Tennessee woman-led firm takes on interval business with hemp tampons

What would happen if you let your tampon sit for too long?

If you have ever forgotten to take out your tampon, or perhaps even lost it, then you want to be extremely careful and take care of your body.

USA TODAY

A women-run tampon company based in Tennessee is entering the crowded menstrual product industry to disrupt it and give women more options for their periods.

Claire Crunk started her tampon company, Trace, last August after retiring from a career in women’s health care due to burnout in 2018. Her departure came when lawmakers passed the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, also known as the Farm Bill, which legalized hemp cultivation and opened the door to a new industry for Tennessee.

She soon had a lightning strike when she learned more about the plant: its fibers could function perfectly as a tampon. So she started Southeast Hemp Fiber to develop fiber processing methods and grew a test batch on her family’s farm in Santa Fe, an unincorporated community in Maury County. Two years later, Trace is the only company to figure out how it works, and the process is protected by a trade secret.

“We really had to learn how to make this fiber, which is optimized for an absorbent product, and we’re the only ones who figured it out,” said Crunk.

And while Crunk was going through her career transition, so did Dr. Meg Galaske, a Colombia-based pediatrician who also suffered from burnout. The stress she was exposed to catapulted her into dark and depressing thoughts. She pulled out of healthcare three weeks before the Tennessee pandemic broke out, but stayed longer to serve patients. Today she works as a Reiki and Energy Worker and focuses on holistic health.

The two women are “yin and yang” for each other, they said, with Galaske as the creative arm and Crunk as the analytical side. A year after Trace, they expect the tampons to be available online in the second quarter of 2022 and in stores in 2023.

“It was a heavenly game,” said Crunk. “We’re both healers in different places, so it just makes sense that we should use this healing method in different ways.”

Trace is one of the first to be selected for Williamson County’s new innovation center on the former O’More College of Design campus. The entrepreneurial center, established by the Heritage Foundation and Williamson Inc., will serve as a launch pad for new businesses in the community.

Menstrual Products: A Brief History

Menstrual Products are a nearly $ 20 billion industry, and the leading companies are all men.

With a healthcare background and a passion for women and the environment, Crunk and Galaske are poised to break the status quo. Your planned disruption comes at a good time. Global research in the tampon industry shows that women, especially younger consumers, prefer natural, renewable materials in their tampons.

“We’re renewing everything from the floor to the vagina,” said Galeske. “Every step had to be different than before.”

While women have been menstruating for millennia, the tampon as we know it today is fairly new. Before the mass production of feminine care products hit the market, women used to rely on home improvement products like rags or wool. Many still rely on homemade options when they can’t afford menstrual care or don’t have reliable access to it.

Kotex developed a mass-produced sanitary napkin after World War I when it was discovered that cellulose, made from wood pulp, absorbs more blood than cotton. Tampax was the first brand to introduce the modern tampon after its founder acquired the patent in 1934.

In the 1940s, when women entered the labor market during World War II, the need for reliable period protection grew. But it wasn’t until 1972 that the first tampon commercial debuted, and it wasn’t until 1985 that the word “period” was pronounced on television.

Despite more than a century of products from public time, menstruation remains a taboo in society and in all cultures as many major religions impose rules on menstruating women. Myths surround tampons that using a tampon will cause the menstruator to lose its virginity – a misconception so widespread that Tampax debunked it.

Why hemp?

One of Trace’s primary goals is to heal the earth and they plan to do so by growing hemp, one of the oldest domesticated crops in the world.

“People who have their periods really care about the environment,” said Crunk. “Look at all of the things we do in our daily life to have a small impact, and it’s a lot of work. I was just frustrated that people had to completely change their menstrual habits in order to reduce their environmental debt. So when we make a product this way, our customers can heal the environment and reverse climate change by only having one period. ”

Hemp, which was legally required to be grown by the Jamestown settlers in 1619, fell out of favor with the government in 1937 when it was banned and incorrectly associated with marijuana. It has been replaced by textiles like cotton and polyester. But now it is again considered a useful plant that could restore the environment. It absorbs carbon dioxide and grows in a wide variety of climates.

The plant grows quickly and requires little maintenance. Research by the Reason Foundation, a non-partisan think tank, shows that growing hemp requires less energy and producing hemp offsets carbon emissions. The production of polyester requires six times the energy that is required for industrial hemp. Hemp is more pest defensive and weed resistant than cotton and requires fewer, if any, pesticides and herbicides. In addition, less water is required, which means fewer resources for water extraction and less money for farmers.

“If we don’t make huge changes, the earth will not be sustainable for us,” said Galeske.

The women are only a few weeks away from receiving prototypes of the tampon, which is made from a regenerative blend of cotton and hemp fibers. Regenerative agriculture works to improve and rehabilitate agriculture, from soil health to water management. The hemp is grown by farmers in North Carolina and the cotton is grown in California. The applicator is made of biodegradable hemp biopolymer.

Traditional tampons are made of a cotton-plastic mix to hold the tampon together. Trace replaces the plastic strands with longer cotton fibers to bind them together. A normal tampon expands lengthways as it absorbs blood, which can sometimes cause a pinching sensation. To combat this, Trace’s tampons stretch rather than lengthways.

To learn more about Trace, visit their website at traceyourtampon.com. Investors can contact Crunk at claire@trarefemcare.com.

Reach Brinley Hineman at bhineman@tennessean.com and on Twitter @brinleyhineman. Sign up for our newsletter to keep up with the latest from Williamson County.