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This Irish Start Up Brings Eco-Friendly Period Products To Your Door

The founders of Cork-based Riley are on a mission to make period care more sustainable

Created by three friends in West Cork, Riley is a new Irish period protection subscription service that offers a range of tampons and pads delivered to your door on a monthly or quarterly basis.

All the products are made from certified organic cotton and the majority of the packaging is compostable, while the applicators on the tampons are bio-based and made from sustainable sugar cane. 

We caught up with Fiona Parfrey, co-founder of Riley, to find out more about turning an idea into a brand (which sold out in its first two weeks) and the most surprising thing she's discovered about period care. 

Where did the idea for RIley come from?

It actually stemmed from personal frustration – of not having period products when we needed them. Myself and two friends Aine Kilkenny and Lauren Duggan, now co-founders of Riley, were catching up over a glass of wine one evening at Aine’s place when an unexpected period arrived. Typically, even though this happens monthly, there wasn't a tampon in sight.

This fueled a conversation around managing periods and we believed there was a better way. We started to look for a solution and it led us down a shocking discovery path - bringing to light how much plastic waste is in our period products. We knew we couldn’t be the only ones who wanted eco-friendly tampons and pads, and so Riley was born.

DId you learn anything surprising about period products? 

So much! We had no idea there was so much plastic in tampons and pads. A woman uses an average of 11,000 tampons in her lifetime which is equal to 5,500 plastic bags. Plastic not only comes with environmental problems (in fact, it takes 500-1,000 years for a pad to break down), but it also comes with health concerns. Plastic is made with chemicals and its use in period products seemed crazy to us since tampons are put inside your body. That’s why we make all of our products with 100 per cent certified organic cotton – nothing else. We want our products to be better for the planet and better for your body.

Fiona Parfrey, front, with fellow Riley co-founders Aine Kilkenny and Lauren Duggan.

Is there a growing awareness of the sustainability aspect of period products? 

Yes but slowly. In the last five years there’s been a huge focus on becoming sustainable in your kitchen and in your wardrobe, but not as much of a light is shone on sustainability in your bathroom. It’s definitely starting to come more to the forefront but we have a long way to go. One of the main things we want to ensure is that women don’t feel any “eco-guilt” just for menstruating, something many women have no choice over.

How has the response been so far?

It’s been incredible, far better than we expected. It seems there are so many women that want to make the switch to eco-friendly period products but don’t want to use menstrual cups or reusable underwear. So they like the option of sustainable tampons and pads that are delivered through your letterbox when you need them. We actually didn’t expect so many orders and sold out of boxes in the first two weeks. It was a good problem to have and thankfully, we’re back in action now.

What was the most challenging thing about setting up the business? 

I think the most challenging thing about setting up any business is actually starting; ripping off the Band-Aid and committing. You can’t actually test anything out and find out what is and isn’t working until you’ve started.

And the best thing? 

The best thing about working on Riley is having a solid team, in my two co-founders. It’s made the world of difference compared to going it alone like I did with my first business. [Parfrey also set up SunDrift, which offers sustainable outdoor gear.] You get to share all of the highs and lows with other people and it makes it all so much more fun.

What are the plans for the future? 

As a new business, we’re very keen to listen to our customers’ feedback and figure out other ways in which we can make women’s health and lives easier to manage. We have lots of big ideas and just need to figure out the right direction to take.

A subscription to Riley starts at €6.90. See weareriley.com for more.

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