Business

How joni is drawing awareness to menstrual issues in a stigmatized industry

Victoria-based co-founders, Jayesh Vekariya and Linda Biggs, launched company in 2020 to combat menstrual inequality

By Josh Kozelj
June 11, 2021
Business

How joni is drawing awareness to menstrual issues in a stigmatized industry

Victoria-based co-founders, Jayesh Vekariya and Linda Biggs, launched company in 2020 to combat menstrual inequality

By Josh Kozelj
Jun 11, 2021
Photo: Tegan McMartin / Submitted
Business

How joni is drawing awareness to menstrual issues in a stigmatized industry

Victoria-based co-founders, Jayesh Vekariya and Linda Biggs, launched company in 2020 to combat menstrual inequality

By Josh Kozelj
June 11, 2021
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How joni is drawing awareness to menstrual issues in a stigmatized industry
Photo: Tegan McMartin / Submitted

Capital Daily business coverage is supported by Tiny but the stories and journalism are produced independently by Capital Daily. Per our policy, Tiny had no editorial input into this story.

While working on his master of business administration at UVic near the end of 2018, Jayesh Vekariya was tasked with coming up with a business idea for a course. The semester-long project forced him to look at different industries, and, in the process, he stumbled upon a startling statistic. 

According to a 2018 report by Plan International Canada, one in three Canadians under the age of 25 can’t afford period care products. 

“This was a bummer and really shook me,” Vekariya, co-founder of joni, a Victoria-based period care startup, told Capital Daily. 

“Why is this the case in such a wealthy country?” 

As Vekariya moved along with his school project, he started to realize the need to address the issue stretched outside of the classroom. Upon graduating from UVic in 2019, he spent months researching the landscape of the period care industry in Canada and figuring out ways to raise capital for a startup. 

As a man, however, Vekariya acknowledged his limited knowledge in the industry. 

After months of research, one of his colleagues got him in touch with Linda Biggs, a Royal Roads University graduate with a certificate in executive coaching and leadership and a long background in entrepreneurial guidance. 

Initially meeting with Biggs in December 2019, Vekariya’s goal was to convince her to invest in his vision. But the two quickly connected on a conceptual idea for the business, and Vekariya had an idea. 

“After talking with her we felt completely aligned, and I was like, ‘Why don’t you come on as a co-founder and we can turn this amazing idea into an actual business,’” Vekariya said.  

Three months after meeting together, Vekariya and Biggs launched joni as a business that not only sells their own pads but strives to address the period poverty issue through a “one-for-one” model that donates products across the country with each purchase on their website. 

Since forming in March 2020, joni has donated over 47,000 pads to non-profits throughout the country

“As a consumer, I felt there was a gap, and thought this is a huge opportunity to make an impact in this space that hasn’t changed much in so long,” Biggs said. 

“I have two daughters and they’re getting to that stage in their lives, I thought, considering how much the world has changed, the period care industry… it hasn’t changed along with it.”

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Addressing the stigma

In 2019, BC became the first province nationwide to mandate that all public schools provide free menstrual products in bathrooms. While times are changing, there’s still a stigma around talking about periods and menstruating. Biggs says there are systemic issues that make discussions around periods taboo.  

The industry is plagued with antiquated terminology like “feminie hygiene” in terms of period care and hyper-feminine pad packaging, she says, along with inequities across the country to afford the products.

Vekariya also says the lack of women in leadership positions or who invest in pad companies is a problem. Coupled with the fact that many big-brand companies have been successful for decades at selling their period products, they may not be willing to alter what’s already making them a profit.

“It’s a highly dominated male industry,” Vekariya said. “It’s difficult to convey a problem to male investors that they have never faced.”

Vekariya was shy at first about gathering information about periods. While it wasn’t hard to convince consumers about joni, he says, he struggled to convince himself that he could speak on behalf of folks who experience menstruation.

“The more I talked about it, and the more I presented this idea to other people, I became more comfortable talking about periods with everyone,” Vekariya said.  

Despite the taboo nature of the subject, joni has been able to break through in the industry by not running away from the period stigma. On their webpage, they outline the product’s ingredients, why it’s important to ditch stereotypes, and human anatomy diagrams.

“We kind of talk about it like, what I consider, the Schitt’s Creek model,” Biggs said.

“They never asked, ‘What could we do if the world was free of homophobia?’ They never really asked permission, they just showed what was possible.”  

Competing against big-box retailers

Since the period care industry is led by large companies, such as Always or Tampax, who have garnered a consumer following across generations, it can be difficult for a smaller, socially active business like joni to break through.  

Vekariya says what makes his company stand out against larger competitors, though, is multifaceted. For starters, the ingredients that go into their pads—organic bamboo, plant-based protective layers, along with a biodegradable and plastic-free wrapper—make them an attractive and eco-friendly option.

