On this episode of Channel Kindness Radio, Taylor Parker chats with Claire Coder, the founder and CEO of Aunt Flow and Flow Corp. about the importance of everyone having access to basic quality necessities. To learn more about Claire or Aunt Flow, visit goauntflow.com.
Intro: You’re listening to Channel Kindness Radio.
Taylor: Hello and welcome to Channel Kindness Radio. My name is Taylor, my pronouns are they/them/theirs and I’m a Program Associate of team Born This Way Foundation. I’m so excited today to be joined by Claire Coder, founder and CEO of Flow Corp. I like to have my guests introduce themselves and establish who they are and how they are in this moment. So tell us, who is Claire Coder today?
Claire: Thank you, Taylor. My name is Claire Coder, pronouns she/her, I’m the founder and CEO of Aunt Flow and Flow Corp., and my whole life mission is to make sure everyone has access to basic quality necessities.
Taylor: That’s awesome. And I am so glad that our paths crossed years ago when I found out about Aunt Flow. And I would love for you to just share the story about flow for myself and our listeners just to kind of get a baseline for where we’re working today.
Claire: Yeah! So I started Aunt Flow almost five years ago now, after getting my period, in public, I was actually at a public event and went to the bathroom and there were those coin dispensers. I didn’t have a quarter, who carries around quarters? And I’m scrambling and frantic and rolling up toilet paper like one does when they get their period in public without the supplies they need and in this moment I’m thinking, oh my gosh, if toilet paper is offered in bathrooms, why aren’t tampons and pads and if they are offered, why are we having to pay 25 cents to get this basic necessity? And so literally on the toilet, I decided then and there, (I was studying at The Ohio State University at the time), I decided I was going to leave University and dedicate my life to creating a sustainable solution for this problem. And so over the past five years, we’ve designed and developed the first free vend tampon and pad dispenser that’s designed so that a business or school or university can sustainably offer our 100% organic cotton tampons and pads for free to their employees, students and guests. And now we’re in thousands of organizations all across the United States and Canada. And I’m so excited that we have crossed paths because you and your focus on making sure people have access to products aligns exactly with what we’re doing over here at Aunt Flow.
Taylor: Yeah! I think what’s really interesting about our specific paths were the story that I wrote that included Aunt Flow, and the Channel Kindness book was about my first interaction with Born This Way Foundation ever. And so it’s very fun to see how looking at your work has helped influence my work and where I go. So thank you for that subtle, unexpected influence on me. I would not be here without that. But I want to talk a little bit about the lingo that we use in these conversations. The term period poverty comes up a lot in these conversations, and it lends weight to the issue, but also decreases the stigma and increases inclusivity. So how would you define period poverty?
Claire: I’m so glad that we’re talking about language. The way that we refer to tampons and pads and periods in general is so important to me. And then in specifically period poverty, what I think about period poverty is the 16 million menstruators living in the United States right now that are at or below the poverty line. Tampons and pads aren’t covered by WIC, they aren’t covered by food stamps, there’s a lot of conversation around the tax on menstrual products, but it is not solving for the fact that people who are living at or below the poverty line still aren’t getting sustainable access to these products. So that is period poverty from a quite literal sense. And from a nomenclature sense, Taylor, what I think you’re getting at is like, why are we calling it period property or menstrual products and not the old school feminine hygiene products?
Taylor: Yeah, for sure. I feel like that comes up a lot in conversations when people don’t understand the need for language to evolve to be inclusive and to decrease stigma. I know as far as it goes for me, I don’t like using the terms feminine hygiene products because not all people who need them are feminine and if you don’t have them, it is not going to make you unclean or gross. It is just something that you can use to help out as you go through this normal process of menstruating.
