[La Presse] - Iris + Arlo: breaking the taboo on period products

[La Presse] - Iris + Arlo: breaking the taboo on period products


A "turnkey" offer for organizations to supply menstrual products for their employees, with some fifty biodegradable and chemical-free items also available for ordinary consumers.

Who are they?

Lara Emond holds a bachelor's degree in business administration from Université Laval. This Ottawa native, who grew up in Quebec City and now lives in Montreal, made a disturbing realization a few years ago: there's more to pads than just cotton, even though that's the only ingredient they contain.

"I started doing research and came across studies showing that traditional menstrual products contain an average of 20 to 30 chemicals, including phthalates, dioxins and pesticides, all of which are known carcinogens," explains Ms. Emond.

The idea at the heart of Iris + Arlo was born, and the company was founded in 2022 by Lara Emond and officially inaugurated in March 2023. Today, the company has eight employees, headed by the founder.

The product

Iris + Arlo began with some fifty menstrual products divided into five main categories: tampons, pads, panties, reusables and dispensers. From applicators to menstrual cups, pantiliners and even matcha, they all share the same concern to be "healthy", biodegradable, made from 100% organic cotton for the materials, without BPA, perfumes, chlorine or dioxins.
"Without all those elements that we don't need, that have no business being in direct contact with our private parts, which are one of the most absorbent parts of our bodies," explains Ms. Emond. Care has also been taken to limit environmental impact by eliminating the use of plastic as much as possible.
"Many menstrual products are currently made from plastic. We're talking about 7 billion plastic applicators a year, which are either thrown into landfills or, even worse, into our waterways."
- Lara Emond, CEO Iris + Arlo

All these products have been designed by the young company and are manufactured by different manufacturers "to very precise specifications", says the CEO. The core of Iris + Arlo's business is not the sale of these products to consumers, but the supply of the 200 or so Iris + Arlo client organizations. Desjardins, Fondaction, Fonds de solidarité FTQ and Emballage Carrousel, among others, offer their employees free dispensers and menstrual products. This B2B represents 80% of sales.

Products sold to consumers, either online or in a dozen outlets across Quebec, are "30% more expensive on average" than their industrial equivalents, admits Ms. Emond. Prices offered to organizations, on the other hand, "are extremely competitive", she assures us.

We have also set up another service offering for these major customers: "Access to our menstrual health experts for any questions related to menstrual health", as well as workshops and conferences on the subject, adds the CEO.

The challenges

From the outset, and still today, Ms. Emond has encountered a certain discomfort among leaders at the idea of talking about menstrual health. "There are still a lot of taboos around menstruation. I've seen business leaders we've contacted who don't want to talk about it." "[Today]," she affirms, "they're the ones who call us, admitting that the discussion we'd had made a lot of sense."

The other challenge, the founder modestly defines as a "lack of education". "I've often been questioned by people who no longer have their period, who are of a certain age and who have never seen a tampon or an applicator in their lives... That's precisely what led us to develop the whole educational side, be it workshops, conferences, discussion cards..."
Choosing to design your own products, with different manufacturers and imposing a specific production, "means a lot of development, a lot of different partners because it's a lot of different materials. So obviously, there are challenges in terms of sourcing and finding the right partners," says Lara Emond.

The future

The young company is clearly not short of short-term ambitions. By the end of 2024, it hopes to have 500 corporate customers and 300 points of sale, including one in Europe.

In the longer term, Lara Emond has a dream: "That from coast to coast, in every bathroom, menstrual products will be available free of charge. That the next generation and the current generation will, in a few years' time, find it normal to have menstrual products available when we need them."

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