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7 Women Changemakers Who Are Breaking Sexual Health Taboos With Their Brands

Lingerie, menstrual health and sexual wellness products, these women entrepreneurs are changing the narrative in women's health with their brands.

Geetika Sachdev

A gender-equal world is still a utopian concept, and while the journey of change has taken flight, there’s still a long way to go. We may be in 2022, but any discourse around menstrual hygiene and sexual wellness is often suppressed by the age-old patriarchal norms. Fortunately, there are several entrepreneurs who are ‘breaking the bias’ and shattering convention to create a safe space for women. These new-age brands cater to the needs of those with vulvas and provide them with solutions that help to enhance their quality of life.

This International Women’s Day, we caught up with some prominent changemakers, who are making a difference with their brands.  

1. Neha Kant, Founder and Director — Clovia

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Lingerie has always been spoken about in hushed tones in our country. It is hardly uncommon for women to be glared at, when they walk into a lingerie store to shop for innerwear. The experience is rather uncomfortable since these shops are mostly run by men.

For Neha, who grew up in Haridwar, it was her mother, who would do underwear shopping for her. Everything was based on trials and guesswork, which left the young girl devoid of confidence. When she stepped out of her hometown to pursue her higher education, started working in New Delhi and travelled abroad, Neha realised that the evolution of innerwear had not kept pace with the fast-changing outerwear fashion.

“To bridge the existing gap in the lingerie space, I decided to dive into the business with the help of my husband and was ably supported by a tech specialist and an experienced lingerie expert. That’s how Clovia was born in 2013,” she says.

The brand believes in bringing world-class products to Indian customers at the right price point. They have a proprietary algorithm based on ‘Clovia’s Fit Test’, which asks women five questions about their body type and accordingly recommends the right bra. 

“Earlier this year, we also launched Bra-Bot, an online AI-based chatbot curated to help one buy the right innerwear and other categories. This is part of Clovia’s continued effort to bring its online shopping experience closer to an assisted offline store experience,” she adds.

Clovia launches 200+ styles per month and over 75% of the inventory is less than 30 days old. They also offer 75+ sizes across 12+ categories and address 18 body types.

The brand has also recently ventured into the personal care category to cater to the needs of new moms and urban millennial women.

2. Tanvi Johri, Co-founder and CEO — Carmesi

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Like several other women, Tanvi, too, was a victim of rashes caused by sanitary napkins and would dread her period every month. Although she tried looking for alternatives, there was no solution in sight. Another issue that troubled her was the unhygienic disposal of sanitary napkins.

“I started researching more about these things, and that’s when I realised that rashes are taken seriously only when they appear on the face or are associated with beauty. These allergies are triggered by the use of certain ingredients in sanitary napkins. This is what I wanted to change with Carmesi,” she says.

The eco-conscious brand makes biodegradable sanitary napkins using plant-based materials like corn fibre that are devoid of harsh chemicals. These sanitary napkins also come with a disposable bag made from oxo-biodegradable material.

Carmesi has always been big on innovation and has also launched products that may be too niche, but try and provide a solution to women’s problems. 

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“We created the world’s first and only solution to bra stress called BREASE, after taking into account the challenges of women in our office. The product may not be getting us too much revenue, but our customers love it,” she says, adding that they have also launched a natural deodorant roller with 95% natural ingredients, and an entire skincare range for hormonal acne.

Apart from selling other period care and intimate care products, Carmesi has also made inroads into hair removal, and the health and nutrition category. As they continue to grow by leaps and bounds, Carmesi also plans to make its presence felt in the offline space.

3. Aruna Chawla, Founder — Salad Condoms

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How many times have you felt awkward walking up to a pharmacist, and asking for a condom? The feeling is all too familiar, right? This is exactly what happened with Aruna. As a consumer psychologist, she studied purchase patterns and buying behaviour closely and came up with Salad, a non-toxic, eco-conscious, and ultra-thin vegan condom brand.

As the youngest woman to start a condom brand in India, she had her fair share of challenges and was subjected to lewd remarks on social media. It wasn’t just trolling that she had to deal with — it was a hard task to convince manufacturers to associate with her brand, but eventually, she succeeded. 

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Aruna has been “open and transparent” in her approach and that reflects in everything Salad does. Scan the QR code on the packaging, and you can read all about the ingredients that go into making the condom. Moreover, Salad is the only condom brand that not only focuses on pleasure but also emphasises on the health angle. “Salad has committed 15% of its profits to enable sex education in schools and colleges in India. We are also building a new product that's under beta testing right now that will help users learn the language of their bodies anytime, anywhere,” says Aruna. 

4. Sujata Pawar, Founder — Avni

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Sujata had an unpleasant encounter with commercially-available sanitary pads that resulted in rashes eight years ago. When she started looking for options, there was nothing skin-friendly and environmentally-friendly that was available.  That’s when she and her husband (also the co-founder), Apurv Agrawal, worked together to create Avni, a reusable cloth pad that is also India's first tested cloth pad.

