Gooder Podcast Featuring Denielle Finkelstein
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In today’s episode, we are joined by a highly accomplished retail executive with a proven track record in growing large scale businesses profitably and creating new business opportunities within brands, sharp business acumen with a keen ability to assess business conditions and manage towards opportunity with a relentless focus on the customer, Denielle Finkelstein, President and Co-Founder of TOP (the organic project). She is experienced in overseeing brand development and strategy, launching businesses, Omni-channel merchandising, marketing, international expansion and operations. She is also recognized as a passionate and strategic leader, known for relationship building.
Join us as we dive deep into healthy living, her organic business, plant-based organic period products and the challenges that come with being an entrepreneur and how to overcome them. We discuss the decisions that helped her leave the retail fashion world to focus on a passion and build a brand (from the ground up) to tackle the legacy taboo of period products, building a greener product and doubling down on the leadership and innovation that she’s been craving.
In this episode we learn:
- The genesis of The Organic Movement (TOP) – organic/natural period products.
- How Gen Z is changing the conversation around personal care and period products.
- What plant-based innovation has been a game-changer for the brand and the industry.
- How the leadership experience of a large retail brand helps, and hinders the start-up business process.
- The challenges legacy conventional brands may have converting natural shoppers.
- What period poverty is and how pervasive it is in the United States.
- Denielle’s call to arms to major period product brands.
About Denielle Finkelstein:
Denielle Finkelstein, President and Co-Founder of TOP (the organic project) was raised in Rhode Island and graduated from Union College in Schenectady, NY. Post graduation, she moved to NYC with her future husband and started her career in fashion retail at Ann Taylor. She went on to executive merchandising roles at Coach, Kate Spade and Talbots. She was always recognized for her strength in building businesses, finding the white space and managing high performing teams. At the height of her career, she began looking for more purpose in her work and how she could do things differently for future generations.
After spending 22 years in fashion retail and sitting in the C-suite, she took the best risk both professionally and personally and left the corporate world to join Thyme Sullivan, to launch TOP the organic project. As moms, they went searching for organic period products that were healthy and safe for their girls and the environment and came away empty-handed. They have set out to build TOP as a business to drive positive social and environmental change. TOP is bringing innovation to period products with Organic and Plant-based Tampons & Pads. What we put in and on our bodies matters more than ever!
TOP (the organic project) – We are here to educate, enlighten, and embarrass ourselves so that every girl and woman on the planet has access to healthy, 100% organic, eco-loving tampons and pads. and every step of the way, we’ll inspire stigma-shattering conversations about periods.
Poo-Pourri – We’re Poo~Pourri. A poop-positive brand dumping the shame around the things we *all* do. We deliver quality products made with natural essential oils that leave the bathroom smelling amazing and liberate you from harmful ingredients and inhibiting worries.
Beautycounter – One by one, we are leading a movement to a future where all beauty is clean beauty. We are powered by people, and our collective mission is to get safer products into the hands of everyone. Formulate, advocate, & educate—that’s our motto for creating products that truly perform while holding ourselves to unparalleled standards of safety. Why? It’s really this simple: beauty should be good for you.
Diana Fryc: Hi, welcome to the Gooder podcast, I’m your host Diana Fryc. As partner and CMO of Retail Voodoo and award winning branding agency, I have met with and worked with some of the most amazing women in the naturals industry, food, beverage, wellness, fitness, and as such I decided to create the gooder podcast to interview these great people and subject matter experts and have them share their insights, expertise, passion and to help businesses all around the world become gooder. I have a very interesting guest to introduce to you today, Denielle Finkelstein. Denielle is co-founder and president of TOP. Do you prefer the organic project when you talk to people or do you prefer TOP?
Denielle Finkelstein:Oh, we kind of say both. We always give the friends first of talking about it but then we use it as our-
Diana Fryc: Okay. TOP is an organic eco friendly period product brand. Danielle was raised in Rhode Island. She graduated from Union College in Schenectady, I love that New York. Post-graduation, she moved to New York with her future husband and started her career in fashion retail at Ann Taylor. She went on to become an executive in merchandising roles at Coach, Kate Spade and Talbots. Then in 2018, after spending 22 years in fashion retail and sitting in the C suite, she took the best risk of both her professional and personal life and left the corporate world to join. Is this your cousin?
Denielle Finkelstein:Yes, it is.
Diana Fryc: And it’s time celebrate Thyme Sullivan, to launch TOP the Organic Project. So today we get to welcome Denielle.
Denielle Finkelstein: Thank you, so excited to be here. Really, really excited to be here to share our story.
Diana Fryc: Oh, good. How’s Rhode Island today? You were in Rhode Island, right?
Denielle Finkelstein: I am. Yes. I got my husband to move back here five years ago. We were in New York, it’s nice to be home and it’s beautiful out here today.
Diana Fryc: I’ve been on the East Coast, not to Rhode Island.
Denielle Finkelstein: Oh, it’s a beautiful place to be, good beaches.
Diana Fryc: Good beaches. Really? Okay, I wouldn’t know that. So really glad to speak with you today. I think we found each other indirectly by way of Kimberley Lee Minor, a guest I had several weeks ago. She is such an amazing woman using her experience and platform to change the world as we know it. Tell us just out of curiosity, how do you guys know each other?
