eTail West   //   March 1, 2024

Why Tampon Tribe’s Jennifer Eden is aiming for sustainability at scale

This story is part of Glossy and Modern Retail’s series breaking down the big conversations at eTail West.

Jennifer Eden founded period care brand Tampon Tribe in 2016, hoping to address the parallel issues of cutting down chemicals used in products and getting forever chemicals out of landfills. She had suffered for years from endometriosis pain and found that organic products with no chemicals eased the symptoms overnight — and she was also tired of seeing plastic tampon applicators washed up on the shores of Venice Beach.

“It convergence of those two backgrounds, and a perfect opportunity to blend a real interest improvement in improving access to high-quality health products for everyone who gets their period and eliminate single-use plastics at the same time” Eden told Modern Retail. 

Today, Tampon Tribe runs a DTC subscription business and a wholesale operation, with about half of its sales coming from business-to-business. It sells its “no mystery ingredients” products to hotel chains like Marriott and fulfills orders for offices like Pixar’s Bay Area campus, helping to implement change at scale. 

Eden spoke with Modern Retail at the eTail West conference in Palm Springs ahead of her talk on “Building Sustainability into Your eCommerce Ecosystem from the Ground Up.”

Making sure a product that is biodegradable requires strict attention to detail — like how Tampon Tribe’s legally required instruction card is printed with plant-based inks on uncoated paper. The product itself is free of chlorine and wax, while adhesive for organic cotton pads is made with vegan polymer. The wrappings and applicators are also plastic-free, something that isn’t necessarily the case with competitors who have organic tampons.

And while Eden wants to see Tampon Tribe and other organic brands in more places, she said it does require buy-in from the businesses and wholesalers who are getting the products in front of customers — and that can require conversations around materiality and price.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

What are some of the decisions you had to make in your operations to ensure that you aren’t using plastics and that products will biodegrade?
We basically do everything differently. A lot of cardboard boxes are coated in plastic. People don’t realize that which means they don’t break down. I went to a lot of stores and looked at what other people not in our sector were doing. Like, what’s available across the breadth of product? And it was, like, ‘oh recycled tube? That could be cool. Why don’t we look at that?” So thinking outside the box, and often.

Manufacturers won’t do that straight off the bat, you have to pay a bit more for them to reshape their machines, and that’s part of it. I’ve done that with a couple of products. [Manufacturers will say]: “We don’t make that,” and I’m like, “Well, what would it cost you to make that?” “Well, probably $10,000.” “Then that’s what we’re going to pay you to do it.” So you always have to be pushing I think in that product ideation stage. And we don’t compromise on that.

It’s not just the packaging, and same with the tampons. As soon as you add a chemical to it, it won’t biodegrade. An organic tampon can be still treated with chlorine, it can still have titanium dioxide on it. We got the ICEA certification, which means how the cotton is grown, all the way through to the end product in the factory has been monitored for this whole range of sustainability metrics. From sustainability in the soil, what chemicals are going in, how much water is being used, what transportation from the fields to the factory. All these things are monitored to get the ICEA certification. So that was really important to us.

End-of-life cycle is one common sustainability challenge that companies who make products have to solve — especially products used in the bathrooms where there might not be a recycle bin. How do you help ensure that consumers are disposing of products in a way that won’t wind up in landfills?
I’ve had this conversation with a few larger like resorts: “How do we ensure these biodegrade wherever they are?” It doesn’t matter if you put this tampon in, or the wrap or any part of it in the trash, it will biodegrade in there. There are going to be other microorganisms and food and everything that get into trash, so it will have enough to biodegrade. If you put it in a purpose-built compost it will biodegrade. A product like ours — which doesn’t have any chemicals or artificial anything to impact the pureness of an ingredient — it will just compound in the trash.

Many businesses are interested in addressing sustainability goals ahead of potential SEC regulations. Besides adhering to government regulations, what role do you see the private sector and entrepreneurship playing in getting away from single-use plastic?
I think it’s massive, and our moral obligation [is] to do that, without a doubt. You’re in a huge position of privilege and power where you are creating product, and in my mind, it’s a really big responsibility.

We also see that if we lead with these products, first of all, buyers are interested and, second of all, they’ll have to take notice. We sell a lot in the B-to-B space, and in that space [many companies] are already plastic-free. We hold the accounts of some of the largest hotels in the world, and that is because we’re plastic-free. It’s a huge impact when you’re selling B-to-B because we’re selling boxes and boxes, and sometimes pallets to big companies.

I think retail retailers have an obligation as well to reduce plastic, and I feel very strongly about that. And speaking with a lot of buyers, I know that they’re kind of [between] a rock and a hard place sometimes because they’re given a directive to go plastic-free, but they also need to make 70% margins on everything they bring in. And cheap products are cheap. I can’t even buy my tampon’s raw materials for what some retailers are wanting to buy the product at.

So you’ve got a national and international infrastructure to kind of navigate, but I really see that the responsibility is ours. I know a lot of the larger retailers are moving towards plastic-free and they’re even in their beauty department. So that’ll be interesting once that comes across, because if they lead the charge will be awesome for us, but also awesome for the planet.