INTERVIEW: Yoni femcare launches in the UK – what are you putting between your legs?

Yoni branded tampons on pink background– this post contains gifted products –

Yoooo…it’s your girl Ella, talking about her fanny on the internet again!

Are you surprised? Probably not.

When news of an organic cotton femcare company dropped into my inbox, I couldn’t resist having a look.

Yoni has now launched in the UK and is standing up to break the taboo around periods and asking women to question what products they are using each month.

Yoni was born when its CEO entrepreneur and co-founder Mariah Mansvelt Beck saw a specialist after going through a cervical cancer scare, who advised her to use cotton products. This led her to question, for the first time, her sanitary product choices.

Yoni’s tampons and pads are made from 100% organic cotton, with no chemicals, pesticides, or other synthetic materials added (which sets them apart from the majority of available supermarket brands.) In addition, it’s all recyclable and compostable packaging.

Have you tried the products?

Yes! On first sight, the packaging was lovely. On using the products, although they weren’t worlds away from what I’ve been used to in the past, I did have a sense of clarity that I knew exactly what they were made from and absolutely no guilt, knowing that I wasn’t contributing to plastic waste. I found them to be super absorbent and as good, if not better, than any supermarket brand.

I caught up with Yoni’s CEO entrepreneur and co-founder Mariah to ask some important questions.

How did you come to question the materials that make up our standard menstrual products and set up Yoni?

The seed for Yoni was planted in a personal experience. When I turned 30 in the Netherlands, you’re always asked to come in for a health check-up. I did so and found out a few weeks later that I was developing cervical cancer.

Luckily, I was in the early stages but I had to go in and out of hospital for the next 6 months and have a couple of procedures and operations. I kept asking my doctors, what can I do to further support my health?

One of my doctors advised me to stop using normal tampons and pads and start using organic cotton tampons and pads to prevent further irritation. Immediately, that was enough for me to want to make a change. So I started to look for the products and I couldn’t find them in my normal supermarket, so I had to go to special organic-minded stores.  But sometimes, I couldn’t find these products and was faced with having to use products I no longer wanted to use.

So, one rainy Sunday in Amsterdam, I went and had tea with one of my best friends from university, Wendelien, and we started talking about this and she asked me, well what are my normal products actually made from, aren’t they just made from cotton? So we got out the boxes of products that she had and we looked at the box and that’s really when the lightbulb moment happened. We thought, there’s nothing, there’s no ingredients listed on these products. For such an intimate product, that came as a surprise. I think for any hand soap, detergent, food product, all of these things, cosmetic products, you’ll find the composition of the product on the packaging. But for these products there was nothing.

A couple of months later, we gave up our jobs and set up a tampon company! We took a few months to research what these products are made from, but we had immediately had quite a strong vision of what the brand should be. 

For those who don’t know, what do the word yoni mean?

Yoni is the Sanskrit word for vagina. I knew the word and I needed to spend a weekend thinking about whether I was going to call my company Yoni. But it makes sense, it’s what we want to do.

Do you believe there is a stigma around menstruation – and why has it taken so long to tackle it?

If you look back in history, menstruation has always been a taboo. The word taboo is actually derived from the Polynesian language I believe and means “alongside menstruation” itself.

In all of the religions menstruation was in some way a taboo. I believe that’s because the female body and the female cycle was not understood. Something that is not understood could be seen as great and powerful but could also be potentially very dangerous. Something that is potentially dangerous needs to be kind of kerbed in. So you’ve got these rules or rituals that women needed to stick to or weren’t allowed to participate fully in.

It’s not even that long ago that even in Western culture there was the idea that if you were menstruating that butter wouldn’t churn, or if you touched the flowers that they would wilt!

How eco-friendly are Yoni products? Will they contribute to the one-use plastic problem?

We’ve always said with Yoni, if you really want to have the most, best environmental option that you can use in terms of your femcare products, then I would definitely say, use a reusable product.

However, we’re saying that we’re taking you on a step in the right direction using organic cotton, having cardboard applicators, and packaging that is biodegradable, or at least as much as is possible for right now.

Our products are made from organic cotton, which is an important choice because it’s hypo-allergenic, it breathes, which is what you do not have with a pad that has a plastic layer over the top. All of our products are all certified by the Soil Association. The backing of our pads and panty liners are made from a corn starch, which is biodegradable.

Have you always been so open about female sexuality and menstruation?

No, I don’t feel like I was in particular. I don’t feel like I was overtly private about these issues, but I definitely wasn’t the friend who always wanted to talk about my menstruation, not at all.

We came to this business from a very personal story and at the start I don’t think we were necessarily aware how taboo it was, what we were actually getting ourselves into, so I’ve grown into it.

For me, not everyone has to go on stage and talk about menstruation. Not everyone needs to parade their tampons in the office, but if you’re holding it with real shame and you feel it’s in some way limiting yourself, then that’s something we need to work on.

Yoni promotional image of tampon

Which taboos are you trying to break?

Yoni is looking to break the taboos around menstruation. My whole story of how the femcare industry up until now has really built themselves upon the taboo. It’s a problem, menstruation is a hygienic problem, it needs to be secretive. We have the solution, these are our products.

What we’re doing, using the word period and to have the word vagina on the packaging. To me, these are products for your vagina and therefore your period, so it’s nothing revolutionary. But, to have that on-pack is revolutionary. For some people this may be surprising and off-putting. But the intention is to actually start speaking about something that hasn’t been spoken about. 

Yoni products are available at Sainsbury’s, Planet Organic and the Yoni store – are you hoping to expand the availability of the products across the UK?

Yes, definitely. My aim and my belief is that organic cotton products should be made available on every shelf basically where you find femcare products. At this point in time we intend to get into more pharmacies and into other supermarkets and build it up from there.

What, in your opinion, is the future for femcare and the narrative on menstruation?

There are a number of things I’d like to see change about the femcare industry.

I’d like to see that every product that goes on the shelf should be transparent about the ingredients in the products. That’s something that I think the whole industry should be moving towards and that regulators and policy makers should be also helping the industry to move that way.

I’d like to change the whole narrative of the taboo around menstruation and so that you can have the conversation with your daughters, with your sons, your friends, with your healthcare providers and don’t feel limited in their being because of something that is part of them. 

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