Denielle Finkelstein: Well, we were babies together at Ann Taylor. Truly we were kids when we were there. But we work together at Ann Taylor in cross Dover. And I just have so much admiration also for what she is doing leaving the retail world similar to me and sort of forging her new path. And really becoming and changing that conversation around the women and people of color in the workplace. Yeah, trying to be that voice for changing culture, which I admire what she’s doing.
Diana Fryc: And I’ve seen her making some really huge strides just in the last few weeks, like really huge movement. I’m excited.
Denielle Finkelstein: I’m so proud of her really proud. Really proud to see it. That’s great.
Diana Fryc: Yeah. Well, I appreciate the time that you and I’ve already spent together. Now anybody that has listened to any of my podcasts knows that I like to have a little bit of a coffee clutch so to speak, before we have a show to get an idea of what’s your passion. What is it that you want to talk about? I don’t like to speculate about your passion but I want to talk about your brand and your company TOP right now. Maybe you can give us a little bit of that genesis story. Why did you start it?
Denielle Finkelstein: Yeah. Well, you shared we spent 22 years in retail fashion and I was at a crossroads, both my cousin and I, who I do the business with. Sullivan and myself, we were both at crossroads in our career and here we were at this midpoint in our careers, for Thyme she spent 27 years in consumer packaged goods. She really did have the expertise and experience behind her but she was at the big guys. She was a Coke, Nestle and most recently Nestle, PepsiCo and Nestle. And for her, her job had been eliminated and so she had to make this decision for herself and her family. She was at that crossroads to where she never saw her kids. She was on the road all the time and she was just missing out on what could be. For me, I was similar 22 years in fashion retail at the height of my career. It’s the job that I dreamed up when I was 24 years old, I’m going to be in that seat and I would say in that the last couple years, moving on to Talbots was a great opportunity for me; one it got me back home to Rhode Island which was a gift and I never thought I’d ever end up, quote unquote, home, but it really came down to sort that last year.
Being part of these large organizations, and coming from a place of Kate Spade, which was constantly innovating, constantly ideating, and I was there during a time when there was an openness to taking risk and we were forging ahead and really moving. When I started at Kate Spade, it was a half a billion dollar business. When I left, it was 1.3 and it just grew, it grew exponentially but what was incredible was the leadership team that I was part of is we were constantly challenging each other to really like, go outside of the box, push yourself outside of the box. When I did make that time and make that change to move on to Talbots, that really was first so I could move up to move home, it was that last year that I was, there were a couple of factors. For me, I think the biggest piece for me was I kept thinking about, yes, this is the job I always wanted. I kept thinking about that next job. And was I going to be satisfied?
Was going to be and it’s more than extra role and having conversations of being groomed for the President. I kept thinking like, I’ve done this, I lost almost that passion and I’m one word like, I lead my life with a lot of passion. I lost the learning piece and then on the flip side, on a personal side, I was working around the clock, I was leaving my house every day, 5:30, 6 o’clock, and not getting home until nine o’clock, the weekend were the same, just not being able to really be present for anybody, for myself, for my kids and for my husband or anybody. It really became that crossroads for me and where I took the best, as you said the best risk, both personally and professionally was I actually walked out. I stepped away, I had the conversation and it really came down to was actually my husband. I applaud him for I was the breadwinner and it was probably the scariest moment for both of us, personally, because it’s now this financial burden of like, how are we going to do this, but he was just like, look, this isn’t healthy anymore.
So the intent was, I was going to leave and I was going to take some time off, recharge, spend time with the family and really figure out what was going to be that next for me. I was at this stage that I was like, all right, I’m going to go to a start-up and in my mind and the start-up was going to be like a 10 $15 million business. So was ready for sort of that next stage to be able to grow exponentially and that is where Sullivan and I, our roads just they crossed at the perfect time. So it was like serendipitous, honestly, that we were able to — this happened over lunch, the conversation happened over lunch, because we both realized that what was happening to both of us professionally, as well as personally wasn’t what we wanted for this next stage in our lives or in our careers. And it was finally time to actually take control of something that was very much out of our control. So there were factors and then how we got into the actual product itself was just that, that’s part of where our lifestyle was, that sparked that.
Diana Fryc: Well, so what I’m hearing here is interesting and I don’t know if this is my translation of it, but when you were in the retail world, this kind of what is the next job and Kate Spade environment of innovation. Was it more competitive? Was it like, okay, whoever’s going to get the most wins, or the best idea or whatever moves up the food chain and so it could have been collaborative, but maybe it just ended up driving this more competitive nature rather than this is something that I’m super excited about?
Denielle Finkelstein: No, no, no, I think those were some of the aspects. I think the bigger piece for me was, from the Kate Spade world, I was missing to be part of Talbots, which is such an established brand around, and it has an amazing customer. I’m a customer fanatic. It has an amazing customer but we were moving fast enough. We weren’t innovating and I think that two piece to me was, I wanted to and being able to bring ideas and even sitting on the executive team, there were times that we just couldn’t move as fast. I think there was part of that but I do think also for myself just learning. When you’ve spent this much time in one sort of siloed role and even once you get to the executive role, you’re seeing lots of different sides of the business and managing and overseeing but you’re still within that one role.
Diana Fryc: Yeah, and it’s like air traffic controlling more than actually gambling up…
Denielle Finkelstein: Yeah 100%.
