace. As a female founder and CEO creating a brand for women, I feel I have a responsibility to inspire our workforce and community to be inspired by myself as a leader with the confidence to have a voice, especially on topics that have for so long been shameful and embarrassing. As well as being the face of the brand and using my own platforms to campaign for positive change (such as to Meta to stop the censorship of words like 'vulva' in social media), we also proactively ensure we are an inclusive workplace, irrespective of gender or background. Through our latest fundraising, we’ve maintained 70% female ownership and an over 70% senior leadership female team, which I’m incredibly proud of.
It's commonly known that start-ups can be intense and grueling, and having experienced burnout myself, I want to ensure Luna Daily goes beyond just supporting our team's mental health but actually fosters positive brain health. Its woven into everything we do, from proactively including employees in our benefit options (which is how our four-and-a-half-day work week came about), flexi working (from anywhere), every team member having both a mentor and a buddy, as well as proactive initiatives such as funding every single employee to become a Mental Health First Aider.
You refer to the vagina/vulva as the most misunderstood area of the female body. What were some of the most surprising findings that informed this statement?
For so many women, their intimate skin is an afterthought, only prioritized when there is a ‘problem,' and research we commissioned shows the scale of the problem.
Through Luna Daily’s pioneering research with 1,000 women of all ages, stages, and ethnicities, we found that 80% of women cannot accurately label the vulva, one in three women are still washing inside their vagina. 43% of women's washing routines have caused a gynecological issue, and 65% of women admitted to thinking 'something was wrong' when seeing a feminine care product in a friend’s bathroom. Shocking, right?
At Luna Daily, it’s our mission to build education and awareness around these commonly misunderstood topics and normalize conversations around female wellness. We’re tackling these challenges head-on and are doing so in a way that is inclusive, accessible, and ultimately, delights our customers.
Different than a white space opportunity where something doesn't exist, Luna Daily is really an opportunity in plain sight. Capturing white space opportunities are often elusive for many reasons. What are some of the challenges or perceptions you have had to tackle?
At Luna Daily we’re having to overcome decades of low awareness, poor education, and shame surrounding women’s well-being, so it's a category that is going to take time to build, and I believe starting conversations is at the crux of galvanizing change.
From a fundraising perspective, the main pushback was people thinking the category wasn’t going to be big enough, which baffles me. We’re looking at womanhood―motherhood, menopause, intimate care―so in terms of the category we’re stradling body care, which is $236B and intimate care, which is estimated to be $1B globally (one issue is also the way data reporting is on the category as it’s so disjointed), and in theory, 51% of the population with a vulva … !
From a media perspective, we’ve had social media ads blocked for using the word ‘vulva,’ in press and headlines changed to other euphemisms (which do nothing to help the dialogue) ... In one interview the recording equipment recorded me saying ‘volvo’ every time I said ‘vulva’!
I would imagine most retailers would default to merchandise the brand in the feminine care section. How do you show up in brick-and-mortar retail?
The retail environment is integral to helping us redefine the category and consumer shopping behavior, hence why it’s a huge moment to be the first-ever brand of our kind in a Sephora store alongside established beauty categories. With its inclusive approach and effective, clean formulations, we’re also helping reinforce Sephora’s commitment to this important, growing category of intimate care. Importantly, on the Next Big Thing wall and in Minis and More by the tills, we’re merchandised alongside a plethora of body care products, not hidden away in a dusty corner. On .com it's even easier, as we can be multisite merchandised depending on the customer journey (e.g., by skin type, life stage, concern, format etc.).
We’re fortunate that the retail landscape is backing this movement, and we’ve seen a big shift in its approach and focus on this category―and many have been crying out for an alternative to the incumbent heritage brands.
I did actually turn down a (big!) retailer who wanted to list us in their ‘feminine hygiene’ category; after visiting it in-store, we’d be in the back corner of the store next to products designed to be used on a monthly basis, i.e., period care and other niche-use outdated brands, which would have made no sense to us.
You recently launched in the US market with a Sephora exclusive. Why was it the right retail partner?
I am so thrilled to be partnering with Sephora, as it is the leading global beauty retailer, that set, in my opinion, a phenomenal standard of brand partnerships, service, quality of information, and expertise.
To have a global retail giant backing the growth of intimate wellness is an enormous step forward. For Sephora, Luna Daily is an inclusive bridge between body care and intimate care, and the company likes the fact that we are directly supporting women across different life stages―from motherhood to menopause―and it backs our innovation.
Above and beyond this, every single person in our Sephora team is so passionately committed to helping change the narrative of this long- standing category. Sephora has been an absolute pleasure to partner with.
You raised $3.7M in new funding to support the Sephora launch, among other initiatives. Can you share a bit about what it took to raise this funding in the current investment environment?
