By Erica Bray
Mariah Mansvelt Beck and Wendelien Hebly are on a mission to "keep chemicals away from vaginas, globally."
Based in Amsterdam, the friends co-founded Yoni (Yoni.care), which sells 100-percent organic cotton tampons, pads and panty liners. It was launched after Mansvelt Beck discovered that she was developing cervical cancer, and her doctor advised to use organic cotton tampons. Mansvelt Beck had never questioned what went into her store-bought feminine hygiene products. Like many women, she didn’t think to check ingredients on these packages the way she did with food, cosmetics and clothing.
Curiosity inspired her and Hebly to investigate, and they learned the majority of feminine products are a blend of synthetic materials, such as rayon and plastics, which are often bleached white and can contain pesticides. What’s more, studies such as one conducted by health advocacy group Women’s Voices for the Earth found that some of these materials create dioxin, a probable cancer-causing agent. This discovery shocked them.
"These are products that we had been using for 15 years, once a month, in and near one of the most absorbent parts of our bodies," says Hebly. "We feel that women should have a choice in the products that they use."
The duo decided to make it their mission. They left their jobs to develop an 100-percent organic product line and educate women to choice without the chemicals. It started with a crowdfunding campaign in October 2014. "The crowdfunding was really based on if women could pre-order the product, and then once it went into production we would send it to them," says Hebly. "We had a target set of 20,000 euros [US$22,140]. We achieved 27,000 euros [US$29,900]."
Mansvelt Beck and Hebly used this momentum to launch a website, www.Yoni.care, in January 2014 to sell their organic products and continue advocating choice for women on a global scale. While they first focus on growing the business in The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, their long-term ambition is to operate on an international scale – a factor that played into choosing a business name and corresponding domain name. Hebly spoke with Name.Kitchen about selecting a name that would resonate with a global audience.
What does ‘yoni’ mean?
Yoni comes from the Sanskrit language, and it means the origin of life. But it also means vagina. As we were focused so much on the vagina, we thought why not just be bold and name it as it is.
Why did you feel that you needed to be “bold” in the name?
We don't want to make something nicer or prettier or better than it is, we just say what it is. It's also one of the most respectful words there is for vagina.
What was the company name brainstorm like? It's sensitive subject matter, so it couldn't have been an easy product to name.
We went to TEDxWomen and we spoke at TEDxWomen about [our mission], and at that stage, it was also still just an idea worth doing. We didn't even have a name at that point. We we’re ready to be tied to a name yet.
But we actually spent a long time on [developing the name], because we were busy with setting up the whole business. We were actually working under a different name originally. But we weren't happy with that name …
And that name was?
It was called FIP. Or, F-I-P. Feminine Intimate Products. [laughter] But Feminine Internet Products still doesn't tell you what we do. It was super important for us to find a name that actually said what we were doing instead of it being an abbreviation.
Where did the inspiration for Yoni originate? Do you recall the moment?
I was in a coffee house, and I gave a person my business card, and it says: "We aim to keep chemicals away from vaginas globally." As I was talking to this person, this woman next to me turned around and said, "Oh, I just heard a bit of your story." She was from India, and she said, "Do you know what we call it back home? We call it yoni." We had never actually thought of using it as our name for the product until we met our creative agency, and that's when all parts of the puzzle kind of fell together. We took the leap of faith and called our business Yoni.
Why does the name work?
Aside from the real meaning of the word, for the people who don't know what ‘yoni’ means, it's at least a very personal word because it can also be the first name of someone. And also, the syllables are easily pronounced in most languages. So it's also a very international word, a word that you can pronounce in most languages.
Speaks to your goal of taking this international, then?
Yes, we have global ambitions. Because this is a topic that reaches all women. And all women, we believe, should have the choice in what they use.
How does you domain name, Yoni.Care, also position you internationally?
‘Dot-care’ [.care] crosses borders. Anybody who speaks English knows what "care" means. Whereas if we had 'dot-nl' [.nl is the country-specific domain for The Netherlands], then you only have the Dutch market.
It’s a memorable website address, as well.
Oh, we loved it from the get-go. 'Yoni.Care' describes exactly what we do. Menstruation is a topic that crosses borders, race, and religion. You really notice that if women hear or read that there is a choice they can make, then it's like a switch is flipped. They just want to be able to choose, which I believe is the right of every woman. And that's what ‘dot-care’ does – it crosses borders. It shows we care.
Learn more about this business by visiting the website www.Yoni.care.