Diana Fryc: Yeah, got you. Well, so now so we’ve learned a little bit about, why you left that world and decided okay, we’re going to collide together here. I’m here with my cousin, we’ve got this great idea like, why? Just over a single lunch.
Denielle Finkelstein: Over lunch, what happened was, I think there were two things that sort of factors that happened was Thyme was trying to decide what she was going to do and so she had been seeing being in the food world that what was happening in non GMOs and the push to organic and we’ve had all these conversations that when you look at your dog food. What’s in your dog food? And during this lunch, we were talking about our daughters, so we both grew up with hippie parents, we grew up with hippie lifestyle, hippie parents, I live a very organic lifestyle, my kids, they have to go to friends houses to get junk food, and there are moments where I even sometimes migrate, I got to get them a little bit, or something. So that’s been how my kids have been raised. They still sleep on organic mattresses and when we were having these conversations, we both have girls, and both have boys. But as we’re talking about our girls, and then we talked about ourselves, we never changed our tampons. We were still using the traditional tampons, my mom gave me for the first time. I was still using what my mother gave me. So if you use that, we hear that phrase all the time when it comes to period products. It’s like, use what your mother gave you and there’s a lot of truth there. So we were both were still and we both have these girls that were coming of age and we’re like, what are we doing?
This is something that we’re not seeing out there. There had just been one or two brands that had just popped up at that time, the big guys were not in the game yet. And so really what the conversation though with those new brands that were popping up is, they were all talking to millennials. So nobody was talking to me and nobody was talking to our teenage or preteen daughters. So this was really the Aha moment for us, there’s an opportunity here, we need this product, we’re not finding it on the shelf. Also the product that is out there again, going back to our lifestyles, there was an organic, there was no eco-friendly option. So everything was still plastic. So we’re sitting there, we’re like, okay, so there’s something here or like we have the opportunity to actually bring something better for our daughters, most importantly, what can we do for our girls, as we were talking, I was like, listen, I need time off. We are running with this and because we both at that time didn’t have any job and we weren’t looking, we just jumped in 300% like head, feet, body, every part of our soul jumped into this.
We were able to just dedicate everything to the time to really build it out from that early stage. And really get ourselves into a better phase and do tons of research and do stuff that also because we have the experience from our previous careers of thinking about how did we want this who was truly making sure like, are we going after what we knew we were going after us, but like really fine tuning and finessing that demographic and really thinking about that younger generation, and creating the core pillars of our business that we don’t stray from and so we’re able to kind of do that in the early stage, because we have the time, we weren’t being stretched in other places.
Diana Fryc: When you say that is interesting, and I think we talked about this last time we were talking is this Generation Z is so much more open to like all of this stuff, the reason why we behave the same way as our parents, whatever our parents gave us, and it’s the same with other types of things that are poster, cleaning supplies, there are these categories that whatever your parents give you. I still predominantly use the same cleaning products that I grew up with, because the scent and it’s there’s this legacy and a blah, blah, blah but I’m finding that this younger generation, the younger millennials, not the older ones, and then Gen Z are really talking about products that have traditionally been taboo openly and it’s not like gross, don’t have any of that. So I’m curious if your daughters fit in Gen Z, are they a little bit on the younger side and those conversation?
Denielle Finkelstein: Yeah, it is. She’s 14 and my daughter she’s tough, but we have all these conversations and for both of them, what we’re seeing is the openness and look living with us also that this is what we do.
When we’ve done these focus groups, and even having these conversations with it, and I really look at the Gen Z, and we’ve been fortunate, and I can share a little bit later is that we’ve really, also tapped into this young college student as well. So we’re having conversations with them and their openness and they’re pushing the conversation, they’re pushing the envelope even more and because it’s been taboo and it’s a period and everyone’s like, oh, they’re pushing it more, because they want, their peers to know, they want their guys to know and we’re seeing that amongst this younger generation, too. And even like, with our daughters, and there’s no, they’re not afraid. I think, once it starts in stems from us, we owe it to our kids. We both living households now that like, our dining room tables are covered in tampons and pads. If you’re coming over for anything, like you’re going to have to not that we’re all having dinner parties right now but if you’re coming over, that’s what’s going to be in our dining room. I think you’re bringing up such a great part of what we hope to do and our mission is, to start to change the narrative. We have to change the narrative with us moms and generation with this younger generation starting young when they get their first period, but even more so, we have to start with the boys as well. And how important that we can bring them into this part of the conversation because if we can start with them, too, and not make it so separate, that they then see this isn’t this thing that is done behind closed doors, this is part half the population, and a lot of the people that they interact with. And so it’s a natural part of our body and listen, boys and girls can talk about pee and poop all the time. Like, it should be just as natural as that.
Diana Fryc: I think this is stems from us, I think we have to give a little bit of credibility to ourselves as parents because the father’s, we’ve changed, we want to make a change and we’re also enrolling the other family members into these conversations. So the fact that they’re open to hearing the conversation has to do partly with that, we’ve created environments that are safe for them to be open. So yeah, that transition is like an older millennials, Gen X, we’re trying to make some rapid changes in that area. Now, I’m curious, you started this with your cousin Thyme, was that a critical component? Do you think this brand would exist if you guys wouldn’t have collided on the big idea?