Without question, landing our latest round of funding in the economic climate and with the stats against female founders (just 1.8% funding goes to women) has to be one of my proudest moments.
We began the process of fundraising when we’d been in market just over a month, with positive early traction and phenomenal response from customers and retailers, the biggest of which was Sephora.
However we kept being told that we were too early, or people thinking the category wasn’t going to be big enough (despite the fact we’re straddling body care, which is $236B and intimate care, which is estimated to be $1B globally … and, in theory, speaking to 50% of the population with a vulva).
It was getting increasingly difficult to raise capital, and in November 2022, I was eight months into the fundraising journey and people were encouraging me to close. I’d hit our initial minimum target and the economy was in freefall. Lots of investors were sitting on their hands. It was a really challenging time for me personally; I was burned out, and the company needed an injection of cash.
Then Sephora increased their commitment to us three times, so I went back to Redrice that I had wanted to partner with since the day I founded Luna Daily and convinced them that this was an inflection point. Thankfully, Redrice agreed on Christmas Eve 2022. We also brought on board Joyance as a new VC partner as well as continued commitment from our original Angel investors. Rather serendipitously given the stats on first year failures, we signed on our first birthday on March 1, 2023.
What advice would you give other founders fundraising in this environment?
Build the most incredible group of people around you. I sat with a piece of paper and thought about the most brilliant minds I’d met through my career and set out getting them to join Luna Daily in their respective fields. We established an advisory board of beauty wellness industry heavyweights including Sarah Watt (Director, formerly CMO Charlotte Tilbury Ex-L'Oréal); Karen Raghavan (formerly VP/GM at Benefit Cosmetics, Biossance); Ian Hardie (Global VP of Learning and Development at Sephora, LVMH); Vic Feebury (formerly Boots); James Houston (formerly Charlotte Tilbury, Dr. Barbara Sturm, Pat McGrath, Johnny Heilbron (Redrice, formerly Thomas Pink, LVMH). I then set out to build a brilliant support team on the ground. Attitude over aptitude, and most importantly a belief in our vision.
Find out what your values are (the things that give you energy, drive, purpose in life). It's so easy for start-up life to become all consuming, and so important to have things outside of work that bring you joy. For me, it's gigs (I’ve now been to see Coldplay an embarrassing amount of times); a ridiculously intense workout (#RobinsWolfPack; if you Peloton, you know); Mexican with my best pal, or a long dog walk. No surprise that all these activities don’t involve a phone/email being nearby!
Listen to all the advice, but don’t necessarily follow it. I was told I ‘couldn’t’ do so many things … 'you won’t raise that amount just from Angels’ (we raised more than our target); 'you’re too early/you need more proof points’ ... 'you need to focus solely on DTC’ (not for an omnichannel business we don’t). Trust your gut over anything else.
Celebrate the small (and big) wins. Life is SO quick in start-up world, and so much can happen in a single day or week. Every Friday, I send out a #FridayFeels to the team on Slack. It serves as a sort of time-capsule we can look back on of all the things we’ve achieved. And it's a great way for the team to wrap up for the weekend at 1:00 p.m. on our Friday finishes.
What's next for Luna Daily?
My focus is achieving sustainable, profitable global growth, which will enable us to deliver on our mission to lead the creation of a new womanhood category, supporting women of all ages and stages.
Succeeding in America is absolutely a huge focus for us as a business, as well as launching strategically with the right partners in new markets. But this isn’t a land grab; when I was at Charlotte Tilbury, we overtook the number three brand in just 10% of the distribution―so it's really about productive, collaborative partnerships.
Our core product framework is ‘microbiome balancing body care for all skin, even your most intimate,' so you’ll continue to see high- performing, multifunctional, beautiful (to use and to shelfie) products― with the ultimate USP and proof point that they’re gentle enough for intimate skin. All our ranges will continue to hold the highest credentials; natural, vegan, with clinical and/or user testing on all women of all ages, stages, and skin-types.
We need to do so much more than just revolutionize products. Every 0.6 seconds someone searches ‘how do I wash my vagina?’ Pretty shocking since it's the internal, self-cleaning part of the female anatomy (unlike the external vulva), and only 7% of under-25-year- olds can accurately name the vulva. Devastatingly, one in three women skip their cervical smear tests citing ‘embarrassment,’ with cervical smear attendance now at an all-time low.
I want Luna Daily to help normalize conversations around the vulva, and change education so that it’s included in the curriculum and parents have the resources they need. Doubling down on our commitment to educate and support through information and campaigning will be a big focus. Ultimately, I want every woman to feel equipped to make the right choice for her body; to have access to the resources she needs to live the happiest, healthiest life.
Oh, and I want to get head, vulva, knees, and toes to go viral and end up on the radio … the more we use the word like any other body part, the more it smashes the taboo and shame surrounding it. Watch this space!
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