May 17, 2024 - Business

The quest for a better tampon comes as women’s sports surge

Two tampons side by side, one with horizontal lines and the other with spiral ones.

Sequel is a new type of tampon with a spiral design that its makers say is more effective against leakage. Image courtesy of Sequel

A startup tampon brand is aiming to disrupt the world of menstrual products with a patented spiral design for fewer leaks.

Why it matters: It's "the first engineering redesign of the tampon in 80 years" according to Sequel, which aims to change the game for women athletes.

Driving the news: Sequel gained FDA approval for its tampons last August and just started selling them online in New York, Texas and California.

How it works: "We've introduced a helical spiral that circumnavigates the outside of the tampon, to more evenly absorb menstrual fluid," Amanda Calabrese, Sequel's co-founder and chief marketing officer, tells Axios.

  • The spiral indentations "make sure that the product is able to absorb more evenly in stages and to completion, without failing before it's full," she says.

By contrast, conventional tampons "have longitudinal grooves that go from top to bottom, and those grooves allow the fluid to leak down one side."

  • "If your tampon is able to reach full capacity and not leak down the side, that's going to contribute to a more reliable and dependable experience."
Side-by-side photos show a normal tampon next to a Sequel one, with its spiral design.
The Sequel tampon compared with a conventional one. At left, the Sequel tampon is in the purple applicator; at right, it's the right-hand product. Images courtesy of Sequel

Where it stands: Sequel has been granted 12 patents and has six pending.

  • "We have utility patents, we have design patents, and we also have a patented proprietary manufacturing method for the product," Calabrese says.
  • The FDA considers tampons to be Class II medical devices, with a "moderate to high level" of safety risk — including irritation, allergies and a rare syndrome called toxic shock.

Reality check: Most of the newer tampons on the market make claims that aren't about design: Organic cotton, flushable applicators and plant-based applicators made from sugarcane.

  • There are even CBD-infused tampons, "Kelpons" made from seaweed and "smart" tampons with sensors (for the bravest of us).

Sequel's tampons are also plant-based — made from a biodegradable viscose fiber — with a BPA-free plastic applicator.

  • American women prefer tampons with applicators — though European and Australian women prefer them without — and "we can also do applicator-free tampons if that's what our customers are looking for," Calabrese says.

Backstory: Calabrese and her co-founder, Greta Meyer, are Stanford University engineers and elite athletes who hatched the product five years ago for Stanford's product design engineering group.

  • They raised $5 million from wealthy investors and some venture capitalists, Calabrese says.
  • They brought on engineers from Procter & Gamble (which makes Tampax) and Johnson & Johnson (which sold the o.b. tampon brand to Edgewell Personal Care, makers of Playtex).
  • They spent four-and-a-half years in R&D and now have a six-person company in San Francisco — and they're hiring.

Zoom in: The sports angle is key for Sequel, which aims to capitalize on the popularity of the WNBA and this summer's Olympic Games.

  • Calabrese is a six-time national champion in competitive lifesaving, and Meyer is an All-American lacrosse player.
  • They were inspired by their sports uniforms: a swimsuit and white shorts.
  • The first athlete to publicly endorse the Sequel Spiral Tampon is U.S. gymnast Katelyn Ohashi, a viral sensation and UCLA alum.

What they're saying: "We've had quite a few WNBA players really like the product," Calabrese says.

  • "We've seen some strong word-of-mouth among our athlete friends," she adds. "We're going to be sending out a lot of free boxes of tampons to a lot of amazing athletes in the coming months."
  • Currently, people in select states can order them online — $19.99 for a box of 32.
A box of tampons sits on a cluster of blue balls.
The Sequel Spiral Tampon is currently available online in three states. Image courtesy of Sequel

By the numbers: Procter & Gamble, Kimberly-Clark (which makes Kotex) and Edgewell "accounted for 71.1% of U.S. retail tampon sales in 2022, according to Euromonitor International," the Wall Street Journal reports.

  • "P&G alone made up nearly 40% of the category's sales," the Journal said.

The bottom line: Sequel seems poised to capitalize on the great women's sports craze — as personified by Caitlin Clark and her fandom.

  • "I think this year we're really seeing women's health and women's sports converge and really rise in popularity," Calabrese says.
  • "Every girl wants to watch women's sports now."
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