Denielle Finkelstein: It wouldn’t exist. I’d say multiple things but listen, Thyme, I am so fortunate every single day and grateful and I tell her and we tell each other one being an entrepreneur, it is lonely. It is and, and it’s you’re dealing with so many different things all the time, it is a roller coaster, there is no straight line and so you’re going to take two steps forward, you’re going to take five steps back and you’re going to have your bad days. I think the most important thing one is trust. Trust her more than anything. We can have honest conversations, the good and the bad conversations about what we need to do. We are so lockstep, I mean, we laugh all the time. We’re like, oh, my God, we have the same brain, but we’re in two different bodies, and just lockstep on where our ideas are. When you need to lean on somebody and when you are upset or when you’re frustrated, or when you are on the ground, and you need somebody to pick you back up, we do that for each other. I do look at some of the single founders and one I admire them because I can’t imagine not having her by my side. The other part too is like, I have so much fun with her. We laugh every so much and honestly I think that’s the piece of like why we keep fuelling this as well as work should be fun. My old work for the most part I made it but made it fun. I tried every day. Like it’s so different now that we own it and it is ours, we make it fun. The laughter even in the bad moments, we just like laughter sometimes because like we’re either going to laugh or we’re going to cry. Every day I am thankful that I’m doing it with her because as an entrepreneur, this is a lonely ride and as you start to adjust from the early stages, again, coming from a large corporation having 100 people underneath me having all you my executive team around me, and because it’s the two of us, and we’re just starting to hire people, which is super exciting. We say it all the time, we could not do it without each other.
Diana Fryc: That’s really fantastic. There’s mostly single founder owners, or they that are they have a core group that surrounds them. But co-founders, there’s a special bond there. I think that it’s great that you have that when I think about you’re coming from though this high end luxury type of product to a very functional product, period care, personal care, very intimate, you have to get really intimate in your conversation in a completely different way. Do you see, first of all, there’s two ways you could answer this, but from like a leadership standpoint, how much of what you had, as part of your leadership toolkit at retail did you bring over and how much of it got thrown out because it’s either irrelevant or inappropriate for your situation?
Denielle Finkelstein: Yeah. It’s a great question, honestly and I love this question, because neither one of us would be today if it hadn’t been for our old toolkit, but we had to throw a shitload out and so for me, the toolkit that I was able to bring was, in a merchandising role, you are dealing with six different seasons, again, you’ve got a huge management team that you’re dealing with. So you put in all these different categories and when you’re overseeing it all, you have 100 balls in the air and as an entrepreneur, you have 100 balls in the air. It is constantly like, I am able to navigate that piece, which, that’s just a skill that I was able to bring over, not necessarily the retail fashion handbags, versus now being in tampons, which is they’re very different, necessity versus nice to have. I was able to really lean into that part of where my success has been, it’s been able to manage many different things at many different times, and finding the priorities of where we needed to be. And also being very strategic as well. That’s a very big strength of like thinking right now in the moment, and also going from deep down and then jumping up and being very high level again.
That was great, but what we had to do in our first year was also constantly strip away. I don’t want to call them bad behaviors but there were behaviors that we had that they weren’t the risk taking behaviors. They weren’t the let’s do this outside of the box, let’s do this differently. It took us talking to realize that and to recognize that, because that was where our comfort was and that’s what we knew. That’s what we had and really, it was like a turning point for us. Last August, where it just it clicked for both of us. And it really was, it was exactly one year when we like that click happened, that we still lean into so many of where our baseline skills were. But we are thinking differently. We’re doing things differently as entrepreneurs and so I think it’s the benefit of where we were coming from. In some ways, God, if we wish to move faster but we would wish we’d move faster to remove, but we wouldn’t have learned. I think that’s the piece that we’ve been able to learn and say, “Okay, you know what, we got to get rid of old thinking, we can’t go that way. We got to go this way.” And so that’s actually been good on both sides.
Diana Fryc: Yeah. Well, I think of one of the stories and you’ve shared this in other type of public forums, other podcasts as well. But the hundred things is like, yes, you would expect that I think that’s part of your DNA, when you are a leader, you’re comfortable with that. Otherwise you don’t grow into that type of roll but the types of things that you’re doing is a little bit more risk management, when you are the size of a Talbot’s, there’s as much risk management as there is innovation, so your innovation is a little bit shackled because you always have to go well, what’s the worst could happen in this scenario, where you guys are now, what’s the worst that could happen especially in those very early days?
The worst that could happen is nothing because not a whole lot. So maybe a little bit liberating, and I’m thinking about, even, like, running around town as a giant tampon. Why not, things that you would not get, like, excuse me while I put my back in, but things that you would not necessarily do at Talbots and that’s also part of that, like the part of you guys having some fun. Is it that risk management component? Or that risk management component it’s kind of been shed that is really the liberating part.
Denielle Finkelstein: Yes, that’s probably the biggest piece for us and honestly, a year ago, we almost had to shutter the business. One of the reasons and this is this was because at the core of our values, number one was transparency. So getting organic product. Number two, was the environmental piece and so what can we do to you know, positive impact on the environment for some negative impact. Third was, which we can get to later is around period poverty. But that second one, so that second one, though, around the environment was, we started out with a cardboard applicator and we’re like, we’re going to change everybody, they’re all going to go everyone’s drinking from their steel straws. Everyone has the recyclable bags, and they have their water bottles and like, everyone’s going to change. They’re not going to use plastic applicators anymore. They’re not going to use plastic on their on their pads.
