When Tracy Puhl purchased GladRags in 2011, no one really wanted to talk about periods, or the brand’s reusable menstruation products.
“We just don’t talk about periods that much, and that normalization is important. A vast majority of how we select our menstruation products is based on what we were given when we were 12,” Tracy said. “We want to transform that experience into something more positive, and more of a conscious choice.”
In addition to GladRags signature washable natural cotton pads, which the small brand has been offering since its inception, GladRags gave its customers even more choice in 2017, when it created the XO Flo and XO Flo Mini: body-safe, USA-made silicone menstrual cups.
GladRags’ menstrual cups make insertion, removal, and wear more comfortable than other similar products on the market. And they’re ideal for backcountry use — no packing in/out one-time-use period products. Since menstrual blood is a natural, organic compound made up of elements like sodium, calcium, phosphate and iron, it can be buried in 6-8” deep catholes or emptied in outhouses.
(See below for a few tips on how to use reusable menstrual care products while hiking and backpacking.)
If you’re feeling some skepticism, you’re not alone. Even Tracy admitted she wasn’t initially sold on GladRags’ pads and panty liners. “I thought they were nice, but I didn’t think it was for me.”
Once she started using them, however, it completely changed her relationship with her period. “The act of taking a little more care for your body when you’re menstruating gives you a strong shift. It changed my perspective on my period. It was so magical, I wanted to share that with others.”
GladRags was born back in 1993, when founder Brenda Mallory had an “aha” moment while cloth diapering her newborn baby. Using reusable diapers for her daughter to better the environment, save some money, and provide more comfort all made perfect sense. Yet, why was she still buying the same disposable, plastic period pads for herself?
From a little sewing nook in her Portland, Oregon home, Brenda grew her reusable menstruation pads project, calling it GladRags. In British slang, “glad rags” are your fancy clothes. “It was her idea of turning the whole ‘on the rag’ concept on its head,” Tracy explained. “What if instead of being ‘the curse’, your period was something to dress up for, to feel fancy about?”
“We’ve been conditioned to think (menstruation) is inconvenient and messy, and we don’t want to talk about it. We’ve had years and years of learning about our periods, and it takes time to unlearn, too.”
Almost two decades later and nearing menopause herself, Brenda was ready to pass the torch; she sold the business to Tracy. “I had all the hubris of a 24 year old,” Tracy laughed. “But it worked so well because I had worked with Brenda for two years and was committed to staying true to the mission.”
Tracy even led the business to earn the prestigious Certified B Corporation distinction — a status it’s held since 2012.
With Tracy at the helm, GladRags remained dedicated to the design, general construction and 100% natural cotton materials that customers had grown to love. “They started out as really great products, but what needed to change was the culture around periods.”
GladRags is actively helping to spur that cultural change. For example, the brand intentionally uses the term ‘menstrual care products,’ versus the flawed ‘feminine hygiene products.’ “The old term is not very inclusive, and ‘hygiene’ indicates there is something unhygienic about the whole process.”
Over the years, sewing the cotton pads has grown from an in-home operation to now being locally cut and sewn by SpoolTown, a women-owned factory in Portland.
The fabric patterns used are diverse, just like their customers, Tracy said. “We offer a huge range of stuff because we have a huge range of menstruating humans.”
Options range from solid dark colors to solid light colors to “adorable little owls with little eyes and flowers and baskets of fruit,” Tracy laughed. “Or there’s someone who wants nothing with eyes, nothing looking at me.”
She laughed, “There are a vast range of preferences and they are all really strong, but it reflects our huge range of customers, from the 8-year-old girl to the woman who is nearing menopause wanting a stately floral.”
The finished products from SpoolTown are then transferred back to the GladRags headquarters via the B-line, an urban bike delivery service. Tracy chuckled, “We’ve definitely stayed true to our country roots.”
“Portland is a great place to be a small business, especially a woman-owned small business,” Tracy said. “There is a lot of support in the community and a lot of other folks in the same boat.”
“People are really outdoorsy, too. And, being outdoorsy gives you an appreciation for nature and a drive to conserve it.” In fact, 100% of GladRags’ manufacturing ‘waste’ (i.e. cutting room scraps) are offered up to local artists, teachers, quilters, and weavers.
“People get the why. They know this is good for the environment, good for my body and will save them money over time. People get that right away.”
“Once we can get people to try it, people will discover they’re so much more comfortable than disposables. We’re here when you’re ready to give us a try.”
As GladRags nears 30 years of keeping the menstruation conversation flowing, Tracy believes great progress has been made.
“Now there’s a lot more openness when talking about menstruation, and that’s really cool. I’d like to believe I had a hand in that. I’m very proud of what we’ve done to be a part of changing the conversation around menstruation and making it a bit more normal.”
TIPS FOR USING MENSTRUAL CUPS AND REUSABLE PADS IN THE BACKCOUNTRY
When you go to empty your menstrual cup, it is helpful to have a small dropper bottle of biodegradable soap so that you can rinse/clean the cup as well as wash your hands.
This approach can also be used for washing GladRags’ pads while backpacking — just be sure to bury the soap along with your blood, keeping everything well away from water sources. The pads themselves can then be hung to dry (draped on a tree branch or dangling proudly from your pack ... no shame here!).
Menstrual cups are easy to use but practice BEFORE you take one on a backpacking trip! Some finesse is required to avoid a Quentin Tarantino scene. Emptying for the first time in the shower can be a good way to go about it.
- Menstrual cups come in different sizes and it’s important to get the right size for you. The XO Flo tends to be the best choice for those with a heavier flow, higher cervix, or those who have given birth. The XO Flo Mini may be best suited for those with a lighter flow, lower cervix, sensitive bladder, or those who haven’t given birth.