Claire: Yeah, and in addition to those really important distinctions, an additional reason for why using the term menstrual product or period products over feminine hygiene product is we’re calling it what it is. Menstruation has been so taboo since the beginning of time. And instead of just avoiding the conversation and calling it a feminine hygiene product, which is so unclear, it could literally be a boob cleaner for all intensive purposes. The change of nomenclature is calling it what it is rather than this workaround. And so when I was starting my company five years ago, I was actually really thankful to come across an intern at the time, and they brought up, you know, why are we calling these products, feminine hygiene products? And we were the first company in the industry to remove all feminine hygiene, (like the term feminine hygiene) from all of our branding, all of our website, the only time that we use the term feminine hygiene is if we’re specifically quoting legislation that has been passed or legislation that’s in the work, and they’re referring to it as feminine hygiene products. And so that was one of the initiatives that we had early on and it’s been remarkable to see over the past five years, even with your work too Taylor, that that transition of using the term and reiterating the term menstrual product and period product, because it is time for an evolution of how we’re talking about this stuff.
Taylor: For sure. And as a non-binary person that has periods, this is really important to me. And it is so validating to see information and products that acknowledge that menstruation is not solely a women’s issue. That is something that has made me feel more at home in my body and I’m sure the same can be said for many other people. But what would you say on that same vein, what would you say is the role of inclusivity in this line of work? And how do you personally and professionally work to increase that inclusivity?
Claire: Yeah. So we think about inclusivity not just at a “where product is pretty placed,” level, right? Not just in quote unquote, “women’s bathrooms,” but family bathrooms, gender neutral bathrooms, occasionally men’s bathrooms, and like we stock Google North America, their men’s bathrooms, Princeton University, their men’s bathrooms, and can talk a little bit about why that matters cause I think there’s some confusion on why would we ever be stocking a men’s bathroom so you can get that too. But in addition to where product is placed inclusivity, we also think about inclusivity in terms of who’s involved in the conversation, right? Why I think the period movement in general has been relatively successful in terms of the attraction that it has gotten over the past five years is because, we’ve been incredibly proactive in making sure that it’s not just quote unquote, “women” that are having the conversation, we include everyone into the conversation, because we can’t just talk to the people that are menstruating, to change our world. Like if you think about our company, often times we- so we have this dispenser, and we sell into businesses and schools, and it’s often the facilities director and the facilities manager that’s purchasing the dispenser for the school bathrooms. And if you think about (not to put stereotypes out there,) but if you think about the janitors that you’ve had, or the facilities managers at your schools, they’re probably not the people that have menstruated, right? The people that are purchasing the product are not necessarily the ones that are using the product. And so for us, it’s including everyone in the conversation from the facilities manager to the end user. And so for us, inclusivity is where do we place the product? And who do we talk to about the product?
Taylor: I’m so glad you brought that up. I would have never thought to think about involving, you know, high school janitors in the conversation, or custodians, and I’m really grateful that we’re able to have this conversation because not only am I learning from you, but I get to learn from, you know, reflections on my own life that I wouldn’t have, you know, been prompted to, to have before so thank you for this conversation preemptively. We’re not over yet. But what would you say to people who are just now learning that this is an issue? Because both you and I learned about this around the same time. I’m guessing you were 19?
Claire: I was 18, yup!
Taylor: I was 16 so we were like right around the same area. But I know that there are many people when I hosted my period product drive in college that had no idea this was an issue. Adults that were, you know, had been mentoring for over 25 years, they had no idea that this was something that people faced.
Claire: Mmhmm. Yeah. And so why I love that we’re having this conversation is, it is still sometimes new to folks. And so some action items for folks that are listening, and they’re like, wow, I want to get involved, how can I make an impact? One of our phrases here at Aunt Flo is “People helping people. PERIOD.” There’s a few things! So one, if you do see menstrual products offered at your workplace or at a bar and restaurant, give them a shout out. Like take the time to say, “Hey, I noticed this,” because so often these products can just be walked past. And it’s really helpful for the organization to get consistent feedback that it is important and that you are noticing it and it is important to you. So that would be number one. Number two is if you are in a bathroom, and you don’t see the products that should be there. Maybe you’re in high school or middle school or at a university and you’re thinking “man, my bathrooms should have this at the university.” At Aunt Flow we actually work mostly with students to start menstrual product programs at your school or university. It is not off the table for you as an individual to advocate and bring it to schools. In fact, that’s how Princeton University became one of the leading institutions for offering menstrual products in all their bathrooms. It was started by students. So if you are interested in advocating for products at your school, you can go to our website goauntflow.com. We have a whole advocate section, all of the resources. And then the last thing is, I mean, Taylor, you are the epitome of this, is giving back to your community and calling up your local food pantry and seeing if you can do a drive for menstrual products. Once again, these products aren’t covered by WIC or food stamps, and they are one of the highest requested items by food banks. And, you know, people aren’t necessarily thinking about tampons and pads all the time. And that’s why it’s often forgotten as an item that’s donated. So those are just three areas that you can dig in and start making some moves in the menstrual movement.
