OHNE FOUNDERS: NIKKI MICHELSON AND LEAH REMFRY-PEPLOE
We caught up with the two incredible founders of OHNE, a sustainable period delivery service that’s championing women, periods, sustainability and the environment. Having set up your subscription, OHNE send you tampons in the post in time for when you come ‘OHNE.’ They’ve changed the conversation surrounding periods with their toxin free, 100% organic tampons and super cool branding. Here’s what they had to say:
What was it that lead you to start OHNE?
Nikki: It would probably be a shorter list to tell you the reasons for not starting OHNE. There were just so many things we didn't like about the period product industry, brands advertising to women, and the conversation - or should we say the lack of conversation - around periods in general that, after a point we just knew we had to start our own company. It all started when we were having a glass of wine at Leah’s house and I came on my period and I was unprepared (as always). I ran upstairs to rummage through her bathroom cupboard and found a pad, sat down and opened it up and saw that not only was the outside packaging flowery and fluorescent pink but there were actual purple hearts on the pad itself. For the first time ever I actually looked at the pad and felt really angry that there weren’t any other options on the market for women that care about the brands they are buying into.
Leah: Nikki then ran down the stairs to show me the pad and, while examining the packaging, we suddenly clocked just how much plastic was used in it. Not just in the wrapper, but the actual pad itself is quite obviously made of much more than just cotton. After we dug into it more we discovered stats like the fact that your average sanitary pad contains the equivalent of four shopping bags worth of plastic. It wasn't long before we realised that the period product company of our dreams (organic, environmentally conscious, no excessively girlish branding) simply didn’t exist - so we created it ourselves.
What’s the story behind the name? Do we pronounce it like “on”?
Leah: Yep! We were in Austria brainstorming names at the time we came up with it. We just happened to come across the word because it actually means 'without' in German - which is obviously perfect for us, focusing on products without toxins, excessive plastic wrapping, etc. We pronounce it differently - like 'on' - because that's literally how women talk about being on their period. We wanted to turn the phrase 'I'm on' into a statement of pride - so we're constantly shouting about being "OHNE" and trying to rid periods of any connotation of embarrassment.
How does sustainability play a part in your business?
Nikki: A huge part of starting OHNE for us was creating an ethical and socially responsible business. For us, community comes first. We want to create space both online and in real life for women and people with vaginas to talk freely about periods, menstrual cycles, and their bodies without the shame and stigma that is all too often attached to these topics. Periods are not taboo and treating them as though they are leaves a lot of people who have periods in the dark about how their bodies function. Making OHNE as sustainable as possible was therefore one of our core missions right from the start. We wanted to be able to practise what we preach and be able to prove that to our community. We’re really proud to say that, to date, we are the only organic tampon delivery service in the UK to have been certified by both the Soil Association and GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard). So you can be sure that we didn’t just slap the word organic on our product. We want our customers to always feel 100% safe and happy with the products they’re putting in their vagina.
Ultimate high and ultimate low of running a business?
Nikki: The ultimate high for me, from all that we’ve built with OHNE, is seeing women post photos of their tampons online. It’s such a simple thing, but in the lead up to the launch we had so many people tell us that we'd never be able to build a community around periods. I’ve gone from never having seen a tampon posted on social media (at least within my networks!) to now seeing OHNE tampons all over Instagram is such an incredible reminder that people are resonating with our products and mission. The part I struggle with the most is the constant ups and downs that comes alongside running a business. Every single day there are so many positive and negatives that I find it really tough managing to keep my stress levels and adrenaline down!
Leah: Running a business is like being on a constant roller coaster of emotion and stress! In the spirit of total transparency, it's been a tough journey for us so far. We didn't come from high net worth backgrounds at all but our combined personality traits mean that we're blindly optimistic and incredibly persistent - something you have to be in the world of investment which is full of old white men who *generally* don't want to talk about periods! We're also passionate, incredibly passionate, and it's our passion that keeps us moving forward, combined with the amazing customer feedback we get that motivates us and reaffirms that what we're doing is creating real benefits. (Another high: working with your best friend every day is pretty great).
What’s your sustainability pledge for the future?
Nikki: Our main goal with sustainability at the moment is to make sure we're keeping up to date with the most eco-friendly packaging options out there. We currently use minimal packaging and all the tampon wrappings, boxes, and shipping bags are recyclable and/or biodegradable. At the moment, the only plastic in the entire company is the thin, hypo-allergenic wrap on the non-applicator tampons which, to date, there is no replacement for. But we're not gonna stop searching for a solution that will allow us to become the entirely plastic-free company of our dreams...so watch this space.
Leah: In keeping with OHNE, we promise to keep innovating so that every person that bleeds can have an eco friendly and low impact period, regardless of their personal requirements and preferred products.
Do you feel like the preconceptions around periods are changing? How are you working to further this change as a brand?
Nikki: They're definitely changing! It can be easy to be impatient and get frustrated at the pace of things - we definitely still get frustrated about the taboos and stigmas that are still staining periods (pun intended). But you only have to look at the news and see how the government and other institutions are starting to take real measures to end period poverty, or go on Instagram and see the multitude of activists and amazing brands and organisations working within the period space to see that there's been some truly incredible changes recently.
Leah: We're still conscious of how far there is to go though and it's a really integral part of our business model. Part of what we want to do with OHNE is to truly challenge the stereotypes around periods, and to create content that is pushing the boundaries of what’s acceptable. We know that not everyone will like the images we’re creating, but we think it’s important to be bold about what we’re doing otherwise everything will stay the same.
We started Stay Wild Swim because of our passion for the ocean. How would you describe your relationship with the ocean?
Nikki: To be completely honest, I think I’m equal parts terrified and in awe of the ocean. I’m a bit of a control freak and being out in the sea removes some of that control! At the same time, I think that can be quite grounding for me - takes the pressure off and removes a lot of the stress I put on myself. I’m my most happy when reading a good book with the sound of the waves in the distance.
Leah: I feel like I could say so many cheesy things trying to express how much I love the sea! But I’ll just say that there’s nothing else that can both relax and stimulate me creatively like the ocean can. Sea air has actually been found to promote productivity, which is a bloody good excuse to go work by the beach! There’s really no way to describe how different I feel when I get to spend time by the ocean. It’s mesmerising and calming (I feel calmer even just imagining the sound of waves breaking over rocks and sand crunching underfoot) but it can also be adrenaline-inducing and terrifying - think trying to surf waves you know you can’t handle, or suddenly realising how strong the current is when you look up from your meditative floating and you’ve drifted half a mile down the beach! I really believe the ocean needs to be respected - it’s so much more powerful than us, but it’s also life-giving and vulnerable. It needs to be taken care of.
Stay tuned for the next in our interview series next month!