Firstly, tell us a bit about you?
We’re Claire and Lucy Lettice, the mother-daughter duo behind the &SISTERS brand. With my entrepreneurial background and Lucy’s experience as a buyer in the wellness space, we set out to create conscious period products that are healthy for women’s bodies, gentle on the planet and better for our sisters – we’ve made it our mission to take a stand against period poverty in the UK and beyond, and 10% of all profits are donated to the education and empowerment of women and girls across the globe.
Tell us about your business, how did you come up with the idea?
Over the course of my career, I’ve been fortunate to travel the world and meet people from all walks of life, where I began to notice that many girls and women are unable to access adequate period products due to poverty, shame and misinformation. As a matter of fact, UNICEF estimates that 2.3 billion people lack basic sanitation facilities, making periods all the more difficult to manage – and at least 1 in 10 girls in Africa and India miss or drop out of school due to their periods, preventing them from getting the education they deserve.
As a marketer and brand strategist along with Lucy, an ex-retail buyer, we sought to disrupt the femcare space with a line of 100% Soil Association certified organic cotton period products and reusable nüdie period cup in 2018. After a successful first two years crafting our product range, we’re now venturing out into the femtech space to create apps and wearables that complement our mission, ethos and products – ultimately building the menstrual health ecosystem of the future.
What was the moment that everything changed for you?
Witnessing the negative impact of period poverty abroad is what initially sprung us into action, but we were even more surprised to learn of the misinformation surrounding period products, right here in the UK. Just before the &SISTERS brand was born, we commissioned research and discovered that 80% of women believe, wrongly, that mainstream period products are made from cotton, when in fact they’re made from a combination of plastic fibres, other synthetic fibres, non-organic cotton and a cocktail of chemicals.
We believe, wholeheartedly, that everyone who menstruates has the right to adequate period products, so we decided to step up and fill the gap in the market ourselves. We designed a line of 100% Soil Association certified organic cotton pads, tampons and liners in a range of absorbencies, along with our a reusable nüdie period cup, giving those who menstruate the healthy, happy period that they couldn’t access with the period products of the past.
What were the initial challenges you came up against and how did you overcome them?
Starting a business can be difficult at the best of times, but challenges arise when the business broaches a subject that many view as ‘taboo’. Though over 50% of the population have, do or will menstruate (UNICEF estimates that 26% of the global population is of reproductive age at any given time), periods are something we’re taught to keep hidden. As a period care company, we’ve worked to challenge the notion that periods are dirty or shameful, and we’re on a mission to help those who menstruate transform their shame into pride. Now, after nearly three years in business, we’ve never let taboos hold us back, and we won’t stop until everyone who bleeds has access to our period care products, and our sexual wellness products that are just on the horizon.
What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?
Getting our products ready to market and coming onboard with retailers like Planet Organic were big milestones for us, but by far the most encouraging feedback we receive comes directly from our customers. Hearing that our customers “feel so much better” after having switched to our products, and that they’re “100% a menstrual cup covert” after trying our nüdie period cup, fuels us to keep going in our mission to do good and transform the self-care industry.
Did you take the investment route for your business or are you self-funded? Can you share some insights on your decision and the process?
We started out by being self-funded but due to huge minimum order volumes and believing that we’re all in this together, we’ve also chosen to raise capital through crowdfunding, providing anyone – regardless of their background, gender identity or socioeconomic status – the opportunity to own a piece of &SISTERS for as little as £10.
We’ve been humbled by the response to our crowdfunding campaigns, and this time last year, we raised money with crowdfunding platform Crowdcube, where we raised nearly 2x our original crowdfunding goal of £100,000. Now that our business has grown, we’re now raising with Seedrs, and with 10 days left, we’ve already surpassed our goal of £375,000.
You can view our pitch here.
What has been your best investment?
After our first crowdfunding campaign came to a close, we immediately made the decision to bring fresh talent on board, and it’s proven to be our best decision to date. New people have brought new ideas, driving our decision to pivot and enter the femtech space, where we plan to create a multi-industry menstrual health ecosystem.
We’re a female-led team, but we openly celebrate people of all gender identities, uterus or not! If you think you have something to offer the &SISTERS team, please get in touch by emailing email@example.com.
Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?
