An Interview with Claire Coder and Lindsey McEntee of "Aunt Flow"

Each year, millions of people living in poverty are unable to obtain a basic necessity for any human being with a uterus—feminine hygiene products. Although, for many of us, having tampons or pads are seems like a given, for many it can be a choice between having a comfortable period or having a meal. When money is tight, getting tampons isn’t always a viable option. Aunt Flow, an organization based out of nearby Columbus, Ohio, has set out to change that issue. Their organization provides buy-one, give-one subscription products. Women can subscribe to Aunt Flow and receive a monthly package of period goodies, and for every pad or tampon they purchase, one goes to a menstruating person who would have otherwise been unable to afford one. I chatted with Claire Coder, CEO, and Lindsey McEntee, COO, about Aunt Flow, periods, and female leadership. Enjoy!

 

HCK: What made you decide to start Aunt Flow?

Aunt Flow: My mom is an art therapist, and as I was growing up, she never shied away from sharing with me the realities many people face. Many of her clients were menstruators living at or below the poverty line. She would share with me that these people often didn't have access to menstrual products, and they would have to use dirty socks or plastic bags to stop the flow. I was always aware of the problem, but the solution didn't start to form until Startup Weekend Columbus in 2015. I couldn’t spend a weekend pretending that I wanted to code another fitness app. Honestly, the only thing I could think about were the cramps I had from my period. I knew eventually I would be able to go home and grab a tampon, but I realized many other people didn't have this simple capability. After that, the idea unfolded over the weekend.

 

Where are you based out of, and how far does your customer base spread?

We are based out of Columbus, Ohio, and we have customers all over the United States. Many people don't realize how many people don't have access to menstrual products in our very own country. Our donations go to menstruators in the US, so it makes sense that's where our customer base is as well.

 

 

What do you suggest for people who use menstrual cups instead of one-time use products such as pads or tampons who still want to support your organization?

Great question! Anyone can make a one-time or monthly donation to Aunt Flow at auntflow.org. Just a $5 donation can support a menstruator for an entire month.

 

I know that you promote the products you use being 100% cotton what does this mean for women who use them when compared to traditional products?

This is really scary, and something I didn't even know until I really got into researching for Aunt Flow. Traditional menstrual products you find in the store contain bleach, dyes, synthetics, and chemicals. They are not FDA regulated, and companies are not required to put the ingredients on the box. Aunt Flow 100% cotton tampons contain just that - cotton. They are FDA regulated and have never been associated with a case of Toxic Shock Syndrome. It's awesome to know exactly what you are putting in your body!

 

Is reproductive health something that you’ve always been passionate about?

I've always been passionate about breaking the ridiculous taboo around menstruation. I like to say what is on my mind. I was never ok with the shame I was supposed to feel when talking about my period, or the supposed humiliation of carrying a tampon to the bathroom. I've always firmly believed that as soon as we aren't terrified to say the word "period," everyone can get to work on a solution to provide menstrual products to those who need these basic necessities.

 

 

What is is like working in this industry? Do you feel that sexism is prevalent?

I've had the pleasure of working with some AMAZING FlowBros. However, there have been some frustrating moments as well. Once, at a business competition, I had a male judge stop me and ask why there were so many products in a box. He thought menstruators only used one tampon per month. It's moments like these that I realize how much work we have to do, but also how essential education is. I've had male investors giggle over my presentation. It's tough but just inspires me to keep flowing forward.

 

What has been your biggest obstacle starting this company?

People taking me seriously. I'm a teenager, I dropped out of college, I talk about something no one wants to talk about. It can be a recipe for disaster, but it's also the recipe that makes Aunt Flow work.

 

Do you have any advice for young women interested in starting their own organizations/ companies?

I tell all new entrepreneurs, “Starting a company is hard. Starting a company that only half the population can truly relate to is even harder. Starting a company surrounding something that no one wants to talk about is f*cking difficult.” But it’s worth it when you have a meaningful drive. Also, Google. I wanted to know how to raise money, so I Googled it. I ended up with a successful Crowdrise campaign that raised $25,000.

 

What has it meant to you dropping out of college to pursue your passion?

I never wanted to go to college. I had great grades and a long list of accomplishments from high school. The question was always, "Where are you going to college?" never, "Are you going to college?" I felt I didn't have a choice, so I went to make my parents happy. I blew through one semester, skipping classes for networking events and to see what Columbus had to offer. I felt I was wasting time and money, so I dropped out. It definitely wasn't easy. My friends and family were not supportive. I was 18, alone, with rent due, and a crappy job. I struggled, but it was the right decision, Aunt Flow exists because of it.

 

The ladies of Aunt Flow are doing some inspirational work. Not only are they working to make period products more accessible to all women, but they are also proving that young women can do incredible things. Thank you to both Claire and Lindsey for answering my questions, and if you’re interested in learning more about Aunt Flow, visit their website at auntflow.org!

 

Image Credit: 1, 2, Annmarie Morrison