We were so wrong, but it was good in the sense that in a large company, we would have jumped right to plastic applicators because you had to move fast. So for us, we were here as a place that we were not right, that we’re going to be able to change people to move to cardboard. What happened was, we wanted to do research to make sure that we could then find because we could have jumped right into plastic. We’re like, that goes against our core value but we can’t change our core value, we could, but we didn’t want to. We had such a strong belief around that, so it took us time to then have to do the research to actually find a plant based applicator and so that became the piece. We launched the business, like officially, like we did all our research and everything it didn’t. January of 2019, and the plant base didn’t come in until January of 2001, it has been a game changer for us, the customer response- the funny thing is actually on Amazon, our cardboard is amazing, which is like, fine but the truly the plant base, because it’s also it’s the innovation that’s happening. That is where the place of like in a large company, going back to your question is, we’d never would have done that we would have gone right to plastic, and we would have said, “Okay, we’ll get there at some point and we’ll still get back to our core value is.” We stood strong, and we didn’t want to waver from what was important to us.
Diana Fryc: Yeah, there’s a lot of things that go into the decisions as of a bit much bigger organization and the scalability of manufacturing supplies, cost, this is three cents less, all of those decisions go into it and there’s some flexibility when you’re a young brand, like TOP to be able to play around with those things and hold your values and build a brand on values. Then the brand can learn and the industry can scale with you, instead of like Playtex going, there’s just no way that we can manufacture a Kajillion of these things and be profitable or whatever pass the cost on all of us all of those things. I know it’s not always like these guys are bad guys there’s a lot of considerations in there but yours liberated from that at the size that you’re. I want to go back to the brand and the products a little bit, so I didn’t even really ask you at the very beginning but like when you were describing TOP to a retailer, a merchandiser distributor, what do you lead with? Who are you? And why do you want them to care about you? Why should? Why should they know that consumers care about you?
Denielle Finkelstein: Yeah. Well, I think I think this has been a category that has lacked innovation for a really long time. What’s been exciting to see is that over the last three to five years, you’re starting to see this happen. At the core of this category, so period products, it’s for women, it’s for people who are menstruating. If we go to that conversation to should be done by women. I think there’s a huge part, which we’re actually excited to see that’s happening on the retail front and happening in large retailers is that they are increasing, and they’re looking for women owned and it’s not just in our category, it’s across the board.
There’s this increase and this recognition of women owned as well as minority based businesses and so that’s a great thing that we bring, but we’re also bringing innovation to a category that has not been innovated. It’s about that transparency piece going back to like our three pillars, our three pillars have become really important to these retailers, because it is about transparency. Again, going back to what’s in your dog food, what’s in ketchup, you don’t know what’s in your period product, it is going inside of our bodies. I think what we’re seeing and you’re hearing more and more is that there’s the tagline that so many folks are using is better for you.
And so retailers are recognizing that, and that they owe this conversation to their consumers, that’s one piece and then there is this environmental piece. So they are looking for the sustainability, conversation and how can they change their impact to the environment as well. Then there’s a large component on givebacks, the social impact that that companies can do as well and that is a large factor in what we do every single day as well. As we’re having these conversations with retailers, that our sort of talking points or we’re a women owned business, bringing plant based and organic dairy products, like that’s, our first statement, we say to them, and changing that narrative. A large part of changing there is because Thyme is famous for her champion costume and so that is that’s done it. The best part is honestly, though, with the retailers, like they see and like our deck to them like that we have a picture of the two of us. And here we are in like we went to it was a women’s march and we were in the tampon costumes together. It was about changing the conversation. It’s the minute that it does. It also breaks down that barrier, because you go up to anybody and you’re like, hey, talk to me about your period. They’re like, “Whoa, who are you?” When you shop on tampon, they’re like, that’s funny. Yes, I can talk about this now and so it breaks down and brings some levity to the conversation, I think, that’s the piece too, is that this is such a taboo topic, that if you can bring just a little bit of levity like I actually one of the brands that I think is has done a good job with that is Poo-Pourri. So listen, we’re all going to the bathroom, this is a natural part of what we doing and look, she’s making it funny, like, make it funny, the more that we can do that and change that dialogue, that’s what we’re hoping we can do as well.
Diana Fryc: Yeah. There’s an approachability component around it. Like being dressed as a tampon isn’t as crass. There’s some of the some of the newer younger brands in this space. Oh, yeah, are a little bit crass and potty mouth and are potty humor, which is fine. Not everybody can be that. It’s a desire to be approachable and I can applaud them, as all young brands, as they mature, they kind of start to go, oh, well, that worked great when we had 1500 customers. But if we want to be a billion dollar brand, we probably need to grow up a little bit. So we’ll watch as that category changes, but then I’m looking at them. And then I’m like, want to go Okay, we’ve got these big guys and part of what you and I talked about is this kind of this natural space and kind of breaking down this barriers of only upper middle class, white people are defining this natural sound better for you category and my goal with this podcast is to bring women on here who are going to help cross the barriers from the people who are being ignored and not spoken to based off of some assumptions and start to break down those barriers. You guys are clearly doing something because you’ve got the big guy, Tampax and OB are making big strides. So clearly you guys have brought up something they’ve seen an opportunity. They figured out how to scale a version of what you’re doing, but you guys have the leverage of not having this legacy of this brand. I wonder when you’re having these conversations with retailers and buyers, how are they are they do come in the door and are they comparing you to them to the legacy brands or what how’s it show up in your careers?