Sujata believes that increased awareness around menstrual hygiene and wellness has helped women in both urban and rural areas to look for sustainable period care. Today, Avni is also aggressively engaging with NGOs and menstrual educators across India to provide education, awareness, and product distribution in rural areas.“Our pads are fully hand-stitched by rural women, and we are also enabling livelihood generation. The company isn't simply interested in being a personal care brand; it also wants to make menstrual health 'normal,” says Sujata. 

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The brand has already attracted over 18,000 clients since its start. They have also developed India's first 24x7 period helpline to ease the transition and assist women in developing a long-term period habit. 

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5. Swathi Kulkarni, Co-founder and CEO — Elda Health

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Elda was conceived out of personal experiences of the founders, navigating through puberty, pregnancy, to midlife concerns. Since women play foundational roles in families, and even workplaces, their health often takes a back seat. That’s what Swathi wanted to address with Elda.

“Elda educates women around their midlife concerns. Our app hosts a spectrum of audio, video, and text content that's specifically tailored for Indian women. We believe normalising these concerns is the first step to making them better. Moreover, women have access to scientific tools to assess themselves and follow interventions through Elda's predictive technology,” she shares.

The holistic team at Elda also provides programs that help manage menopause, weight, stress, and other symptom-specific concerns. “Technology enables us to reach out to millions of women today to educate them about their health concerns, and provide them with tools to manage themselves better,” concludes Swathi.

6. Sachee Malhotra, Founder — That Sassy Thing

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Like many other menstruators, Sachee found herself struggling with excess weight gain, vaginal dryness, painful sex, and more, as a consequence of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). She was bullied in high school, and while she didn’t really know what to do back then, these negative experiences stayed with her.

“It affected my mental health and I had body image issues. My confidence was shattered and it affected various areas of my life. I also carried it into the bedroom. Open conversations were unheard of a few years ago, and I always wanted a safe space to speak about our bodies and pleasure,” she says.

After working with a few sexual wellness brands, Sachee realised that the category revolved around the pleasure needs of men, and there was a huge gap waiting to be bridged. “For instance, when it came to lubricants, a lot of them contain added flavours, sugars and sweeteners that are really harmful to the vagina. I wanted to develop a lubricant that was completely natural and doesn’t irritate the genitals. That gave rise to DTF, India’s first all-natural, vegan, water-based sexual lubricant,” she adds.

There is a lot of internalised shame that is associated with female pleasure. That Sassy Thing is fighting against that while trying to normalise self-pleasure. They are trying to change the narrative not just through their products, but also in the way they communicate. 

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Moreover, Sachee has ensured that the privacy of their customers is maintained by ensuring the entire purchase and shipping experience is completely discreet.

“Innovation is at the centre of our brand, and I believe, it is not just about doing something, but also making a product (or experience) better. We have also developed an underwear detergent that’s created from plant-based ingredients and contains NO artificial brighteners,” she shares, adding that they also have a 2-in-1 intimate body wash that can be used all over the body. They also offer massagers that have been developed after in-depth research.

Several products exist in the market today that play on women's insecurities, but That Sassy Thing is all about educating their audience about their bodies, and more. An inclusive brand in the true sense, Sachee believes they have created a milestone by helping people take pleasure into their own hands.

The brand is excited about an upcoming product launch, and collaborations with some of India’s top sexuality educators.

7. Deepanjali Kanoria, Founder and CEO — Heyday

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As a financial consultant with Ernst and Young at Manhattan, New York, Deepanjali was truly living the “cushy life.” But she felt she wanted to do much more beyond the conference room. Social entrepreneurship was always close to her heart, and she decided to dive into it again.

“I decided to quit my job and move back to India to start research in the menstrual hygiene space. When I did my preliminary industry research with Nielsen India, it made me realise there was an extreme lack of innovation, opportunity and access to products that could help women improve their menstrual hygiene practices. The industry was dominated by big players, who were not using the right raw materials, and that’s what I wanted to change with Heyday,” she says, adding that over 90% of the composition of a regular sanitary pad in the market was made of plastics and synthetic.

When they started out, there was awareness around organic food, but no one knew what organic sanitary napkins were. After one-and-a-half years of building and unbuilding, and research and development, they came up with the final prototype by the end of 2017, and had a formal rollout in March 2018, both online and offline. 

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Since the launch of their first product, Heyday has diversified into pantyliners, menstrual cups and baby diapers. “There has been huge growth and mental acceptability for the end-user has increased tenfold. Our main issue is to educate the user, and to help them try a new brand of pads. There has been a paradigm shift, and a whole set of new brands have emerged. The space just validates and gives us proof of concept that we've created something that has a market in India,” she adds. Today, their focus is more about marketing their product and letting the customer pick the brand they resonate with the most. Deepanjali shares that Heyday has an extremely high retention rate over 75%.

The brand is self-made and self-sustained, and that’s something they truly pride on. 

Photo: Featured Entrepreneurs
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