Interview by Ralph Edelstein
Mariah Mansvelt Beck is Yoni’s Co-founder and CEO. Yoni is a fem care brand on a mission to not only offer organic cotton tampons, pads and pantyliners on mainstream shelves but also to break the taboo on menstruation and (talking about) vaginas.
You are a woman, mother, CEO of a successful company, and you actively contribute to breaking the taboos around menstruation. How do these roles relate?
One of my qualities is my ability to translate my personal experiences so they resonate with others. That’s actually how Yoni started. And it’s how I strive to lead Yoni as a company: by being aware of my values and how I want to be as a woman and mother, and to pass these on to the people I work with. Hence, the different roles I have are interwoven, which helps me to not have to pretend to be something I’m not in any of these roles.
You’re not trying to ‘be like a man’ in business…
Haha, no. Absolutely not!
Perhaps that’s the new feminism, the theme of this campaign. That you can embrace your femininity in all life’s roles…
Yes, I believe so. Bluntly put: in the past the man was the protector, the provider, and the woman the care taker. That has changed, women can now be anything they want in life. This also applies to men. This means we need to move past the stereotypes or outdated “codes” we base masculinity and femininity on and this opens up a lot of possibilities for both women and men. This however is not an easy or straightforward process. Just looking at my life, it is a constant struggle to be ambitious in business as well as a present mother with my daughter.
What taboos are you trying to break?
When we founded Yoni, we didn’t consciously say: OK, now we are going to break the taboo around menstruation. We worked from what we felt would resonate with ourselves as women. There was, and still is, so much space to break away from the “white leggings” and “blue fluid” advertisement. We aim to normalize menstruation instead of medicalizing the subject, starting by ditching the shame and starting a proper conversation on the topic. Hence breaking the taboo is more a result of Yoni, rather than a goal in itself.
Talking about menstruation, do people really have problems talking about that?
It might surprise you. You should check out the response on Twitter following the recent Jinek show I was at. We discussed the book Van Vulva to Vagina (From Vulva to Vagina) which I co-authored. A lot of fear based reactions for example “why do you have to show such ugly vulva’s on television”. This goes to show that there are a lot of people still that don’t want to be confronted with the subject. Sure, the current social media culture makes it easy for people to be negative online. But still, there is relatively a lot of resistance. I believe this resistance stems partly from insecurity. “Locker-room banter” isn’t a result of “bad” men but of insecure men. That’s why it is important to talk about topics like these in an adult manner – not just among women but also including men in the conversation.
Has Yoni made a positive impact?
Yes, for sure! In the Netherlands, five to six years ago, almost nothing was written about organic cotton tampons or menstruation in general. When I would ask whether someone had ever considered what was in ordinary tampons and pads, I would hardly ever get a positive reaction. Yoni’s story was a new story and a real “wake-up call” for many women. Nowadays, a fair amount has been written about the different product options, periods, tampon tax, etc.
The retail landscape has also completely changed. Where before you would only find synthetic products on shelf at mainstream supermarkets, nowadays you’ll find cotton options, and even Yoni’s organic cotton option. Cotton is one of the most sprayed crops in the world, which is why organic cotton is a very important choice to reduce the use of harmful pesticides. We also see some other brands copying our look and feel on e.g. Instagram and that some advertisements are approaching menstruation in a different and more empowering way than before (i.e. breaking away from the traditional white leggings, blue liquid ads we all know). So yes, we’re making an impact. But the impact isn’t merely the result of Yoni. We are part of a larger movement to which more and more people and brands have joined.
What are the next steps for Yoni?
A first important step is to ensure consumers have access to transparent fem care products. We need regulations to force the industry to be transparent about the composition of their products on the packaging, and we need rules on what should be or should not be allowed to go into these intimate products. Another step is to normalize menstruation. For me, this starts with sharing knowledge and having conversations about the subject which will hopefully lead to improved education on the matter. The ultimate goal here is that girls and women can move away from the shame to a place where they are more self-confident in their life as well as more able to proactively deal with their own health. Businesswise, I wish to make Yoni a financially sustainable company, so that we can use the profit to do great things in places where the next best step wouldn’t be to necessarily introduce Yoni. Ultimately, I want Yoni to become a brand for women worldwide.
And for you personally?
Personally, I don’t have a set career path I’m striving after. I’ve worked hard to step away from those kinds of goals to allow more space for things to unfold on their own accord. I believe what matters most in life is finding your authentic power. Many of the things we have learned to pursue are external like money, success, status, looks – things like that. At the end of the day these are all fleeting. Life, I believe, is about learning to tune into our soul and to listen and align with the real reason you are here. It isn’t about what you exactly become or do, it is about being on a path in which you continue to develop and learn the life lessons you are here to learn. This is personal and something no one can take away from you. Staying on that path and continuing to develop myself is my highest ambition.
Want to know more about Yoni? Read our story.