Denielle Finkelstein: The legacy brands, they’re there and it’s with every single category. What becomes different is that, and some people may migrate, some consumers may migrate over to one of their natural products. But they’re still also particularly with this Gen Z. They’re questioning, but why did you make that that had all that stuff in it? And now you’re giving me this? So there’s a lot of like we’ve heard this many times with, as we’ve been having conversations with a lot of our Gen Z folks is, well, I wouldn’t go to one of their natural parts. Because why were they doing this for so many years? The trust level, which is so important for that Gen Z, is that that’s the piece that we’re bringing, we’re being we’re bringing the honest conversation, we’re being fully transparent. They want transparency and so it is that education piece, and even for the big retailers and talking to the buyers, they are looking for innovation. They know the innovation also comes from and where the different thinking comes from our brands like ours, you’re not necessarily going to get it from these big brands, like they’re how they spend their marketing dollars and what they’re going to do and some of them like there, there’s little hits here and there. It’s coming from this rise below and it’s you see it in every industry that’s out there right now.
It’s fascinating to watch, we’re one of those other categories. But it’s fascinating to watch these smaller brands that are changing the conversation that are bringing innovation, and really to the big to the big guys out there. They are so big, it goes back to my conversation of Talbots. You’re so big that you can’t always innovate you can’t afford to. It’s a tough balance right now, honestly, we need them. We need the big guys but we also need to date we need to push them to make space for ourselves.
Diana Fryc: Yeah. Interesting, along this route here, and you you’ll start to see I’ll get a little anxious about it myself but got a tricky question. You use the term period, poverty and this is really this next question that I prepped is really what you’re talking about this outside of the US, when people think of period poverty, which means, girls don’t go to school after they stopped either because it’s a taboo as part of a cultural or religious aspect or they can’t afford products in general. Here in the US, we have the same thing but we’ve got arguments around taxing around products, which seems ridiculous to me, but there are women in the US that have like limited access to products, they are still not being educated, I think of a lot of kids that are growing up, or girls that are growing up in poverty, or in very conservative parts of the United States or families where the topic is not discussed or is considered bad. They’re not getting any information about their bodies or these products. They’re being relegated to whatever is accessible or to enough to get all or reusing products, stuff like this. How does a brand like yours? It’s small, I get it and so your impact is small right now. But how do you guys handle that big, giant ball of mess?
Denielle Finkelstein: So it’s an enormous piece? And there’s many different factors and so kind of breaking it down into two? I think one is there’s the accessibility piece and so yes, your point one in five women and girls, here in the United States experienced period of poverty. Since Corona, it’s significantly worse, it’s gotten significantly worse and you hear in certain cities that it’s like one in three, just and because you have families deciding like they can’t pay their rent, they’ve got to decide between food, and then so they’re an end. The other big part is a lot of kids aren’t at school. If they are in school, some schools have been providing feminine care and so you have all these different factors that are happening. So right now what you are seeing, before COVID, it was one in five women and girls, so when you think about that, at the end of the day, when we as I’m talking to another female, we talk about female equality and equity. Women will not be able to get ahead if we can’t figure out how to remove this barrier from women’s lives and to fulfill this basic necessity. That’s part of what happens to us naturally. I think that’s really important piece is that, for us, we are small. So our impact we wish it could be grand and that’s our vision of where our future is. It can be but for every purchase, we do a donation and so we do have that. That’s only part of it, so that’s one piece.
The other pieces and this is where I do really like, I look to wish that the bigger brands would do more around this. There’s two couple of factors. There’s the tampon tax. So 30 states still tax tampons, you’ve got condoms that aren’t taxed, you’ve got Viagra that’s not taxed, you got the doridos, whatever else. It’s not taxed. Teeth Whitening, not taxed but tampons are taxed in food stamps, don’t cover feminine care. It’s insane, you’ve got some of these key factors and this is where the power behind these big brands, they could move it, they could get those taxes removed, they could actually get some of this legislation changed. We have small brands like ours that are trying to do what we can to raise our voices and to come together as like more of and actually, the one of the brands that I admire so much is beauty counter. And they’ve almost created this, and they’re on the beauty side, totally different. But they’ve almost created this coalition of other beauty brands, who raise their voices to change the legislation on, again, the transparency of the cosmetics act. Similar to this, what I hope that we can do, and we’re still young and in our infancy, but how we can start to really partner with some of these other brands to start to really push this conversation, to then be able to give access to these women who don’t have it. To your point around the education, this is the hardest part, because there still are so many people who aren’t educated around even just the basics of feminine care. What they need to take care of themselves. Because this is such a critical part is if we can start to teach young women about the importance of — and look, if they can’t afford that it is it is quote, unquote, a privilege on the organic side but most important is that these young women can have access just to something that will keep them safe. Because then they understand the importance of their own health and we can teach these young women and give them some of those tools to start taking some control of their health that early on, is super important and that just then continues to grow.
