Reflections on 30 Years of Menstrual Health and Equity Leadership
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Reflections on 30 Years of Menstrual Health and Equity Leadership

by Madeleine Shaw
Reflections on 30 Years of Menstrual Health and Equity Leadership

As I enter my fourth decade (I can’t believe it!) as a sustainable menstrual health and equity leader, I am prouder than ever of what we at Aisle and our colleagues in this space have created. 

One of the things that I am often asked is how things have changed in the reusable menstrual product space over 30 years, and my answer is that it’s a mix of mostly wonderful things. What stands out for me the most is that while our products have evolved with improved fabric technology, more diverse choices like period underwear and menstrual cups and more gender-inclusive language and marketing, our core values have not budged. 

Values like transparency, sustainability, supply chain ethics and product quality: putting planet and people ahead of profits. These are the things that continue to drive us, even as the growing market for reusable products increasingly attracts traditional capitalist business practices like hyper growth and fast fashion products.

Thanks to our decades of leadership among a growing community of other menstrual health and equity activists, companies, and non-profits, we are finally within sight of achieving our big vision: Universal access to safe, quality, sustainable, shame-free period care and education for everyone who menstruates.

I’ll break down what that looks like:

  • Universal access: Minimizing barriers like cost, physical access, social barriers like gender, and more. Menstrual products should be free and easy to access, no matter who or where you are.
  • Safe: Reusable products, especially period underwear, should be tested for the presence of PFAS chemicals, and the results be transparently shared. PS: there is no such thing as “PFAS-free”; ignore any brand that makes this irresponsible claim.
  • Quality: How and by whom something is made matters. With the rapid expansion of the market for reusable period products (yay!) there is no shortage of  companies flooding the market  with cheap, poorly-made, synthetic-heavy products (boo!). ‘Reusable’ does not necessarily make it effective or sustainable, and cheap probably means the fabric is not sustainable and somebody is bearing the true cost, typically factory sewers.   
  • Sustainable: At Aisle, we look at sustainability from multiple angles, including durability (how well-made it is) and fabric quality (choosing natural fibres like organic cotton and tencel, and recycled polyester for absorbency ). We stand behind our claims through life cycle environmental data to show customers the impact of switching to our products.
  • Shame-free: Pretty self-explanatory. Periods are normal. Anyone who menstruates should feel seen. No haters allowed. End of story.
  • Period care (not products): Aisle is about so much more than products. We are here to support your body doing its thing, whether it’s celebrating, mourning, coping, rocking out, healing or anything in between. 
  • Education: Beyond sharing basics like “how to choose the best period underwear for you” or “which reusable menstrual products are best for you”, we are also committed to creating  the necessary tools to understand our bodies and our period care choices. Your Period. Your World. is a menstrual health and equity guide for youth and Planet-Positive Periods toolkit (produced in partnership with and is a free resource to gain a deeper understanding about the environmental impact of diverse menstrual product options.
  • Everyone who menstruates: in other words, Size and Gender inclusion. At Aisle, this means not just straight-sized people, and not just cis-gender girls and women. We are here for trans, non-binary and other gender non-conforming folks, and designing products to properly fit plus-sized people with periods.

It’s my firm belief that the timing has never been better for achieving sustainable menstrual equity: the evidence is everywhere, from increasing numbers of post-secondary institutions and employers providing free reusable products for their students and team members, to period-friendly legislative changes and funding commitments from governments (go Scotland!) around the world. 

We are in the midst of a sea change in terms of how people think about who is responsible for providing menstrual products. Until now, the onus has been squarely on individuals: you bleed, you pay. What’s changing is the growing understanding that it actually belongs with institutions: if governments and educational institutions want to fully support people, then menstrual equity is an essential component. 

It’s heartening to see change on this scale happening after 30 years of effort. At Aisle, we’re playing a long game, and it feels amazing to be part of such significant victories for gender equity and sustainability.

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