Eco-friendly period product subscription service Riley is on a mission to become the lifelong brand for female health
It was an idea originally crafted during a catch-up between lockdowns. Now Riley has evolved into a subscription business providing period products to both individual customers and more than 40 corporate clients.
The three founders are now on a mission to make eco-friendly period products available to all who need them.
“One of us got our period and it organically got us chatting around how we are all women in our 30s and why are we never prepared,” co-founder Lauren Duggan tells me over a video call.
“You’d swear we don’t know it’s coming.”
The company officially launched in April last year, with Duggan, alongside her co-founders Fiona Parfrey and Aine Kilkenny, opting for a subscription model so that users would not face the common conundrum of running out of products when they are needed most.
Between January and April 2021, the three founders dedicated themselves to research, planning and procurement. By July, they had all left their jobs to work on Riley full-time.
The company has since added two more employees, with the team now divided between Dublin and Cork, where, Duggan tells me, they had just moved into their new office space that day.
Riley currently offers consumers a range of organic tampon and pads, allowing its customers to put together a personalised bundle online.
Conversations around period products have grown louder in recent years. In this year’s Budget, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe announced that any remaining period products that still had the 9pc Vat rate would now be reduced to zero. Scotland has become the first country in the world to make period products free to all.
Specially designed products have also emerged in recent years – earlier this year, athleisure giant Puma teamed up with Modibodi to introduce period activewear and underwear.
Adidas has also designed period-proof leggings.
This growing interest in providing new products was also evident for Riley. The company raised just under €400,000 in its first funding round in January.
To begin, Riley also dabbled in crowdfunding. “Our early customers became our investors,” Duggan recalls.
“We don’t plan to do any more fundraising until the end of this year, early next year,” she tells me. “At the moment, we are organically growing month by month.”
One area of particular interest comes from the world of business, with 40 organisations now signing up to provide products.
“Vodafone was our first corporate client that reached out to us,” Duggan recalls.
Now Riley products are stocked in a number of universities around the country, as well as in offices at Accenture and Sky. Many corporate contracts now come from referrals. “They buy them in bulk and provide them for free,” she says.
One area through which Riley aims to differentiate itself from its competitors is through its sustainability credentials.
Early in the research phase, Duggan, alongside her co-founders, discovered the ecological impact of period products that were on the market.
“When we started looking at what was available, we were a bit shocked at the quality of the products we had been using and how much bleach, pesticides and chemicals were in them,” she says.
She recalls when the team learnt of the volume of plastic in some period products, with a pad taking up to 500 years to break down. “From there, it went from a nice idea to ‘we have to do this’,” she says.
Duggan believes that period products “should be treated like toilet paper, readily available wherever and whenever you need them” – a belief that fuels the company’s work on tackling period poverty.
According to Riley, 61pc of teenage girls miss school while on their period and more than 80pc said they did not feel comfortable talking about their periods with their dad or a teacher.
A government report last year found that between 53,000 and 85,000 women are at risk of period poverty in Ireland and that those experiencing homelessness or addiction are particularly vulnerable.
Lidl Ireland now offers customers experiencing period poverty free products through its app.
Riley has also teamed up with Positive Period Ireland to donate products to homeless outreach and direct provision centres.
Meanwhile, Riley donates €1 for every box sold to Development Pamoja, a charity in Kenya, where more than one million girls miss up to six weeks of school every year due to a lack of access to menstrual products, according to the ZanaAfrica Foundation.
The start-up is now focusing on product development, with plans to expand its offerings in the coming year.
“Our ultimate goal is to be a lifelong brand for female health,” Duggan concludes.
“We want different touch points across the female life cycle.”