With 4.5 billion boxes of Tampax sold worldwide last year, the brand is so well known, it’s almost a synonym for tampons. But recently some up and comers have been trying to edge the giant out of the lucrative period market. As Sophie Elmhirst writes for The Guardian “the common strategy is to offer more ethical and ecological options to replace Tampax’s simple single-use plastic applicators and a marketing strategy that often emphasizes discretion, as though a period should be something to hide.”
“You’ll love the Quiet Easy Reseal Wrapper,” goes the current marketing blurb for Tampax Radiant. As a narrative, it seems increasingly at odds with the times. Why should we hide tampons up our sleeves on the way to the bathroom, or worry that someone might hear us unwrap one once we’re there? (In a recent Saturday Night Live sketch, Phoebe Waller Bridge riffed on all the possible items – a copy of Mein Kampf, a neatly folded Confederate flag, a dog shit – within which you could more acceptably conceal a tampon and its associated deep shame.)
Tampax has had to play catch-up. In such moments, multinationals can resemble the I’m-your-mate teacher with a tone-deaf enthusiasm for trends to which they are fatally late. (Women’s empowerment and period pride are in, you say? We’ll see you there, just after we’ve intensely focus-grouped the issue and come up with a hashtag.)
As period startups multiply, so do the number of options, from organic cotton tampons, to absorbent pants, to a reusable applicator, to a “pain-relieving, CBD-infused, biodegradable cotton tampon.” Although the truth is a Swiss manufacturing firm called Ruggli has a near-monopoly on tampon-making machines, so almost every new tampon, is in fact, a Ruggli tampon.
The harsh reality remains that most startups will fail, and in order to have a chance against the global force that is Tampax, these new companies will have to diversify their products away from just the mighty tampon.
Many of the new brands look to the future of their customers, too, and the fact that they will not always have periods. The menopause approaches, another area of women’s health previously shrink-wrapped in shame but now becoming commercially ripe. Following the menstrual example, the menopause is now undergoing its own cultural rebranding. Multiple books have been written (The Good Menopause Guide, Confessions of a Menopausal Woman, Making Friends With the Menopause, and so on); Mariella Frostrup made a BBC documentary; Gwyneth Paltrow made a Goop video. “I don’t think we have in our society a great example of an aspirational menopausal woman,” said Paltrow, presumably nominating herself, the high priestess of expensive aspiration, for the job.