Women’s Empowerment Series: Olivia Cotes-James, Founder of LUÜNA naturals

Nana Team
16 September, 2020

Menstruation is simply a part of our natural biology, but society has stigmatized it. By simply having a menstrual cycle, women’s bodies are considered as “peculiar” compared to men’s. Instead of deeming the qualities of a woman’s body as something that needed to be dealt with, it should be accepted as its own entity. Just by welcoming and understanding the basic biological needs of each gender without denouncing them, equality between genders can commence.

LUÜNA naturals eco-friendly sanitary pads

Olivia Cotes-James is the founder and CEO of social impact period care company, LUÜNA naturals. Based in Asia, their mission is to dismantle the stigma around menstruation by changing perspectives on menstrual health and the environment through toxin-free period products and taboo-free workshops. With a team led by people with periods,  LUÜNA knows we deserve better than the harmful products created by the traditional feminine care industry. As such, their powerful message is bringing light into people’s views on menstrual health.

Nana Asia: LUÜNA Naturals carries such an important message about period care and feminine hygiene. How do you use your platform to re-educate women in Asia about their menstrual health?

Olivia Cotes-James: Our mission is to create access to healthy period products and taboo-free information around menstruation for all people. To do this, my team works tirelessly to create informed and engaging educational content which we deliver online through our platforms and offline at our #NoMoreSecrets events. To-date, we have delivered over 500 workshops in English, Cantonese and Mandarin, inspiring thousands of women and men to think more positively about periods. 

By working with gynaecologists, wellness experts and influential figures, as well as telling the stories of our community members across Asia, we are fostering a new, open and honest approach to this essential part of our lives. We couldn’t be more excited to see how attitudes are shifting across the region. 

Nana Asia: LUÜNA stresses the importance of eco-friendly materials in their products. How are regular menstruation products doings more harm than good?

Olivia Cotes-James: The dangerous consequences of traditional period care can be summarized into three categories; health, environment and social. My journey to uncover these issues began at 25, when I realised that the negative period symptoms I had experienced for almost a decade were the result of using traditional period products. I found out that, rather than being made purely of healthy natural cotton, the tampons I had used for most of my life contained conventional cotton (grown with poisonous pesticides), as well as synthetics like viscose, polyester and rayon. 

On a social level, this means that many people, like myself, who also suffer from negative period symptoms like smells, discomfort, itches and irritations, blame our bodies, not our poor quality products. This allows the damaging view of menstruation as inherently negative to persist which consequently feeds into systemic gender inequality.

On a health level, aside from the symptoms mentioned above, research increasingly links these traditional ingredients to chronic health issues, like endocrine hormone disruption. Unsurprising when you consider our vaginas are the most absorbent part of our bodies and we are exposing them to these toxic ingredients on a regular basis. 

Then of course, are the environmental consequences, with most traditional period care containing synthetics that take up to 500 years to degrade. In the UK alone, 200,000 tonnes of plastic period waste reach landfills every year, making the period care industry one of the world’s biggest plastic polluters. 

It would be one thing if there were no alternative period care solutions, but the thing is, there are so many great ones – comfortable, safe and empowering ones – and it’s our job at LUÜNA to support our community to try them.

Nana Asia: What should women know before transitioning from pads to LUÜNA cups?

Olivia Cotes-James: The LUÜNA Cup has changed the lives of many people with periods across Asia, be it our direct community members or those from vulnerable groups who we donate products to. However, you may not get it right the first time and that is totally ok. We have an eco-system of carefully created cup content to support you on this journey, as well as a team of cup experts on-hand to guide you through it if you need extra help. 

Every one of us is different, therefore your ‘cup hack’ may well be different to those of your friends, be it the position in which you insert, the size of cup you use or your preferred folding technique. Be excited at the opportunity to learn more about your body, rather than frustrated you didn’t get it right the first time. I promise, as someone who also didn’t get it right first time, it’s totally worth it. 

Nana Asia: Were there any challenges you faced while launching this brand with such a powerful message?

Olivia Cotes-James: Our work tackles pervasive and deep-rooted cultural taboos; taboos which sit at the intersection of gender inequality, inadequate health regulations and the lack of ethos within big business. Fighting these issues as boldly and unapologetically as we do, can mean our work is too ‘disruptive’ or ‘controversial’ in its nature for some. 

However, it is these very challenges, alongside the incredible support of our community & collaborators who continue to motivate us. We will never sacrifice our commitment to boldly breaking these taboos but everyday we uncover new ways to connect our message with even the most hesitant. By adapting to these different situations, we are able to stay true to our brand values while uniting more people in a shared mission to make periods better. 

Nana Asia: What sort of advice would you give to the ladies out there looking to improve their menstrual health? 

Olivia Cotes-James: Periods are the foundation of our overall wellness, both physically and mentally. Therefore learning more about them in order to harness the inherent power of our menstrual cycles is just about the most empowering thing we can do. This step is not only a positive one for us as individuals, but allows each and every one of us to contribute to advancing gender equality, empowering our sisters around the world.

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