Photography by Gabriel Cano
You were mortified.
Hockaday alumni Emmy Hancock asks: “Why is there still stigma?”
After reading an article about “period equity”, Hancock decided either women don’t talk about menstruation because of the taboo or because they feel alienated by the aggressive marketing of some advocacy groups.
“The more I found out, it just didn’t make sense,” she says.
Hancock recently launched Oluna, a Dallas-based company that manufactures and markets pants to address menstrual equity. The company aims to fund menstrual care for homeless women, increase awareness about menstrual equity, and improve education and government policy.
The brightly branded Oluna offers a one-for-one program. Each purchase of the $69 pants also funds one year of menstrual care.
“I thought having a fun brand would be the perfect way to infuse a lighter notion to start talking about how our inability to discuss the situation is hindering our ability to fix the problems around it,” she says.
According to Hancock, the lack of access for menstrual care and education reflects women’s healthcare overall.
“When men walk into the bathroom, they have everything they need to be clean and hygienic. When women walk into the bathroom, they don’t have everything they need, even in state-run places like prisons and schools,” Hancock says.
Regulating the quality of tampons is another issue within the fight for menstrual equity. Three corporate brands are behind much of the tampon research and menstrual education messaging.
The Robin Danielson Hygiene Product Safety Act, named after a woman who died in 1998 from toxic shock syndrome, has been brought to Congress for consideration 10 times during the past 20 years. The proposed legislation would require the National Institutes of Health to independently test feminine hygiene products and allow the Food and Drug Administration to mandate tampon ingredients be listed on packaging boxes.
The legislation has yet to be enacted into law.
Currently, the FDA lists tampons as medical devices and “encourages” brands to list ingredients but does not require the listing. New York recently passed the Menstrual Products Right to Know Act, which achieved that goal in 2019. Another win for advocacy groups is that tampon sizes have been standardized across brands after research showed that larger tampons are more likely to produce bacteria that causes staph infections.
“I think by having a more open discourse around periods in general, people will start realizing these are actually problems that aren’t that difficult to solve,” Hancock says.
Homeless women are disproportionally affected by menstrual equity, so Hancock launched partnerships with 10 Dallas homeless shelters to distribute menstrual supplies.
“Women are using the dirty rags they’re finding in the street, or they can’t go to their job interview because they don’t have access to a laundry machine,” she says. “So how can they be respected if they don’t have access to that?
“Once you phrase it like that, there’s no argument.”
A New Yorker who fled the city, Hancock moved back into her parents’ home as the pandemic began. Every day of quarantine, she picked a task to tackle on behalf of Oluna. She read books on menstrual equity. She called other nonprofits to learn about their successes.
A criminology major and film minor at University of Pennsylvania, Hancock taught herself search engine optimization and created Oluna’s website. A former editor of Hockaday’s literary magazine Virbato, she used her high school experience to design graphics and branding.
“I honestly would have never had the time to sit down with Oluna and get this launched, so there’s definitely a silver lining (to the pandemic),” Hancock says.
Once she designed the colorful, billowy pants, the former model at Wallflower Management called a few friends to model them. A photographer she worked with 10 years ago took photos for the website. A Dallas homeless shelter is providing warehouse space. The modeling agency is considering helping distribute supplies to women.
“It’s just been like the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done. The best part about Oluna is I finally found an idea that I feel so passionate about, and it’s stuck with me now for three years,” Hancock says. “I just have a feeling that this is going to be really good.”
Hancock hopes to turn Oluna into her full-time occupation. She has invested her savings into the business. Now she’s focusing on marketing so she can raise capital, hire people and move into other markets.
“I’m scared, but I’m gonna learn so much along that road, too,” Hancock says. “I think this is such an important time for women to start businesses. I read that there’s no better time than to start a business than during coronavirus, because if you make it, you can probably survive anything.”
DID YOU KNOW?
The name Oluna is derived from the Spanish word for moon, referencing the myth that women’s cycles sync with the moon phases.
Her job in New York City at OnSiteIQ, a construction technology software company, is now permanently remote, giving her the option to live in Dallas. That means quick access to her manufacturer, fabric distributor and a network of homeless shelters.
“Homeless shelters, when I called, they were so excited, because it’s the most requested item but it’s the least sexy to donate,” Hancock says.
Designed to be worn from all day, the pants feature a relaxed waistband and a wide-leg wrap silhouette. Oluna has three colors online and will add three additional colors for the spring season.
Hancock believes educating both boys and girls in health classes would decrease the taboo surrounding menstruation. A Hockaday student from pre-K to 12th grade, Hancock recently spoke during a social impact and social entrepreneurship course at the school.
“That was so validating. What I learned the most going to Hockaday is they were always very frank about being a woman who was intellectual or going into business,” she says.
“They didn’t really sugarcoat it. I am so thankful that they didn’t, because it gave me that foundation that has made the rest of my higher education and then on into business experience much better.”
“It’s an uphill battle, but like anything worth doing, it’s more meaningful when it is,” she says.
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