August is a US-based lifestyle brand that offers sustainably packaged pads, liners, and tampons in personalised subscription boxes. With a focus on making sustainable products accessible to everyone who menstruates and building an inclusive brand, August is seeking to address some of the challenges and stigmas that continue to exist in the period product industry.
We spoke with Nick Jain, COO and co-founder of August, to hear more about how the company is expressing its values through its packaging.
Familiar products, sustainably packaged
For August, sustainability goes hand-in-hand with traceability. The material used to wrap the brand’s organic cotton pads “is a form of biodegradable bioplastic,” Jain tells us. In this case, “biodegradability refers to, when placed in certain conditions, they can degrade as fast as 216 hours.”
However, Jain acknowledges that there are “no real-world landfill conditions or compost conditions that meet the conditions of those accelerated hours” for the breakdown of the pad’s primary packaging. Following research to “figure out exactly how those 216 accelerated hours correspond to real-world conditions,” Jain is confident saying that the wrappers will “certainly [biodegrade] within a 12-month period”.
As for the disposal of the wrappers, in the US and Canada – currently, the only regions where August products are available – the main waste stream “is typical landfill”. Jain notes “there isn’t technically anything wrong with composting them, but what I will say is they won’t enrich the value of the compost in any way,” which disqualifies the wrappers from being considered fully compostable. This is something the company is working towards: “having the products be certified as compostable is something we care a lot about”.
Importantly, August is focused on offering sustainable products to its customers not only with transparency but also accessibility. Within the period care industry, sustainability narratives are often framed around reusable products like menstrual cups – but according to August’s research, “98%-plus of menstruators use tampons and pads”.
“Sustainability innovation is fantastic, but when it only applies to 2% of the population, it obviously has much less of an impact in terms of actually affecting the environment overall than creating a more sustainable version of something,” Jain explains. Yet single-use pads and tampons can come with unfair shame or guilt about the environmental impacts, and the responsibility is often placed on consumers rather than companies, even if the alternatives are just not possible for some people who menstruate.
There are a range of reasons why menstruators chose some period products over others. For example, conditions such as endometriosis and vaginismus can make it difficult or painful to use products like menstrual cups, which can also come with a higher upfront cost and additional care requirements. “Part of accessibility,” Jain adds, “is just feeling comfortable” using a product.
The embedding of sustainability in August’s pad packaging can help customers to reduce their environmental impact without compromising on functionality or changing their existing routines. By absorbing the environmental responsibility, August aims to ensure that no menstruators are excluded from the sphere of sustainable period products because of unfamiliarity or uncertainty – which, across industries, are factors that significantly impact a product’s actual sustainability.
Period care outside of the box
Another important factor in August’s outlook as a company is personalisation, which is linked with its secondary and tertiary packaging. The main way August’s pads, liners, and tampons reach customers is through subscription boxes.
The main reason for this, Jain explains, is customer research: “We hear people say time and again, I don’t want to have to go to the store and buy 36 tampons and 36 pads if I’m only going to use eight of each.” For Generation Z, the demographic August is mostly aimed at, Jain notes that travelling for work or education pre-COVID-19 meant people “didn’t necessarily know where they would be one month to the next and didn’t want to have to store hundreds of units of product.
“They wanted a way to customise their period care to meet their needs without having to buy a tonne of excess quantity.”
On August’s website, customers can ‘build a box’ with the type and number of tampons, pads, and liners they need, then, according to Jain, “get that box with exactly what they need delivered to their door every month or every three months or they can try it one time, if they prefer”.
August products are packaged in boxes, with different sizes for pads, tampons, and liners; these can be then arranged compactly inside the tertiary box, in which they are shipped, without the need for other forms of void fill and to allow for resource-efficient transit.
“Our packaging is, in part, post-consumer recycled,” Jain says about the boxes. Again, transparency is key, and Jain caveats that “not all of our packaging is post-consumer recycled”, partially “because it’s really hard to trace when materials are post-consumer recycled vs. just recycled materials”, and the company does not want to make false claims. Nonetheless, “the majority is recycled materials”.
