Betting on Stigma

Following years of frustration of the gap – particularly concerning gender-based data – in research into the female body and menstrual cycle, Ashley and Olivia set out to create a preferred way to support their own personal experiences when it came to periods, and share those with a wider community of people who menstruate. What started as a practical solution to their personal problem quickly transformed into a massive business opportunity. We caught up with them to learn about why stigmatized problems present opportunities for education and how having a celebrity co-founder enables brands to be designated subject matter experts.

Stigma and the Lack of Education

Women’s wellness is a highly stigmatized topic. At the root of the problem is a deeply embedded need for broader education. Women have had to rely on being their own healthcare advocates because they don’t get all the clarity they need around their bodies at a doctor’s office.

The massive gap in education stems from the lack of research around the female body. For example, it wasn’t until 1993 that the FDA actually allowed women to participate in clinical studies. That means most of the drugs that they take were designed for a completely different body type, but commercialized for all. Today, women are demanding more for their bodies – specifically more knowledge about how the products they use effect their bodies. 

In 2021, Olivia and Ashley introduced Hummingway into the world with the mission of combating the stigma in the women’s wellness category and providing broader education. Their long term mission starts with their staple period patch, the Cycle Soother, that was formulated and developed by hand.

Start Where It’s Hardest

Starting in cycle wellness is perhaps the most challenging sub category in women’s wellness, but this was where Olivia and Ashley felt the movement for de-stigmatization and education needed to start. 

Olivia explains, “Women are directed to push through the pain, to avoid our natural sense, to hide from our hormonal and emotional shift. It was all about ways to pretend that you weren’t on your period or at least make sure that nobody knew.”

What makes the Hummingway journey so fascinating is that the two founders are working on a problem that is socially unacceptable to talk about. The problem is the discomforts associated with menstrual cycles that have been overly normalized and taught as “something to deal with.” They wanted to change that. But first, they needed a product that actually worked. 

The Hummingway Cycle Soother Patch

The Hummingway cycle soother period patch is a well researched, well designed product that helps alleviate the pains and discomfort associated with menstrual cycles. The long term goal of the company is to normalize and reclaim ownership around the conversation of menstruation.

Ashley shared, “The brand was really born out of frustration and personal need. Olivia and I were both searching for natural nontoxic solutions for our menstrual cycle symptoms and it was really shocking that there was such a lack of available options.”

That frustration was channeled into over two years of development work that led to one final lightbulb moment when their product launched – zero bad reviews and an organic community forming around the brand.

What they realized quickly is that they did not need to use Ashley’s public platform to sell products. Instead, their most loyal customer base was organically forming around the business and demanding more ways to be educated about their own bodies. 

It didn’t matter if Ashley and Olivia intended for this outcome. They built a commercially successful product and the brand quickly became a relied upon source of education. They had to make a decision to lean into that or back out completely. 

Lean In

And lean in, they did. Today Hummingway represents one of the strongest, most passionate consumer product communities. What’s worked so well for them is igniting a powerful voice that speaks for thousands of customers.

Hummingway customers are connected through a broader united effort that most legacy brands in the category shy away from.

Olivia shared, “We’re part of a cultural conversation. Customers don’t just come find us to get our products and our education – instead we are out in the world and making the change. We are breaking down that stigma by directly talking about it. This stigma for so long has been very dangerous.”

Garnering the trust of thousands of customers to purchase your product is one thing. Empowering them to have a voice and connect with the brand past their first purchase is an entirely different unlock for the business.

Leveraging Ashley’s public platform as distribution for educating their customer base has served Hummingway well. The biggest mistake we see founders make with a new celebrity partner is attempting to turn them into a distribution channel with an over fantasized misunderstanding of how talent influences commerce. Instead of relying on Ashley to be a promoter of the product, Hummingway is leveraging her as an educator and subject matter expert. 

Why they decided to do this rests in Ashley’s heavy involvement with the business. She is not a celebrity partner. She is a celebrity founder and Co-ceo.

As she explains, “ I could have used my platform to advocate for bigger conversation around women’s wellness, but there wasn’t even a brand that facilitated the solution that both Olivia and I felt we needed. I’ve always felt a certain responsibility to have this positive impact and to use my platform for good. I think brands should be held to the same standard.”

It’s the primary reason that Hummingway has decided not to work with influencers. The community already influences each other. 

Gaining the trust of a community is hard. It does not matter if you have a celebrity or not. Building a fired up community within the first two years is a unique accomplishment, but can unwind just as quickly as it was built.

At the heart of what’s working well for Hummingway is a brand creating “a safe space so people can come and share their story.” The product is the physical representation of that community. Sales are driven organically via word of mouth. As a matter of fact, Hummingway has spent no money behind marketing efforts.

Let’s be clear. What is working for Hummingway will not work for most brands. Most brands without a celebrity partner, should focus on traditional marketing efforts to grow sales. However, in efforts with their broader vision of de-stigmatizing women’s wellness, the early days of the community have proven to be an influential channel for growing the business.

Legacy vs Incumbent

Women’s wellness needed a brand champion. The truth remains that most of the existing demand is fulfilled by the largest conglomerates in the world with inferior products. 

As Ashley explains, “In the current state of the market, you have legacy brands that are not solving the problem of discomfort or pain associated with menstrual cycles. Instead, it’s more about selling band-aid solutions with no intention to improve product quality. The problem is that these manufacturers are not even customers of their own product. It’s dominated by people who do not menstruate.”

What Ashley is highlighting is a very important point: Most feminine care businesses sell solutions that alienate their own customer bases from the problems they deal with. Frankly, the best way to describe the phenomenon is “gaslighting” half of the world population to believe that pain and discomfort is a normal lifestyle. 

Arguably, the most interesting characteristic of the Hummingway customer base is that the largest population of them does not exist in New York City or Los Angeles. Although segments of their customers do live there, a majority of sales driven through Hummingway’s DTC channel are from other parts of the country and also international consumers. 

This came as a surprise to both founders. Olivia explained, “I was finding out that when we launched this, we anticipated there would be certain markets that we would play heavier in Los Angeles, probably in New York, because we live a bubble and people are a lot more vocal here. And it was really this wonderful “Ah-Ha” moment to see that a lot of our orders came from the Midwest.”

What started as a solution for a personal problem quickly became a larger effort to give people who menstruate a voice across the country. This is important for a big reasons.

It means that although Ashley’s platform is important to the long term education around the problem statement, the community is united by the problem statement, itself, and efficacy of the product.

What’s Next

Olivia and Ashley have aspirations of someday being an international brand that reaches billions of people. Headed into 2023, they believe they are on the right track to blow up their community and start a series of retail expansions that make their product more readily accessible.

Have you tried the Hummingway Cycle Soother patch yet? Our readers can get 30% off their website using promo code: community30