Cora's founder is helping end period poverty—here's how
"I wanted to find a way to support girls and women," says Cora's Molly Hayward.
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In 2012, Molly Hayward, the co-founder and chief brand officer of Cora, had an experience in Kenya that would change her life.
“I met a girl in Kenya named Purity who told me she and the other girls in her village would miss school during their periods because they couldn’t afford period pads,” says Hayward. Then and there, she decided to create a brand dedicated to modernizing women’s wellness products and helping other girls and women have more agency over their bodies and health.
Hayward officially co-founded Cora in 2015 and in the years since, it has become a force in the menstrual products industry. Now, Cora offers everything from pads to menstrual cups, and more, all made from organic and sustainable materials as certified by Oeko-Tex. As part of this B Corp brand’s mission, Cora helps to provide pads and reproductive health education to girls in need. Since 2016, it’s given more than 12 million products to 100,000 girls across India, Kenya, and the United States.
In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re celebrating female-run companies that are helping to make a difference and improve the lives of others. We asked Hayward her thoughts on everything from Cora’s products to what good period health means to her, and her tips for other female entrepreneurs. Here’s what she had to say.
Reviewed: What does good period health look like to you?
Molly Hayward, co-founder and chief brand officer at Cora: Good period health is all about being conscious of your entire cycle, it ebbs and flows, and how you feel throughout. When it comes to your period specifically, I think good health means so much more than just the products you use, though I do advocate for organic and sustainable options wherever possible. It means taking that time to slow down the body and the mind, reflect on what you want to release from your life, and giving particular care and nourishment to yourself.
R: What are some of the setbacks that having a period poses for young women in places like Kenya and India that women in the U.S. may not face or experience regularly?
MH: When I met Purity, she shared with me that not only did girls not have access to period pads, but they were using rags, newspaper, and other unsanitary materials to manage their periods. After speaking with Purity, I began to look deeper into the issue and was shocked by how common period poverty is for girls and women around the world, and how it can not only affect their ability to attend school, but also impact their self esteem.
That experience made me take a hard look at my own period experience. While I had always had access to period products, my experience of menstruation was also shrouded by shame and stigma. I hid my tampons up my sleeve when I walked from my classroom to the bathroom at school and rarely spoke about my period with anyone.
R: How is Cora specifically helping to dispel stigmas and taboos surrounding periods?
MH: Taboos around periods are a serious social burden around the world. Cora works to remove the stigma and taboos surrounding periods by offering the perspective that our periods are an embodiment of our natural power.
From the way we talk about periods as a powerful experience, to the care and consideration we give to the ingredients in our products, our approach has been to completely reframe the experience. We also launched our editorial platform, Blood and Milk, as a resource for those who want to deepen their relationship with their body and move on from any sense of shame or taboo.
R: Do you feel like the menstrual products industry at large has welcomed Cora and your mission to help women around the world have better menstrual health?
MH: While more women than ever are openly talking about their periods, the products on the market that support this wave of change are few—the menstrual hygiene space hasn't seen true innovation in decades. In the U.S., the menstrual care industry is worth nearly $6 billion, and has been dominated by three major brands since the mid-20th century. We’re building a modern women’s wellness brand.
R: Were you always passionate about reproductive health and advocacy work?
MH: Looking back on my life, I can certainly see where my current passion comes from. From a young age, my parents made sure I understood the value of giving time to helping those less fortunate.
Then, when I went to college [at Connecticut College in New London, C.T.], I studied economic development and women's rights, and had the opportunity to travel to less developed countries and knew I wanted to find a way to support girls and women in their ability to access education and healthcare, which is eventually what led to the idea for Cora.
R: Speaking personally as someone who’s used the Cora cup, I find the finger indention in the cup itself makes it different from many other menstrual cups on the market. Was this something you were intentionally planning?
MH: We believe so strongly in the potential of sustainable period care like cups and period underwear. When designing our cup, we wanted to address the challenges that many were still having with other brands of cups, like ease of insertion and removal. So, when we set out in the design process, we were very intentional about it and made sure we were creating something truly different and easier to use.
R: Any advice for women who may be interested in starting their own businesses?
MH: Entrepreneurship is a grind. But there is also a lot of joy in the struggle. Know your superpowers. Follow the things about your business that give you energy, and try to cut out or delegate the rest.
Building a healthy, successful company is a marathon, not a sprint. Take vacations and give yourself the space needed for creative thinking. There will be so many dark nights for the soul through this journey, and you must believe wholeheartedly in the power of your idea in order to push through them and find the strength to keep going through the uncertain times.
Savor the early days when it’s just you and your little team hustling to make things happen. Make time for fun. Don’t take yourself too seriously—things get serious on their own as you grow. The best memories will be the ones of when you were riding by the seat of your pants and having a blast in the process.