“We try to source our packaging as locally as possible,” Jain adds. The secondary boxes in which the pads, liners, and tampons are packaged are sourced in the countries where they are produced: China for pads and Germany for tampons.
As for the exterior tertiary packaging, this is manufactured in New Jersey, “around an hour away from where we’re shipping everything out of”, the company’s Pennsylvania-based warehouse. “Those boxes are standard corrugated,” according to Jain, and are recyclable.
The boxes are an important part of August’s overall sustainably strategy: “we’re carbon neutral, and we don’t pass that cost down onto our customers.
“The large expenditure of carbon is something we care a lot about and have made active efforts to include as a part of everything we do” – including taking into account the source of packaging, and how far it has to travel alongside the product.
A brand built on and around experience
The design of August’s packaging is also significant within the period care space.
“We very intentionally keep them fairly plain,” Jain says of the corrugated boxes used to ship August products. While the company is very much for destigmatising periods and empowering menstruators, “there’s also a certain need in this space for there to be a level of discreetness”.
“The outside [of the corrugated box] is entirely brown,” giving no indication about the product inside when it is in transit or arrives at someone’s door. This is because some menstruators “may not want everybody to know what it is or, in certain cases, that they get a period”. For Jain, it’s important to make sure August is protecting its community, particularly “the trans and non-binary folk who are in our community […] who may want or prefer discreet packaging.”
Part of this protection also means considering the imagery and colours used for the wrappers themselves. “Products like these need to stop being gendered,” Jain states. “When we look at our generation, and the generations that are coming after ours, we’re starting to see that there’s a really great need.
“There’s no part of our packaging, our website, our messaging, where we will gender menstruation.”
The pad wrappers simply feature the August branding, an ‘A’ in the company’s signature font. The lack of gendered imagery – such as the Venus symbol, which was removed from Always’ packaging in 2019 – was “absolutely intentional” for August, but also a decision that Jain and his co-founder, Nadya Okamoto, made easily because “it’s a core part of our value system and our ethos as a brand”.
As for colour, the period product industry has a historic issue with shying away from red – for example, when demonstrating the absorbency of pads, the first advert to use red rather than blue liquid only aired in the UK in 2017. This can detach period products from their actual function and further stigmatise menstruation, which is something August is keen to avoid. August’s logo often appears in red, and some of its pads come in burgundy wrappers.
According to Jain: “The red in our packaging was not necessarily an allusion to period blood, but it was, in the same vein, the idea that no brand in the period product space has used red in their packaging, they haven’t used bold colours in their packaging.
“We’re going to be bold, we’re going to be real, we’re going to be honest in terms of how we talk about periods.” And this means avoiding the idea that “in order for [periods] to be alluded to in public imagery, we need to change the colour.”
“It also means, when it comes to our products, people feel like they can trust them more because we’re not trying to hide anything, we’re not trying to present periods in ways that aren’t realistic. We’re just being honest about periods and our product and our brand.”
Rather than an afterthought or a response to criticism, August has built inclusivity into its brand from the beginning, in part through a careful consideration of how its packaging makes its consumers feel. The brand, therefore, is built around the experience of menstruation – which is both diverse and individual – rather than policing or trying to define the identity of those who menstruate.
Jain concludes that August has developed products “that could be used comfortably by all menstruators and didn’t intrinsically stigmatise an entire group of menstruators by making the products about identity rather than menstruation.”
“We are working on evolving and changing our pad wrappers to make them even more environmentally friendly and we have some exciting updates on that that will be coming out in January,” Jain tells us.
Additionally, “our tampon wrappers aren’t biodegradable right now, but that is something we’re moving towards.”
The company is also thinking about its locations and what these mean for sustainability. For Jain, this is likely to involve some logistical reconfigurations. Currently hypothetical, Jain nonetheless offers some insight into the process: “If we can add different warehouses across the country and we’re shipping from different points, instead of shipping an average of X miles, we’ll be shipping an average of half of that per order.”
At the moment, the company is likely to remain based just in the US and Canada. But in the future, Jain says, “we’re definitely looking forward to the day that we expand to Europe and Asia and beyond.”