An Ottawa-based solution to the menstrual industry's woes

Period products

Sitting in a bar just after her university graduation, Kat Plouffe joked to her friends that she wished her period products would be delivered to her door. “I need them every month!”

As Plouffe began to develop an idea for a subscription-based period product supplier, she learned that she had no idea what made up a sanitary product. Most menstrual products in Canada are made from a blend of cotton and rayon, a synthetic fibre, and have a debilitating impact on the environment. In Canada, products like tampons and pads are not required to list ingredients on the packaging. 

“My understanding is there has been a gender bias around tampons, and no extensive studies on the effects of rayon inside the body. I would attribute that to gender bias in science because this is a women’s issue,” said Plouffe. “Come to your own conclusion about what you want inside you. But this just hasn’t been a focus for the medical community.”

That was the first spark. Six years later, Plouffe’s passion project has been realized as Only, a subscription-based organic period product supplier and the designer of Canada’s first reusable tampon applicator. Only is committed to sustainable manufacturing and environmentally conscious materials that put the health of women and the planet first. 

"We’re quite comfortable disrupting things and challenging people to rethink what their period looks like."

After launching three weeks ago, Only already has approximately 100 subscribers, with the tampon applicator as the most popular purchase. That leaves the company plenty of room to grow in Canada’s $500-million period-product industry.

“We have a vision,” said Plouffe. “It doesn’t matter your socioeconomic status; you should have choice. We are working towards organic cotton and reusable products for everyone. We’re quite comfortable disrupting things and challenging people to rethink what their period looks like.”

Disposable menstrual products’ environmental impact has led activist groups to unsuccessfully pressure the federal government to include tampons in its ban on single-use plastics, and the manufacturing process traditionally produces a massive carbon footprint.

Due to Canada’s strict regulations for hygiene products, the selection for these products is limited. After a visit to one of the few organic cotton period product manufacturers in the world, a company based in Spain, Plouffe said she began to see her plan unfolding. 

“There’s an amazing range of period products that Canadians deserve,” said Plouffe. 

The company offers organic cotton tampons, liners and pads, a reusable tampon applicator and a menstrual cup. The reusable options are meant to last years, and the disposable products can be put in home compost systems or disposed of in a landfill. 

Either way, the organic cotton will decompose in just a fraction of the time it takes microplastic to break down. The cotton is sourced without pesticides or chemicals, and the products are manufactured in a facility that creates enough of its own hydroelectric power to put some energy back on the grid. 

Only’s packaging is all paper-based and bio-compostable, and the company has partnered with 1% for the Planet, a network that plants trees to offset costs and environmental impacts. 

The cotton in the products is also much less harmful to customers’ bodies, says Only’s resident gynecologist, Dr. Ardelle Piper. 

'Conversations about periods'

“We do see artificial substances as contributing to irritation,” said Piper. “That more sensitive skin is irritated by things that are plastic and rayon, so pads and liners certainly contribute to irritation.”

Aside from the health benefits, Piper says that Only has created an “exciting opportunity to have more conversations about periods and period products.”

“People have walked up to me to talk about periods,” she said. “In and of itself, it’s awesome to open up that conversation and talk about this.”

Only is also planning to start offering workshops to educate consumers about periods and their bodies.

“Our goal is to be the central hub for a better period product, no matter how you want to experience your period,” said Piper. “As a culture, we’ve been so hesitant to talk about periods. One of the things we want to do is offer choices but also open conversations about periods overall and improve people’s education.”