In 2018, April Roy went on an annual girls trip. As a mom of two, it’s something she looks forward to every year. This time around, her posse visited Los Angeles, where they enjoyed the beach, the scenery and the restaurants. On the last day of the trip, Roy’s friend, a New York native who usually wears all black, was so excited to get a chance to wear white pants.
Her big fashion statement, unfortunately, ended with a period — her period.
The women visited every store near their AirBnb in search of pads or tampons, and found nothing quick, easy and convenient for her friend to feel comfortable on the flight back. She ended up purchasing a large box of bulky pads that didn’t even fit in her bag.
Roy couldn’t believe there wasn’t an alternative to buying an entire box of products in a period emergency, where the goal is just to feel clean and comfortable until you’re able to get to your next destination. She thought, surely every woman knows the panic of getting their period unexpectedly, right? In fact, the thought bothered her so much that she set out to create a solution herself soon after getting home from her trip.
“I basically bought every single item I thought that we would need for the situation, and I was like, ‘Okay, it has to be something small and discreet that I can put in my purse, my car, or even if I have on a jacket, it can fit in my pocket’,” Roy said. “My first packaging was notebook paper taped together and I started putting all of those items in that notebook paper, and it worked.”
That notebook paper prototype was the beginning of what would become femPAQ — a feminine emergency kit for menstruating people. Today, the packaging has been updated to industry standards, featuring a compact teal and purple container that holds one tampon, one pad, one panty Liner, one black panty, one feminine wipe, 1 2-tablet packet of ibuprofen, and one mini organic dark chocolate bar. It comes in small, medium, large and extra large, with the differences relating only to panty size.
However, the product alone couldn’t accomplish what really bothered Roy.
When she first began researching to find out if there really wasn’t any kind of emergency kit that existed already, she found herself also researching why such a thing wasn’t as commonplace as she expected.
“It became so much more to me than just this product, it became a movement, because now I understand what the problem is,” Roy said. “We don’t want to talk about period stigma or people that don’t have access to proper period products.”
At femPAQ, Roy and her team’s ultimate goal is to create period equity, normalize periods, and end period stigma. The consumers of her product, menstruating people, already know there is a problem. The challenge was convincing the men in leadership roles that accessibility to emergency feminine hygiene products was a necessity.
“The problem doesn’t stem from us, so what we needed to do is get corporate offices, big box retailers, and any other space where women exist, to carry our products so that they can amplify our voices. So they can create a space where women can feel safe,” Roy said.
From work to school to athletics to traveling, Roy noticed that many of the people in these leadership roles were men who genuinely didn’t realize there was a problem. Education soon became an instrumental part of femPAQ’s presence. Roy and her team began initiating partnerships with the Greater Bentonville Chamber of Commerce and Arkansas Period Poverty Project, as well as with social media icons.
“I’m usually pitching this to men,” Roy said. “Men are like, ‘why can’t you just use a tampon?’ so I have to go into a big spill and it’s usually me pulling on their emotions, saying ‘hey, you may not be in your wife’s business like that or your daughter’s business like that, but imagine you guys are going camping and she gets her period, what are you going to do?’”
Roy said she tries to put men, fathers, and husbands in theoretical situations to help them understand the importance. The COO of Fempaq is a male with a military background and Roy said he was shocked to find out that many of his female soldiers were finding themselves in these situations while deployed.
“Women in those situations, they can’t express themselves, because they don’t want to seem weak,” Roy said. “They suffer in silence.”
Along with the military, Roy has worked to get femPAQ into other unique industries where female hygiene needs are often overlooked, such as the travel industry, including airlines and hotels.
“If I knew an airline was carrying femPAQ, even if I wasn’t the creator of Fempaq, or I knew a hotel had it, then guess what, I’m likely to fly with that airline, I am likely to stay at that hotel because I know for sure that they have my back in a stressful situation, because stress is one of the biggest causes of an early period [and so is] long haul travel,” Roy said.
She mentioned that many hotels will carry extra toothbrushes and razors, but it’s always a toss up as to if they’ll have feminine hygiene products in stock. Other areas the femPAQ team has a close eye on are hospitals and gyms given that strenuous work and exercise can also cause early periods.
“If you go to the gym and you get your period, most likely you’re going home, because you don’t have anything,” Roy said. “Over half the world’s population menstruates and it’s still taboo. Frontline workers who are going 80-90 hours a week are likely not thinking about their periods.”
Roy sometimes experiences pushback from people who mention that there are period machines available in most public bathrooms, but she encourages people to think a little deeper about how old those products are and what they’re even made of. Lastly, what happens if you don’t have the quarter that it costs to get them?
Roy said she’s found herself in this particular position and apparently, so have many other women. The confidence that she was going the right direction came, from all places, one night while watching comedian Amanda Seales’ stand-up debut “I Be Knowin’”
“She had a segment talking about being a menstrual MacGyver and how we had to go in the bathroom and create pads from toilet paper and I was like, ‘yeah, I’m on the right path.’ That was a sign,” Roy said.
Because of the fear of what pH-balance-ruining chemicals might be lingering in those old machine products, all of femPAQ’s products are natural and organic, except for the ibuprofen. However, the team is working with food scientists to create a ginger chocolate that is good for nausea and cramps.
While the product is available mainly through their website right now, the femPAQ team has been approached by Walgreens and is currently raising Series A funding to hopefully make them the first big retailer.
“A lot of people thought you could go and buy [femPAQ] there already, but I used that as a tactic for them to ask so that the retailers would be like, ‘oh well what is femPAQ? Why is everyone asking for it?’” Roy said.
Because of the surge in donations from teachers to get femPAQ in their classrooms or schools, another one of Roy’s goals is to produce a kit for young girls.
“We’re hoping to create a femPAQ junior for those kids that are starting their periods for the first time, so I’ve started looking into companies that have already started creating products for younger girls,” Roy said. “A lot of people don’t understand what that can do to psychologically as a child, getting your period unexpectedly.”
As the mother of 5- and 7-year-old daughters, Roy wants them to be taken care of as well. While she says she hasn’t had the ‘period talk’ with them just yet, they’re already following in her entrepreneurial footsteps and have big ideas about things to invent in the future.
“I never wanted to own my own company, I always wanted to work for a great company and I found out I’m gonna have to create that great company I want to work for,” Roy said. “When you do stuff around your kids very positively, they want to do that stuff too.”
At the end of the day, femPAQ serves a lot of purposes, but for Roy, its biggest inspirational message is the reminder for mothers, daughters, and female teachers, clients, customers, patients and leaders is that “Women can run anything, because we do it while bleeding.”