In addition to the product specifics, he says, joni’s free shipping pledge increases access to consumers across the country struggling to find an affordable option.

“Plus, the community is supported nationwide through one-for-one,” Vekariya said. “It’s just a donation, but it’s a full ecosystem that we are building that’s good for you, your body, the community, and the planet.”

The pandemic also shone a light on the intense demand for period care products.

Having launched with some investment, joni quickly started donating products at a rate, Biggs estimates, of about 400 pads to one throughout 2020 to places including the United Way and non-profits in Victoria who needed to keep up with the pandemic demand. She hoped that move would spark interest in the company and eventually balance out to their original one-for-one model.

“The struggle for us was finding that balance of wanting to help, and also being able to survive as a business,” Biggs said.

Potential investors, unsure about the length of the pandemic, were also hesitant to invest in a new company. However, by the end of last year, as pandemic life set in, investors started coming to joni—expressing interest in their product and platform, and fuelling their next round of growth.

The idea behind joni may have only been formed in a classroom three years ago, but Biggs and Vekariya have high ambitions for its future.

Currently, you can only purchase products on their website, but down the road they hope joni becomes a household name across Canada and gives consumers bodily agency.

“We want joni to show what’s possible,” Biggs said. “In a world where people who menstruate are empowered.”

The Brief: Jayesh Vekariya and Linda Biggs

Capital Daily: What does Victoria need to make it easier to run a business here?

Vekariya: Victoria already has an amazing angel and entrepreneur community in place that makes it one of the finest places to launch and run a business. Everyone thinking of launching a business should definitely get the maximum out of UVic's Coast Capital Innovation Centre and other local startup ecosystems such as VIATEC, Alacrity, and Capital Investment Network.

What worries you most about your business?

Biggs: Having the funding to bring our products and mission to life in order to make the impact we want to see in this space across Canada.

What excites you the most about your business?

Vekariya: The scale and the complexity of this industry is fascinating. We have an opportunity of a lifetime to make safe and sustainable period care products accessible to everyone that bleeds, no matter the economic status, gender, or age. We have the tools, resources, and community support to innovate products and business processes to impact this industry and we don't want to miss this opportunity.

What other local company or business leader do you look to for guidance?

Biggs: There are so many amazing and inspiring leaders in this town and we're lucky to be able to call a few of them friends and advisors. Depending on the challenge or need, we approach a few different people who always have insight or ask the questions we need to consider to get unstuck. Personally, I didn’t always feel this way. About five years ago, as a leader in the tech community, I felt totally alone and didn’t have other female leaders around me that I could connect with. From that, I learned the importance of community—it takes a village to raise an entrepreneur.

If you had to run another business in town, what would it be and why?

Vekariya: I would probably work on a project to solve the problem of incontinence for the elderly. It's not a sexy industry but it needs immediate attention because Canada has such a large elderly population that needs support with incontinence. The industry is a bit of a dinosaur and super wasteful. A little innovation can make a huge impact on both people and the planet.

As the world population ages, the industry will have a huge upside scaling option as well. No matter what business I do, I try to keep it simple and focused on the triple bottom line: people, planet, and profit.

If you had $10,000 to invest, where would you invest it?

Biggs: Besides joni, we have a FrontFundr campaign going right now that is running for just a few more weeks that is democratizing funding with a minimum investment of $500—I would love to invest in other early state social enterprises that are looking to challenge the industry status quo.

How do you stay inspired to keep running your business?

Vekariya: Startup life is such a rollercoaster. But luckily, we have an amazing support system that really keeps us going. I would love to give a huge shout out to Wendi, Jinal, and Sam who work everyday to make joni better, and obviously, Linda, my co-founder, who I can completely rely on, and Elizabeth, our board member, who always cheers us up and supports us with everything from strategy recommendations to network introductions.

When I have such a great team around, I don't really have to seek inspiration from the outside. Plus, everyone at joni deeply understands the impact of this project on people and the planet and are absolutely committed to menstrual equity in Canada so that helps as well.

What is the first thing you’ll do when we can all stop with pandemic protocol?

Biggs: Hug everyone. I miss hugs. And book travel. Maybe even both at the same time!

What do you consider your biggest failure, and how did you overcome it?

Vekariya and Biggs: Not trusting our gut when it came to who we worked with early on. That was a big lesson. We learned a lot about each other and how we have each other's back. We’re stronger as a founding team because of it and we’re thankful for the incredibly supportive group of investors and advisors we have on our team cheering us on.

What do you wish you knew before starting joni?

Vekariya and Biggs: How expensive things were going to get with COVID. It really eats into our budget and, when you don’t have a big one, that can have huge impacts.

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