Of course! We’ll be the first to admit that we’re not perfect, and we want to do everything we can to learn, evolve and do right by our customers. As we’ve grown, we’ve taken on board feedback to make our brand more gender inclusive, moving away from always talking about women to the more inclusive ‘people that bleed’. However, it’s a very fine balance, as you can unsettle those that believe menstruating is biological and that terms like women and female are not gender-biased. We’ve tried to weave both through our content, whilst always avoiding the term feminine care which for us is a big No No.
What’s your experience of being a woman in the start-up ecosystem and what in your mind needs to change?
Honestly, we’ve been heartened by the reception we’ve had as female founders. Although a mere 2% of venture capital funds go to female-founded businesses and only 11% of venture capitalists identify as female (according to Entrepreneur Europe), we believe the tide is changing in our favour. There is now a whole host of angel investors and venture capitalists who specialise in female-founded businesses, taking us one step closer in a very long journey to gender equality in the VC space. From here, there is enormous opportunity for growth, and we’d love to see more investment in female-founded businesses.
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
The road to start-up success is always a bumpy one, and it’s important to remember why you started your business in the first place, to help you jump over those initial hurdles. Our mission, to create self-care products that are “better for our body, better for our planet and better for our sisters” has always been at the core of our business, and as long as we stay true to our ethos, we believe success will follow.
Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
Even in 2020, female-bodied issues remain taboo, and we’ve been inspired by industry leaders and writers who seek to help us take charge of our menstrual health. We’re especially in awe of Maisie Hill, author of Period Power, who we had the pleasure of interviewing for a piece on our own blog, Crimson Conversations. Hill has made it her mission to help those who bleed use their menstrual cycle to their advantage, as each phase or “season” of our cycle has its own unique superpowers. We love the notion that periods can be powerful, and we want to help those who bleed look forward to their period.
With the future in mind, where would you like to be/where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Five years from now, we hope to have built an all-encompassing menstrual health ecosystem that is used from teens to those post-menopause. We plan to broaden our 100% organic cotton period product and nüdie period cup offering, while launching a series of femtech products and services, from an interactive period tracker to a pelvic floor training device. Periods need more than just tampons, so we will devote the next five years to developing products and technology that serve the health and self-care needs of those who bleed.
What’s your biggest learning from 2020 so far?
2020 has been a difficult year for everyone, but for us, it’s become apparent that consumers have an appetite for sustainable period products now, more than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought economic and personal hardship to all, but lockdowns have given us the space to reflect on what’s most important. Looking after our bodies and the planet will be key in helping us out of the pandemic, and we believe that this includes period care – despite the difficulty and confusion surrounding COVID-19, we’ve grown >100% YoY since 2019.
What can our community do to support your business?
The best way to support our business is to put your money where your values are – invest in and buy from companies that are devoted to doing right by you, your planet, and your sisters. A business is only as strong as its customers, so showing your support through purchases and investments helps us create a better, more sustainable future.
What books, podcasts or resources would you recommend?
If you’re anything like us, you’ve probably taken to reading while in lockdown! We’ve been transfixed by ‘Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men’ by Caroline Criado Perez. You begin to question every view you hold! And we also love ‘Period.’ by broadcaster and journalist Emma Barnett. We’re inspired by anyone who doesn’t apologise for discussing periods openly and honestly – after all, they’re the reason we’re all here in the first place.
What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?
Starting your own business can be daunting, especially if you identify as female (and even more so if you’re looking to enter to period care space!), and it may feel as if the odds are stacked against you. When you feel like giving up, don’t. Remember why you started your business in the first place, and know that your future customers need you – remember bold business people can make a difference and change the world for the better. Our advice is to pursue your passions, even when all you can see are obstacles.
Where can we find you?
You can find us stocked in online and bricks-and-mortar boutiques like Farmdrop, Planet Organic and Oliver Bonas, but the best place to find us is on our own website and shopping platform, andsisters.co.uk. Here you’ll find our complete range of products: our 100% Soil Association certified organic cotton pads, tampons and liners; our nudie cups; our ‘my first period pack’; our subscription boxes and even additional goodies like branded totes and purses.
About your author
Leah Williams is the Blog Editor for Found & Flourish, working with Founder Lara Sheldrake to ensure every piece of published content is empowering, inspiring and well presented, just like the women we work with.
I’m Samantha Jameson, the Founder of British hand, bath and body care brand, Soapsmith.
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