With a background in brand planning and strategy for major FMCG companies and founder of a number of ethical brands, Claire Lettice is a force to be reckoned with. We sat down to discuss her latest venture &SISTERS.
When did you set up &SISTERS?
This year – it is still a baby in relative terms. And we actually just launched our brand new nüdie period cup last week, available to buy on our website now. We are a new and exciting premium health and wellness brand with a vision to revolutionise the intimate feminine care industry, offering healthy, eco-friendly alternatives to mainstream products.
Why? What’s the story behind your brand?
The inspiration for creating a natural feminine care brand came after realising that most women are in the dark as to the products they use on a monthly basis. Mainstream brands tend not to list their ingredients & probably for good reason! They’re often made from non-breathable, non-biodegradable synthetic fibres. Having been a fan of organic cotton products for a while and never one to shy away from a challenge, a more natural & healthy period that was better for the body & the planet seemed a cause worth pursuing.
Having spent 20 years gaining experience and earning an income advising companies on how best to market their products, making a difference & giving back is also something I feel strongly about.
I first became aware of the taboo & hardship surrounding feminine care when travelling through S.E. Asia in my mid-twenties. Whilst visiting countries such as Nepal, Myanmar & India it was hard to find sanitary pads let alone tampons. And I was the lucky one. Unable to afford menstrual products many girls & women resorted to using leaves, bark, ash, mud & even animal dung. Of course these not only caused serious infections but were often ineffective. Fast forward twenty years & whether through poverty, politics, stigmatism or lack of awareness, easy access to feminine care products is still not the norm in many parts of the world.
How are you using social media to help you achieve your brand goals? Which platforms do you find especially helpful for getting the message out?
Social media is key in this day and age, especially for reaching our target customer, the young and ‘woke’ woman with a social conscious. I think the recent feminist conversations and solidarity campaigns such as #MeToo, #timesup and #heforshe are also making lots of women realise that they do have a voice. Social media is the ideal platform to facilitate this explosion of activism and awareness raising. Because of the visual focus, Instagram is definitely my preferred channel.
You have the most beautiful Instagram page – we especially love how you keep your content looking highly curated and glamorous, without going off-message! Do you have any tips for people looking to post engaging content on social media?
Thank you – I’m glad you like it! I think the key is in your question – engaging. Social media is there to break down barriers and facilitate discussion and information sharing. Instagram is an invaluable and free marketing tool. I think it is really important to get the mix between beautifully curated images and behind-the-scenes photos right. In my experience, followers love to see what happens at &Sisters HQ or during the production process, and this plays into our policy of complete transparency.
As far as tips, I would say don’t be afraid to post controversial content and start conversations. Some images are posted simply because they are beautiful and I want to share that with my followers – others are there to make a point. I think variety is key. Try not to recycle content if you can. And make sure to respond to as many comments and direct messages as possible!
You donate a portion of your profits to support women and educate girls – can you tell us a little more about your initiatives?
From day one, the &SISTERS mission has been about female empowerment and supporting disadvantaged girls across the world. Globally, millions of girls and women stay at home from school or work during their periods because they can’t afford menstrual products. &SISTERS is dedicated to helping to change this.
We’ve joined forces with AFRIpads, in Africa to provide sanitary pads to disadvantaged girls in Uganda, Kenya & Malawi and with Binti in India to support their work in providing access to pads, education and de-stigmatisation around menstruation.
How can other brands inspire social change?
There has been an explosion of socially conscious for-profit brands in recent years, and this model is a really accessible way to inspire social change. Partnering with a charity is one way, or creating your company around a problem or injustice that can be solved. Being vocal and using your following for good is the key. I think it is also really important to practice what you preach as an employer. Our launch patterns were all designed by young female designer Eve Warren, and moving forward we plan to use our packaging to give the opportunity to highlight other up-coming female designers.
What do you expect from the brands you buy from? (E.g. sustainable, ethical, price, quality)
Our intention as a company is to be transparent and honest about our products and their ingredients. We believe every woman has the right to know the ingredients of the products she’s using, so she can make the right choice with full knowledge. I expect the same due diligence for the brands I use, especially those that go into or onto my body. We exhibited at the Love Natural Love You event last weekend, and this was a fantastic opportunity to find new brands that share the &SISTERS values.
Are there any brands or businesses whose values & ethos you’re really impressed by?
The well-known Toms One for One model is of course very impressive. Since 2006 over 2 million children have been provided with shoes and medication to protect from hookworm. Their success has seen initiatives spread to improving sight, water, maternal health and unemployment. &SISTERS currently donates 10% of our profits however the one for one model is where we would love to be in the future. I definitely hope for &SISTERS to expand its support to tackling other women’s issues such as education, FGM and birth control. Indian company Bakeys is tackling the plastic pollution epidemic head-on with edible cutlery. After reading about the venture, I had a real light-bulb moment – why had no one thought of this before! Their vegan spoons made from millet solve two key issues in developing countries – landfills of plastic cutlery and malnutrition. It is such a revolutionary idea – completely biodegradable, vegan and edible.
Any other tips you’d like to share?
Know your customer. From research we commissioned last year we discovered that 80% of females believe (wrongly) that mainstream feminine care products are already made from cotton, when in fact the majority are made from synthetic fibres such as viscose. Unlike synthetic fibres, the organic cotton we use is hypoallergenic, skin friendly, pH neutral, breathable, naturally soft and naturally absorbent – the ideal material for sensitive areas.
We’ve taken on board other findings from our research too. Women were asking for both mixed absorbency packs and larger size packs and so we’ve added these to our product range.
Life can be hectic (especially when you’re running a business). How do you maintain a work-life balance?
Balance is key to maintaining wellbeing. In my down time, I love to sit in the garden and read, enjoying the gorgeous view of the Thames. When I manage to pull myself away from all the exciting developments at &SISTERS HQ, I love to travel with my husband.
We love that you stick to natural ingredients – what are some of you favourite natural beauty products?
I am a big Aesop fan. Their products are beautifully designed and of the highest quality. For affordability and product range, Lush products are also a go-to. I have recently discovered BYBI Beauty – a new skincare brand using 100% natural ingredients. They also have a gorgeously curated Instagram account. Check it out here.
What is the most important part of your beauty routine?
I would say I am quite low maintenance when it comes to my beauty routine. I do however love to be pampered and my main indulgence is probably my nails – I love to look down and see my hands and feet painted in bright colours. It makes me smile. Nailberry’s oxygenated nail lacquers are vegan and come in some fabulous shades.