Taylor: For sure! And I’m so glad that you brought up food pantries and other areas where you may be able to pick up a donation, because when I held the event that I wrote about in Channel Kindness, our book that came out, I held it at the university because I realized that none of our machines, (the quarter machines were stocked,) none of the offices had any that they could just give out or share unless it was someone sharing from their purse or their own stash, and if you went to our food pantry on campus, you would have to spend a certain amount of your points that you could otherwise be spending on food, and it was almost your entire like weekly allowance and points for what you would need for one week’s average period. And so it was so stressful and upsetting and frustrating. But I was so glad that Born This Way Foundation saw the merit in this project and was able to help us gather donations. Lady Gaga sent out a message to the people attending her concert in Indianapolis the night before and asked them to bring donations. And from that, we were able to harvest over 6500 different donations of period products that we were able to then give out to students on campus and to the offices and they were well-stocked for the next few months. And so that was just a very exciting and heart-filling experience because I think people started to get it in my community in Indianapolis. And that was the start of something very big for the university. I also just got a text from one of my previous students I used to teach there last year. One of my previous students saw that I shared an Aunt Flow post, and was like, “Oh, I’m going to message them. I’m going to see if we can get that started at the university.” And I don’t know. I just get so amazed by how paths crossed. And I’m so grateful for you and your work, but I will try to keep it together so we can continue this podcast episode.
Claire: Yeah, I love how like sentimental and like emotional this conversation is. And you’re right! Like there are so many people that are impacted by this movement. And I actually think that the menstrual movement is one of the only movements and you can probably correct me on this, but I think it’s one of the main movements that, having conversations around periods actually incites real change. One of the biggest problems with period poverty is nobody knows about it. And as soon as people learn about it, and really learn about it, there’s so much activism. We actually had a Girl Scout troop, raise money to purchase dispensers for their school. And they brought Aunt Flow to their school. Like they sold a whole bunch of cookies specifically for raising money for purchasing a dispenser for their school. So you are never too young or too old to engage in the menstrual movement and you don’t have to be menstruating or even have a period to be involved in the movement. That’s what I really, really feel thrilled about and why it get’s me all emotional too.
Taylor: I don’t know if you still have them, but I remember looking at your website and your merch a couple of years ago when I had that project. Weren’t there shirts that said something like “Flow Bro?”
Claire: Yes, yes. So we, you know, leading into the persona of the janitor, or the director of facilities, most of them identify as a man and really, like lean into the “being a bro” like support our advocate. And so we made these “Flow Bro” buttons and they are all just so thrilled when they get one and then they talk to other people about it as well. And we actually this year launched the official golden tampon trophy. And so when a facilities leader at an organization brings menstrual products to their campus, they are in the running for the official golden tampon trophy. And what’s exciting about this is the golden tampon trophy then sits on their desk. And when people come into their office, well, you know, the days when people can go back into offices, you get to see this giant tampon on their desk, which just continues the conversation and really incites more activism. So it’s even the small little things that can drive massive change in conversation.
Taylor: I love that so much. And if you ever want to just, you know, sell pins or pictures or prints of that golden tampon trophy, count me in. I would love to put one up in my bathroom. But moving on to a separate little vein of our conversation. I want to talk a little bit about our upcoming partnership. So Flow Corp. and Born This Way Foundation are partnering through December. But would you like to tell our listeners briefly about what that opportunity is and how that came to be within your organization?
