French women have been buying period underwear for the last five years, evidence of a buzzing new market that has emerged in France.
Items include period knickers or swimsuits able to absorb blood thanks to a new technological patented invention.
They have proven to be more comfortable than pads and menstrual cups.
Period pants on the highstreet
Some 8% of French women bought period underwear in 2020, the equivalent of 10.8 million units sold, in a market that has increased 37-fold, and where products are now featured in supermarkets such as Monoprix or at Galeries Lafayette.
Hundreds of companies now compete on the new market with independent companies such as Réjeanne, Sisters Republic, Célisette or Perdième, and more established companies such as Etam have extended their product range to include menstrual underwear.
Inspiration from America
“We basically crafted the underwear we wanted to wear,” said Wye Morter, who co-founded Réjeanne with her friend Alexandra Rychner during the months after Ms Rychner gave birth.
Mrs Morter and Rychner said they wanted a product that was able to absorb high quantities of blood from a period but did not require to change pads, tampons or cups, resulting in greater comfort in personal hygiene.
“If you are investing in the menstrual underwear market, you might want it to be beautiful,” said Ms Morter, adding that they got some inspiration by studying products from American company Thinx – with no French company having yet positioned itself in the menstrual underwear market.
Successful crowdfunder reflected demand in France
Ms Morter and Rychner, former lawyers themselves, patented their knickers for their unique Oeko-tex® fabric that was capable of absorbing blood through multiple layers of cotton fibres.
They opened a crowdfunding page that collected €230,000 in just 45 days, closing sales with 3,500 clients who had ordered a total of 7,500 pairs of knickers.
“This is when we understood the size of this new market,” said Ms Morter, who adds that the crowdfunding provided countless thankful messages from clients.
Réjeanne, named after an old French name that took roots from the Latin ‘regina’ (queen), has sold 500,000 knickers since its crowdfunding campaign in October 2018.
The company now employs 10 people.
Réjeanne products are distributed in Monoprix, Bon Marché, Galeries Lafayette and Printemps.
They extended their products to menstrual swimsuits in July 2019 and traditional lingerie following the economic success.
Companies used to market periods as ‘shameful’
Comfort, value, health and eco-friendliness are the main selling points that customers are looking for in menstrual lingerie products.
It follows a societal change in which women are no longer concerned about hiding their period, the result of years of marketing strategies from feminine hygiene companies.
“The taboo around the period is slowly crumbling,” said Elise Thiébaut, author of ‘Ceci est mon sang: petite histoire des règles’ (This is my blood: a short history of periods), explaining the reason why such products had not been conceptualised earlier.
Ms Thiébaut explained that companies marketed the period as “shameful” with the hygienist idea that blood needed to be hidden, adding that products were designed in white and blue so that it highlighted blood.
Ms Morter gave similar explanations when asked about the recent technological feature, mentioning the term “taboo” as well.
Toxic shock syndrome fears
Ms Thiébaut said companies in the 19th century favoured single-use products to enhance profits.
But pad and tampon popularity decreased over the years particularly after several clients began fearing toxic shock syndrome, the most emblematic figure being American model Lauren Wasser who had both legs amputated as a consequence.
However, 74% of French women have reported being unwilling to swim in the sea, 65% unwilling to dress in a swimsuit and 57% unwilling to practise sports while menstruating, according to a poll*.
Likewise, several studies have reported high levels of pesticides within feminine protection products since they were fabricated from organochlorine derivative products.
*Poll carried out by Ifop for care company Intimina on 1,010 women aged from 15 to 49 through questionnaires between April 17 and April 18, 2021.