By Alexandra Mester The Blade, Toledo, Ohio
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) "Aunt Flow" produces its own 100 percent organic cotton, biodegradable, eco-friendly maxi pads and tampons as well as a dispenser for them. The company sells its products to businesses, schools, and universities nationwide with the intent of making menstrual supplies readily available in restrooms for free.
Steve Coder knew early on that his fiercely independent and outgoing daughter, Claire, was destined to do big things.
"She's always had this inner drive that says, 'Just give me a chance and I'll prove myself,' " he said.
At 4 years old, she pretended to operate a "Coney Shack" from her Little Tikes outdoor play house. By 16, she formed a small promotional button business, There's a Badge for That, and then built it up over the course of two years to include eight independent distributors, a healthy online sales presence, and placing her products in several Midwest boutiques.
"I've always loved business," Ms. Coder, now 22, said.
The 2015 Sylvania Southview High School graduate was so motivated, she dropped out of college at Ohio State University after just one semester and became an entrepreneur.
"She didn't ever want to work for someone else," Mr. Coder said. "She wanted to be independent."
Ms. Coder founded Aunt Flow, a menstruation product provider, in 2016. The company created its own 100 percent organic cotton, biodegradable, eco-friendly maxi pads and tampons as well as a dispenser for them. The products hit the market in 2018 and "we've been rocking and rolling ever since," Ms. Coder said.
Aunt Flow sells its products to businesses, schools, and universities nationwide with the intent of making menstrual supplies readily available in restrooms for free to the person in need. The idea came from Ms. Coder's own experience with starting her period at an OSU event without the necessary supplies on hand, only to find a coin-operated dispenser in the bathroom was out of order.
"I thought since toilet paper was offered for free, why weren't tampons and pads? They all take care of a basic bodily function," she said.
Headquartered in Columbus, Aunt Flow now has more than 500 clients including Google North America and Princeton University. Mr. Coder said that what remained of his daughter's college fund was invested into the business.
"She proved that she knew what she was doing," he said. "It became clear she wasn't going to need it for school, and it showed investors that she has skin in the game."
And by the end of 2018, Ms. Coder had raised $1.5 million from venture capitalists to grow her budding business that is now a team of four but is about to double.
Ms. Coder, who splits her time between Columbus and New York City, said Aunt Flow will also soon debut a new touch-free product disposal unit that "encapsulates smell and eliminates the concern around a biohazard."
Both Sylvania high schools have her products available to students. At Northview High School, the student council spent about $2,000 to stock six restrooms with Aunt Flow products, the goods arriving at the end of last school year.
"One of the things [student council is] working on is making sure there are opportunities for everyone," interactive media teacher and council adviser Tami Blue said. "We felt like this was a step in the right direction in making sure everyone has what they need."
Students without supplies previously had to get them from the school nurse. Having products readily available in restrooms lets them skip that embarrassing step and get back to class quickly.
"No girl should be losing instructional time because she doesn't have what she needs or is surprised by her period," Mrs. Blue said. "No one should be missing out on their education because of a bodily function, and it happens a lot to high school girls."
Ms. Coder said research shows that when menstrual products are available, school attendance is increased and businesses see higher productivity.
"From a business standpoint, it's all about helping your employees stay focused and stay in the office so they don't have to leave to get what they need," she said.
Aunt Flow also donates one item for every 10 sold to Period.org, which in turn supplies them to organizations such as women's shelters and food banks.
"We've donated over a half-million tampons and pads to organizations across the state who are in need of menstrual products," Ms. Coder said.
She, along with Aunt Flow, also actively advocates for legislative changes to promote free access to menstrual products.
"It's a movement," Ms. Coder said. "Four states have actually now passed legislation requiring middle and high schools to offer these products in the bathroom. I get really excited about the activism that has taken place to make these changes in schools, businesses, and at a legislative level."
Ms. Coder in July was named one of 22 Thiel Foundation Fellows for 2019, a program for "talented young people to pursue big ideas and start companies instead of attending college," according to a news release. Ms. Coder will receive $100,000 and be mentored by the foundation's network for two years.
"The Thiel Fellowship really just validated everything she's doing," Mr. Coder said. "We are incredibly proud." More information about Aunt Flow can be found online at goauntflow.com. ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.