There are so many pros and cons of being a woman. From fashion choices to careers, the list of pros in endless. While the cons may not be as obvious, there is one that we just can’t escape: the visitor that comes every month, bringing unwanted gifts like mood swings and acne. Once puberty hits, women learn how to properly protect themselves using products like tampons and sanitary napkins. The lesson surrounding what’s in those products, however, often seems to be left out. The common feminine hygiene products on the market today often contain toxic chemicals. The solution? Startup Rael is hoping their organic feminine products is the solution.
Journalist and best-selling author, Annes An, worked diligently in her native home of South Korea focusing on women’s issues. She learned early on through interviewing women that many were generally displeased with the current market of feminine hygiene products. She wanted to create a healthier alternative to what currently existed. That was the moment that she created Rael.
“There are all these difficult names for these chemical ingredients but at the end of the day, they are plastic,” Rael CEO Yanghee Paik said. “Tampon covers are made of plastic and we’re exposed to these chemicals for a few days.” Rael, meaning “real,” is an organic feminine care product line. After moving to the United States to obtain her MBA, the Harvard University graduate began working at a consulting firm. She then transitioned into the world of entertainment where she worked for Walt Disney Studios. After meeting An and future chief procurement officer, architect-turned art director Binna Wong, Paik was eager to get to work.
Rael organic feminine products are 100 percent organic cotton and 100 percent biodegradable, and because their tampons do not use plastic applicators, they leave no trash behind, making Rael eco-friendly. Before going into production, the Rael founders uncovered some dirty truths surrounding the cotton and chemicals women expose themselves to every month. “Tampons are made of synthetic fibers and I always assumed they were made of cotton,” Paik learned. “There are a lot of pesticides and chlorine used to made it very white, so putting those kinds of chemical ingredients into your body can be very dangerous.”
In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules tampons and sanitary napkins as medical devices. Due to this ruling, manufacturers do not have to disclose their ingredients. While listing individual ingredients isn’t required, listing materials like cotton, rayon or nylon is suggested. The ingredients used to create fragrances, which fall under the cosmetics category, also goes unregulated.
After learning these facts, Paik, An and Wong carefully selected an organic cotton provider in Texas and a top-notch factory in South Korea. The team decided to test the organic feminine products on Amazon and were blown away by the results. In 30 days, Rael sold $100,000 in pads, all with no marketing support whatsoever. “We were pleasantly surprised that customers thought our product to be very novel,” Paik said. “When people are making a decision to buy organic cotton products, they are automatically making a sacrifice and you have to choose whether you want to use a healthier product and sacrifice performance or use plastic pads.”
Women need to be protected throughout their day-to-day activities which makes performance in a feminine hygiene product essential. The Rael team, headquartered in Southern California, takes pride not only in Rael’s safety category but also in performance. One focus being on creating a product that actually works in absorbency. The cotton used in Rael products are extremely soft and comfortable, making it popular amongst users. “The customer reviews travel and the people who tried our products were very impressed by the quality,” Paik said. “It just became this virtual cycle where we’re very successful with our pads.” Today, Rael maintains its front-runner status under Amazon’s “organic sanitary pads” category.
Since Rael’s success with their line of organic feminine products, which now includes pads and tampons, Paik and her team haven’t stopped there. The company has been working on expanding their product portfolio. For example, Rael will soon be launching a line of “period panties.” Unlike with the popular brand, Thinx, Paik doesn’t suggest solo usage of the product. “It’s meant to be of extra protection. It has great absorbency but still may leak,” Paik said. “We see a lot of opportunity with the period panty and we started selling them on Amazon last year and got some great feedback.”
The team also began producing feminine wipes and wash made of natural ingredients to treat unwanted mishaps during menstrual cycles. Rael calls it a “period beauty line,” consisting of organic facial sheet masks made of bamboo yarn and varying serums. “I get pimples and irritation while going through my cycle due to the hormones,” Paik said. “We produced this beauty line to help with skin trouble during that time of the month.”
Since officially launching in June of 2017, Rael has built and maintained an impressive and loyal customer base. There are more than 80,000 women in the United States, solely with an e-commerce site. They are conquering international waters as well. Already in five European markets off Amazon prime and launching in Korea last month, Rael is making their presence known. “Every woman in the world has to use pads or tampons every month so there is a huge market out there, “Paik said.“We are a small company, but we are trying to become a global brand.”