Talking about your period is important. We often whisper about our “period flu” to our friends and figure out creative ways to sneak our tampons (or other favorite period products) when heading to the bathroom, but our monthly cycle is a wonderful and normal part of many people’s womanhood. In this week’s entry in the How to Quit Your Day Job series, we chat with Molly Hayward, the founder of Cora, a brand of feminine products designed to give people modern methods to manage their periods. Hayward details how one fateful conversation in Kenya turned into her life’s work for becoming an outspoken advocate for quality menstrual products.

Meet the Period Pro: Molly Hayward

Over the span of 10 years, Hayward traveled to 13 different countries, working for nonprofits focusing on women’s human rights and socio-economic empowerment. A few years ago, she spoke with a girl named Purity in Kenya and learned that the lack of access to menstrual pads often kept most girls at home when they had their periods instead of attending school. The more research Hayward did, the more she realized that this big problem needed to be addressed to help girls get the education they deserve. Launched in 2016, Cora has brought quality organic period products to women through subscription services, and through Cora’s impact partners the company has provided over 1 million pads to women and girls in need in the United States, Kenya, and India. The company recently launched an ultra-thin hybrid pad that works for light bladder leakage (a common problem for new moms), available both on its website and at Target.

Brit + Co: What’s your morning routine?

Molly Hayward: Wake up, snooze, snooze again, actually wake up. When I get out of bed, my dog Stella gets up out of hers, and we do down- and up-dogs together on the rug to wake our bodies up. I’m usually awake before 6am, so the sun is never up yet, and I really love to ease into the day and hate turning on lights because they feel so harsh at that point, so I actually light a candle or two in my bathroom and brush my teeth and shower by candlelight. I live up in the mountains above San Francisco, and I’ve got a big skylight in my bathroom that looks up into a grove of redwoods. I try to remember to pause and look up at them and give some silent gratitude for waking up in such a beautiful, peaceful place. Then I pull together an outfit, boil some water for tea or coffee (my caffeine addiction is real), grab my bag, and head out to beat the traffic into the city.

B+C: What inspired you to start your company?

MH: A few years ago, I worked with a nonprofit organization in Kenya and met a young girl named Purity. She told me about how she and other girls in her village didn’t go to school when they had their periods because they didn’t have access to pads. They resorted to using sand, dirty rags, and whatever they could find. After hearing Purity’s story, I looked deeper into this issue and was shocked by how common period poverty is for women around the world. It also made me take a hard look into how my own period experience was broken — the stigma and shame that girls like Purity felt was all too prevalent in my own life and those of my friends as well. While we were lucky to have access to products, we still hid our tampons up our sleeves when walking to the bathroom and whispered about our periods. I knew there had to be a better way for women and girls around the world and here in the US. When I started Cora, I thought about Purity and decided that social impact needed to be a core focus of our business model. Ending period poverty is a passion of mine, and it’s a problem that I think that we can solve if we prioritize it as a global economic problem and work together.

B+C: How do you challenge yourself as an entrepreneur?

MH: I’m constantly on the lookout for new ways to serve women in their efforts to strive for wellness and the claiming of their power. It would be easy to rest on the laurels of Cora’s success, but instead we’re taking up massive challenges like developing and launching innovative new period care products and a radically transparent women’s health hub, Blood + Milk, which celebrates women’s bodies and provides them with the uncensored information that they need from doctors, doulas, healers, and real women. The site includes content about intimacy after childbirth, the female cycle, menopause, body image, miscarriages, and other topics that impact everyday women.

B+C: Tell us about how your family and friends help support your business.

MH: The way they support me has changed over the years as Cora has grown. At first, it was literal financial support or giving me a place to live while I was bootstrapping in the earliest days. Now that the business is strong and growing, it’s constant cheerleading and emotional support amid a crazy busy schedule, launches, and the general stress of managing a fast-growing startup.

B+C: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

MH: Trust the intelligence of life. Everything is happening exactly as it should be.

B+C: What do you love about your job?

MH: I love having the freedom to be a visionary and take risks with new ideas — and having the team and resources to bring those ideas to life. It’s incredibly humbling to have started where I did with the idea for changing the experience of womanhood and to have had it become what it is today.

B+C: Name two female heroes who you think should get a shout-out.

MH: Two young girls come to mind immediately — Megha from India and Rebecca from Kenya. I had the privilege of spending some time in India and Kenya this January with Cora’s impact partners, Aakar Innovations and ZanaAfrica, and saw firsthand how the economic success of these women impacted the community at large, particularly the young girls who talked about what they wanted to be when they grew up because they were seeing women in their community with careers. Female empowerment is absolutely critical in order to alleviate poverty, and leveling the educational playing field is where it begins. Girls are half of the potential workforce and deserve the same educational opportunities as the boys in their communities. It’s why we’ve placed such an emphasis on ensuring that girls have access to period products, because menstruation is a barrier to education for so many girls. In India, one in four girls drop out of school once they reach puberty, because 70 percent of Indian girls and women cannot afford menstrual supplies. Remarkably, when girls have access to menstrual supplies, the school dropout rate decreases by 90 percent. Investing in our girls — who are the real-life heroes — and their education is one of the smartest decisions we can make and a real step toward alleviating poverty.

B+C: If you could tell aspiring creative women anything, what would it would be?

MH: I spent much of my early career in my 20s trying to be the picture of a business professional. I wanted to fit in with the crowd that looked and sounded like the person I thought I should be. It took a lot of time, introspection, and formative experiences for me to realize that I could build a successful company on my own terms, as my free-spirited and wild self, if I was willing to be brave enough to do things my way, own the things I cared about, and not apologize for any of it. In fact, when you’re unapologetically yourself is when people actually start to respect you. So much of the ability to thrive and be successful in business and life is a positive attitude that supports problem-solving and growth rather than dwelling on the roadblocks or failures. No matter your background or qualifications or how much experience you have, if you’re willing to live and die by “I will figure it out,” you can achieve any dream.

What’s your dream career? Tweet us @BritandCo to let us know, and we could feature it in the next column!

(Photos via Cora)

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