This is a big question, it is a hard and when you’re a consumer brand, and not a non-profit and there are moments where like we were sometimes especially when COVID hit we landed, we donated significantly more than what we sold, because it was the natural part to us was like, this is part of our core goal, this is going to come back to us. We don’t need to worry like we’re going to be fine. We donated more, because that was what was needed. And we wouldn’t have done it any differently but it is this balance that we constantly have to like how much time do we do we put into this side, as well as trying to still build the brand,
Diana Fryc: You can’t do the good work unless you’re profitable, right? So that’s what I have to tell people, even people who come to us and go, can you do it for five bucks. Yes, but the problem is, then we can’t do these other things that we have set out to do as being well, for us. We’re a B Corp, so we have some personal mandate that we’ve committed to and just like you, you still have to be profitable, your machine needs to be running, you have to have that efficiency. So you it’s a balance, but I think when you can get out and have and get your message out through platforms like this, and through your good works, then we can continue to have that care. I love it. I really wish that brands like you could partner with somebody like American Girl. American Girl by the way, has the best book that I gave to my daughter I wish I could give to every girl. At age nine, and then I wish American girl would partner up with brands like yours-
Denielle Finkelstein: To your point, I was actually going to say is whether it’s brands like that, or it’s really about how do we get into more of these organizations like Girls Inc? Even a Girl Scout, like these girls are going that, this is an opportunity is to start to take those moments and educate them because in the classroom, with school nurses, they’re still up still in some places they’re not even talking about this.
Diana Fryc: It’s because they have all of that political and religious crap that schools have to try negotiate.
So it’s their muzzle. They can’t say anything, so we have to find other avenues. I have a movie that was done by an independent filmmaker here in the Northwest about this topic. I don’t know why I didn’t think about this before, but I’m going to send it to you.
Denielle Finkelstein: What is it? Please do.
Diana Fryc: It’s about a girl’s first period and she’s living with her dad, because her mother had died and he didn’t know how to help her. Here she is in the 70s and it was shown to my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. That’s why I was like, made that connection there.
Denielle Finkelstein: Oh, my God. Yes, please.
Diana Fryc: I’m going to send it to you. You’re going to love this filmmaker. So I digress.
Danielle Finkelstein: That’s fine. Actually I’m usually like, there‘s 10 different things happening.
Diana Fryc: Our time is almost up. But I asked a few questions that I always like to ask all of my guests and that is it. So I’m going to remove that term, Feminine hygiene care. What do you call it? You just call period products?
Danielle Finkelstein: Period products.
Diana Fryc: Okay, great, and are period products under personal care? Or are they alongside personal care?
Danielle Finkelstein: Oh, they are personal care.
Diana Fryc: Okay. Well, it depends on how you want to slice and dice it. We’ll go on Nielsen and start putting charts and graphs all over. If you haven’t got your hands on the latest Nielsen report about these products, we’re working on a related on a brand and a related category to period products. And we have Nielsen report that just came out. You might want to get your hands on, really interesting things. Little plug there and I’ll be taking to write a check, but tell me a little bit who do you got your eye on? And you talked about Poo-Pourri. Who do you got your eye on? Who’s doing either the work on the ground or innovative, whatever, however you want to slice and dice it?
Danielle Finkelstein: Yeah, there’s two brands. So already mentioned Beauty Counter. So we were very lucky early on to partner with Beauty Counter and so for folks that don’t know who they are, they really are changing the way that beauty is looked at. It’s like the clean revolution around beauty. They are changing the conversation. It’s really not about fear mongering, but it’s about making you aware of the ingredients that have been in traditional beauty products. And beyond just beauty products like skincare, it’s your hair care everything, and bringing transparency to it. And so their commitment to transparency, quality, advocacy, were all factors that when we started, they were our role model, what Greg Renfrew was building is truly what we see the future of feminine care. So what’s been awesome for us is that early on, and they were the one here’s me, going back to all my years of brand is finding strong brand partnerships, who do you align with, like, who do you find value that has the same test now, and so through spend like night the search through and social media digging into their influencers, and all of their 6000 beauty ladies out there. They’re all sort of, they’re the zealots, majority of our moms and so it’s like spot on to who we were talking to. Their demo runs just a slightly younger woman, more actually in the cusp of the millennial but they are zealots for clean products and so what they were building, just aligned with what we were doing. We were able to partner with them really early on and what’s great is that now, they have this clean guide that they have about 25 brands on there.
We’ve been selected as their feminine care so they have the likes of Patagonia to all birds to- I can’t believe it’s a whole slew of like these amazing, amazing brands. For us, like it was just such a proud moment, here we are, we’re still small, but they have recognized us as doing again, the transparency, the innovation, the quality and that’s what’s been important. So they’re definitely one and then one who is totally different in the food space but Caulipower. It’s run by CEO Gail Becker, and we have admired what she’s done too. It’s taking a conversation one she was inspired by her kids and so here we have that same, where our inspiration came from our girls and her boys. She has transformed the frozen food section, it blows our mind. We’re huge fans and she’s doing it in with humor. She’s doing it with happiness. That’s like when we think of those brands that we can connect to and emotional connection to brands is so big and that also then goes back to where I grew up. How do you make that emotional connection to your customer, to the person whose purchasing and I think she’s done a great job of that? And it’s just funny like they come up with really big taglines.
How can we learn from a brand like that? So taking a different category, I think that the two of those, they’re very different one truly being in the beauty space, and the other being of food, but I think that they’re changing the way the conversations are being heard in different ways.
Diana Fryc: I always find it interesting who my guests are inspired by so thank you for that. We’ve dropped some interesting facts and factoid about this thing, but is there any little piece of nugget that you’re like, Oh, this is like something that nobody would ever know about either industry or product that you would like to share today?.
