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AzTech: Hempress Hygienics

by Neal Bloom

By Jenna Greer

Hempress Hygienics, founded by Aztec Alumni Mckenna Avery, Marilyn Austin and Halli Briscoe, is on a mission to provide women with healthy, sustainable, and high performing feminie hygiene products using hemp fiber. Through their startup, the trio is also donating a percentage of sales to charities that aid in providing women around the world access to health care and feminine products. 


Below, Avery dives into her entrepreneurial journey and mission to transform the feminine hygiene industry.


Year Founded: 2019

Founders: Mckenna Avery, Marilyn Austin, Halli Briscoe


How Hempress Hygienics Began: Avery and her team came up with the idea when hemp was federally legalized in 2019. According to Avery, she had been looking for a sustainable alternative to certain femine hygiene products. The team saw a gap in the industry between traditional and sustainable; there are few sustainable options on the market. 


“Our research showed that 70% of women are looking for an alternative to the harmful mainstream products out there,” said Avery. “The majority of women aren’t satisfied with their current products.”


“We wanted a solution that brings convenience, comfort, and sustainability,”she added “We met through mutual friends and shared a similar experience with the struggle to find sustainable alternatives to cotton products, and we are all really keen on women empowerment and sustainability. That’s what drew us together.” 


Why Hemp: Hempress is the first brand to make 100% hemp disposable hygiene products. Avery explained why her team decided on this material and why hemp is the way of the future.


“Hemp is naturally antimicrobial, so it naturally reduces the risk of infection and does not require the pesticides and herbicides that cotton does,” she said. “Cotton is the number one user of pesticides and herbicides worldwide. Our products will be 100% biodegradable, plastic free, and contain zero chemicals.” 


“Hemp also has one-fourth the carbon footprint that cotton does, uses less land and grows three times as fast, so we are really confident in our sustainability metrics,” Avery added. “There’s just so much potential with hemp; it’s an emerging market. The market itself is supposed to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 34% in the next couple years.”


Business Model: Hempress Hygienics will be using a direct-to-consumer online subscription model at launch, and wholesale distribution later on. The startup’s products are set to launch before the end of 2021, with a goal of early November. 


According to Avery, the research and development process has been extensive. 


“We’ve been in R&D since our conception because the concept is so new and the infrastructure in the US isn’t there yet,” she said.“It’s been a lot of trial and error, and really figuring out what’s going to be the best product.” 


The Hempress team knows the hard work will be worth it, however, as they are already seeing a buildup of inquiry and interest in their product. Their fully launched website has a waitlist option, and already 7,000 women have chosen to take part in their disruption of the feminine hygiene industry. 


The team also has 12 wholesale requests. This interest is all organic and grew without the team’s formal launch of their marketing plan.


“There’s already been a lot of resonance with our target market, just from our presence in pitch competitions and mentions in articles,”  Avery said.


Avery and her team may be onto something: The organic and natural feminine care market is expected to grow by USD $770.61 million during 2020-2024, according to Technavio.


Women Supporting Women: The Hempress Hygienics team states they are passionate about ending the stigma around women’s health.They plan to do this by donating a portion of every purchase from Hempress Hygiences to different women’s organizations and female-friendly non-profits, all of which have a goal of creating visibility around period poverty and bringing attention to the struggles women face regarding proper feminine hygiene supplies. 


“We are going to solidify partnerships within the next couple months,”  Avery said. “These organizations will be focused on supporting women’s health centers in places they don’t have them, and provide them with products that match the culture of the location. There’s just a lot of femine hygiene poverty that we want to help eradicate.”


Funding: Hempress Hygienics received  original funding and support from San Diego State University’s ZIP launchpad, and then won a  grant from Sambazon’s Greenhouse Initiative. Recently, the startup closed a successful friends and family funding round, which Avery said will fund the startup until it officially launches.


The Future is Female: The Hempress Hygienics team is currently virtual, but they hope to be in the same zip code in the next couple months. For now, their main focus is choosing a manufacturer. 


“We were bootstrapped in the R&D process for a while, but we finally have funds to do the final things we need to do before launch. We are in the process of solidifying a manufacturer and going through the trials right now,”  Avery said. “And down the line, we want to be able to use biomass from industrial hemp farms.”


Mentors: The Hempress Hygiences team has felt supported throughout their business journey by mentors within and outside of the San Diego community. 


“There’s never a clear path when starting a business. It’s hard not to get overwhelmed, but our mentors from Zip Launchpad, Cathy Pucher, Jenny Amaraneni and Chris Holbrook, really helped outline a clear path for us. They were amazing with risk management and we knew we could go to them with any questions we had,”  Avery said. “We’ve gotten a lot of funding through them; they’ve paid for our graphic design and funded us through FDA testing.”


San Diego Business Ecosystem: Avery feels the San Diego business community has been imperative to the growth of Hempress Hygencis. 


“I just graduated, so I’m just starting to dabble in the community outside of the college setting. I can already tell how strong the community is,” she said. “It’s so obvious how strong and uplifting the relationships are; everyone wants to see you succeed. I think that’s really unique; you won’t always see the same support in other ecosystems.”

Tacos: You can find Avery at Oscar’s in Hillcrest.

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