Claire: Yes, yes. So most of our conversation thus far has been talking about Aunt Flow. And we also have another division called Work Flow. Get it? Keeping things flowing. And both of these divisions, the primary focus is making sure people have access to basic quality necessities. So in February, we launched the brand Work Flow, which is where we house all of our PPE products, that’s personal protective equipment. That’s your masks, your surface cleaning wipes, your hand sanitizer, all of these products that are now becoming incredibly difficult to get ahold of. And we leveraged our supply chain and our manufacturing of class to medical devices, tampons, to be able to launch this brand to ensure people still have access to quality necessities. So our partnership with Born This Way Foundation is actually on the Work Flow side for the month of December, we are matching all purchases of masks and sanitizers on our website and donating to Born This Way Foundation to support a school system in Nevada. And you can make her like – you really are purchasing masks anyway, you might as well double your impact because everything is matched. And that’s at goworkflow.com.
Taylor: And I love that your innovation and your creativity just continued to flow through. *Wink wink I said flow*
Taylor: And I love that your innovation and your creativity just continued to flow through. *Wink wink I said flow* To flow through in the midst of a global pandemic, not only to continue building your business, but also to continue helping people when and how they need it and adapting to the needs of the people. I wish that that was something that everyone was actively working towards, of figuring out how can I be more innovated to continue helping more people? And I think that that’s something that we are getting around to as we are coming together in this global community. Nothing unites us like a pandemic, I guess. But I really hope we don’t have to go through another one to unite us all. Can you share with us any educational or practical resources that you would recommend to our listeners who may be experiencing or know someone who is experiencing period poverty?
Claire: Yes! So period.org is an organization that supports menstruators in need across the United States, one of the largest youth run nonprofits in the globe. They have a variety of resources for if you need to request menstrual products for a drive or for your organization, they’re a great resource for donated products. If you’re interested in figuring out how to advocate for menstrual products at your school, or your gym, or your office or any bathroom outside of the home, our website goauntflow.com, we really strive to keep our website updated with all legislation and resources to make sure that you are equipped as an advocate. And then of course, if you’re trying to figure out where to get PPE for your family and for your friends so that you are safe, those resources and information are available at goworkflow.com.
Taylor: And you answered the next question too which was just “Where can our listeners support you and your work?” And can you share your social media handles real quick too?
Claire: Yes, yes, we’re just goauntflow.com. A.U.N.T.F.L.O.W like your aunt is visiting. (Oh my auntie!)
Taylor: I love that. Thank you. Thank you for the accent as well that really helped cement it in my mind.
Claire: Yes, just in case anybody was confused. We’re not like the little ants like crawl around. I should clarify. You know, when I started the company, I’m from Ohio, we’re based in Ohio. And I thought that everybody knew the euphemism Aunt Flow like Aunt Flow is visiting and some folks don’t, which is fair but Aunt Flow is a euphemism for menstruation and that is the name of our company.
Taylor: That’s fun. I also wouldn’t have thought that that’s not something that is known by everyone. But I guess it makes sense that there’s basically nothing that is known by everyone. So thank you for clarifying that, for spelling it out. But as we come to a close, I like to end my conversations for Channel Kindness Radio with a moment of gratitude. So I’d like it if we could take some time to just share what we’re grateful for right now. I’ll let you think and I can go first. For me right now I am grateful for hot raspberry tea. I love to start my days with a cup of tea. And I forgot how good raspberry tea is. And now I’ve had like three cups a day for the last week. And I’m not ashamed about it. It is caffeine-free so nothing to worry about there. But oh my goodness, A warm cup of raspberry tea has just really, really brought me some comfort over the last week.
Claire: Ooh woo hoo! I think I need some warm raspberry tea.
Taylor: I’ll send you some.
Claire: Oh, great. I would love that. I am grateful Taylor, honestly, for you. I get so fired up hearing about how other people are responding to the menstrual movement. And it’s just absolutely delightful to have a conversation and like physical engagement of something that both touched our lives years ago, and having it all come together now. And I think that that’s just such a wonderful illustration of how life works. Everything operates in a cycle, including our menstrual cycles. And this is just the perfect example of bringing us all together in a full phase.
Taylor: I love that. Thank you so much for joining me today, Claire. And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. For more stories about kindness and bravery go to channelkindness.org. This has been Channel Kindness Radio.
Outro: You’re listening to Channel Kindness Radio.