Denielle Finkelstein: Key fact is going to the environmental piece. 20 billion period products end up in landfills every single year, in the United States. That’s just in the United States. We talk about the steel straws, and everyone’s talking about their straws and we got to stop doing this and that, period products are a significant contributor to plastic waste. That’s just another piece to look, we are right now, we’re still on single use, whereas, there’s the cups and the underwear and there’s other categories that are definitely coming in amazing innovation. There still is 85% of the consumers, actually, almost 90% of consumers are still using single use. So if we can make strides in the single use that is happening and bring innovation and sustainability and just products that are better for the environment, that’s the piece that’s been very, very important. So being plant based, and being where we are produced and where or cotton is comes from, all of those aspects just were really, really important to us.
Diana Fryc: Yeah. Wow. It says it’s not like straws. Straws is a choice. Well, for disabled people that’s not true, but for the rest of the planet, which is a good majority of us, straws are a choice, these products, not so much. That’s a good factoid. How are you keeping yourself sane and centered these days? And it’s for you this question is a little bit different than most other people, because you are trying to grow this, baby. So what do you do for yourself?
Denielle Finkelstein: Honestly, two kids, both working parents, I actually, it’s very basic, it’s very simple. Every single morning, I write down what I’m grateful for and I set my intentions I think about what my day is going to be and just really try to approach my day in a positive way. I just sit down, I set it down and I’ve got this amazing book that every day, it just talks about- it runs on a 365 days. Every day I read like one of the quotes that’s in there, it sets the tone for my day and it’s so simple because there’s the food, and there’s the exercise, and there’s all those other pieces and spending a lot of time with my family .But it just it sets my tone and I think through all of this, probably the hardest thing is like when you’re a total people person, and like really build your energy off of people. Yes, totally me. It’s just reminding myself of like, okay, we’re going to get there and I spend so much time, my family’s laughs, no matter what I’m like, we’re on zoom. I don’t care. I don’t care if you haven’t showered I don’t care. I need to see the other side, I don’t need to talk in a phone. I think those are the pieces definitely looking forward to when this is done, but there have been some good things, I think just the time with family that we wouldn’t have had in the past, especially during the summer, kids go to sleep away camp, and we had a lot of family time. They may grumble about it but for me, it was a gift of time because I would never have had that time with them.
Diana Fryc: Tell us before we end here. If people want to connect with you, what’s the best way is LinkedIn? Do you have an email address?
Denielle Finkelstein: LinkedIn is the best. I am a big believer, one of my sort of quotes that I’ve lived my life with is my network is my net worth. And I love to connect. I always respond when somebody reaches out. But seriously, always, always and in any way that I can, even through all this stuff that’s been happening for folks is there’s somebody out there and honestly, it’s what’s been part of our success for what we’re doing today.
We live it into our network every single day. And so fortunate the doors that they can open or the advice that they can give or whatever it is and so if I can always pay it forward, that is what I do every time that I can do that. Please LinkedIn, it’s Denielle Finkelstein, on LinkedIn, and I’d be happy to, to just connect in any way. This is a time for women in particular especially as an entrepreneur that, just reading every day, I feel like there’s another article about just the struggles that women are having at this time. It’s so many women are falling out of the work force.
Diana Fryc: 80% of the people who’ve opted out of work have been women.
Denielle Finkelstein: Yeah, it is. It’s heart-breaking to actually see this, because the strides that we have made over the years. But if I can be a sounding board for a woman who might have an idea for starting her own business, and between Thyme and myself, like we’d be more than happy to do whatever we can. I think the big thing that we’re also seeing, too, is that even as female entrepreneurs, the money that’s coming to for fundraising and investing is getting smaller and dwindling, and more and more. I think they just said that the q3 was down 80% for female investment. So that’s another place like if somebody doesn’t know somebody, like reach out to us, that’s one thing that we’re working for. We’re in the process of but yes, any way to connect, myself, I’d be more than happy and I know Thyme would as well.
Diana Fryc: Okay, and those that are listening Denielle is spelled differently than you might think, D-E-N-I-E-L-L-E and then last name Finkelstein. Finkelstein F-I-N-K-E-L-S-T-E-I-N. Took German, I want to keep switching those vowels on. Well, thank you so very much for your time today. Thank you for the work that you are doing. I know when you’re small, it’s all encompassing, and it’s overwhelming and fun to you wouldn’t be doing it if it wasn’t, and you feel like your impact isn’t there. But you’ve got your eye on the prize and I know that as you guys grow, your impact is going to be exponential, particularly for those with the greatest need. So thank you so much for that.
Denielle Finkelstein: Yeah. Well, thank you, thank you for letting me to share our story and how we’re building it, sparked somebody with a new idea or just to be part of some advice that somebody is taking. We are podcasts, like we are diehard podcasters. We love we listen to them and so we’ve learned so much and so to be able to share, as well it’s always great to be able to get back that way.
Diana Fryc: Excellent. Thanks for your time.
Danielle Finkelstein: Thank you.
Diana Fryc: This episode is sponsored by retail Voodoo, a creative marketing firm specializing in growing, fixing and reinventing brands in the food, beverage, wellness and fitness industries. If your natural brand is in need of positioning, package design or marketing activation, we’re here to help. You can find more information at retail-voodoo.com. And so there you go. I hope you enjoyed this episode. Thank you so much for hanging out with us today. And if you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to this channel and share with your network. Until next time, be well and do gooder.