It's time to break the cycle. Period.

A $14 billion industry built on shame? It's true. One U.S. startup seeks a different approach to feminine products.

Feminine hygiene is a $14 billion global industry. That fact may either come as an expectation -- there are 3.5 billion women in the world, after all -- or a surprise, given a relative lack of publicity and ongoing social discomfort around the topic.

As you might expect for products that are considered necessary, brands in the market do brisk business, selling on the basis of trust. While they all promise quality, comfort and reliability, few take steps toward challenging a long-held tradition of period shaming and secrecy in addressing their customers’ needs -- or, for that matter, reduce reliance on silly ‘Aunt Flo’-style euphemisms.

In today’s Lean In world, women expect more than a simple solution. They want to feel part of a community that supports and inspires. That is the central conceit of The Period Store, a monthly subscription service based in New York that is aimed at making menstruation less uncomfortable and more natural to talk about.

Co-founder Ashley Seil Smith says the catalyst for the venture was a trip to a village in India where she studied childlessness and its attendant stigma. “It was there that I started seeing the variety of ways in which women approach both their periods and womanhood,” she tells SmartPlanet.

The impact of the experience stayed with her upon her return to the U.S., fanning her interest in exploring how women’s lives are influenced by this biological cycle, especially in today’s world.

Raised in a household of five girls where no topic was off limits, Smith said the idea for The Period Store emerged naturally. “I wanted an unbiased place where women might see all of the options available for period management and be able to discuss them openly,” she says.

Ashley and her business partners, husband Nate Smith and friend Rubi Jones, first envisioned a brick-and-mortar period emporium. To keep the startup’s costs low and reach a broader community of women, they instead opted for an online model with a seamless sign-up process.

The store offers period packs in four configurations. Each box includes “lady products” such as tampons, pads and liners as well as feel-good products such as gourmet chocolate, art prints and herbal pain remedies. The team looked beyond the usual suspects like Tampax or Always to include a selection of international brands, as well as eco-friendly products such as reusable pads and sponges. Several approaches are represented.

To ensure that packages arrive before menstruation begins, a new subscriber fills out an online form with her cycle information. Once the first package arrives, the subscriber receives a reminder urging her to update her cycle’s details, to ensure that the next delivery cycle and menstrual cycle are aligned -- of particular interest to women who tend to be irregular.

The next step is to make the system more flexible on-the-go. “We'd love to evolve it into a mobile app,” Jones says, “so customers can easily track their cycles and keep us up-to-date.”

But receiving the box remains a private affair. To combat this, the company launched a blog, The Periodical, to drive open exchange and serve as a forum for sisterly bonhomie. Recent posts include personal anecdotes, humorous videos, product reviews and hygiene tips.

Each element of The Period Store’s business hews to an ethos of honesty: no gimmicks, just straight talk – a guileless approach that has brought the service immediate success.

The next step? Take the period conversation global. “We want to help women internationally who don’t have access to menstruation products,” Smith says. No shame in that.

Photo courtesy The Period Store

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