NEW YORK (JTA) — Naama Bloom’s daughter is just 4 years old, but she is already knowledgeable about tampons and pads.
That’s less a result of Bloom’s effort to educate her and more because until recently, the 40-year-old entrepreneur was running a feminine-hygiene subscription service out of the family’s Brooklyn home.
Bloom’s start-up, HelloFlo, got national attention this summer after its humorous “Camp Gyno” video became a viral hit on YouTube. The video garnered more than 5 million views in one week and led to a flurry of media coverage.
Filmed on location at Surprise Lake Camp, a Jewish overnight camp in Cold Spring, N.Y., “Camp Gyno” features a bossy but likable tween who doles out tampons to her bunkmates and offers how-to demonstrations using a doll, only to lose her power when the girls all get subscriptions to HelloFlo.
“It’s like Santa for your vagina!” she exclaims.
Months later HelloFlo — which sends monthly care packages with snacks, tampons and pads timed to a woman’s cycle — has grown into a larger operation. Meanwhile, Bloom is focused not just on selling products but on empowering and educating girls and teens.
Bloom recently sat down with JTA for an interview at a cafe in Manhattan.
JTA: So what’s been going on since “Camp Gyno” hit?
Bloom: I’ve been focused on how we can beef up our starter kit [a package designed for the first time a girl gets her period] and how we can offer more support both for pre-pubescent girls and their parents. This is still a business, but the response we’ve gotten has shown it goes beyond that, to get people more comfortable talking about things they were previously uncomfortable talking about. That’s been so rewarding.
One of my goals is to turn something that’s usually a negative into a more positive experience. I’ve also been focused on getting our operations in order and improving the product.
What kind of improvements?
With the starter kit, we’ll be adding more product to it and updating some of the components. We’re also focusing on more organic and natural options and getting the best possible treat or candy for the subscriptions. We want to find good, high-quality and interesting things people haven’t had before, and when possible something that doesn’t feel junk-foody.
Is it harder to be a girl going through puberty now than, say, when Judy Blume’s classic novel, “Are You There God It’s Me Margaret?” came out?
Well, it’s less of a stigma to talk about, and girls have more information. What’s harder is that they are connected [to the Internet] all the time, and when you’re 10, 11 or 12, you don’t have a full grasp of the consequences and are making some bad decisions.
There are also some bad role models out there and girls today at a very young age are taught to sexualize themselves as a way to get attention. That’s going to create self-esteem issues down the road, and they may already have self-esteem issues.
That’s part of why I believe that there needs to be conversation addressing this. HelloFlo can play a role in that, and the first way to play that role is to talk openly and honestly about what’s going on with your body in a way that’s just shameless.
What was your own upbringing like?
I grew up in New Jersey, but I’m the daughter of a kibbutznik. My mom was so open about everything. She used to say when she was growing up that she didn’t even have her own pair of underwear until she was 12. There were things I think she was not happy about with the way she grew up, but the openness you can’t hold back on. The Jewish culture I grew up in was very open, and a lot of people I knew got involved in politics and activism.
Is HelloFlo making money yet?
Yes, but I’m not pulling in a salary yet. My evenings are spent stressing out about how I’m going to make our mortgage payment. We’re taking a really big risk here. I’m spending a lot of time finding not just capital but the right kind of capital and the right kind of investors. I probably spend more time on that than anything else.
I want the business to make money, but there’s a mission there as well, it’s also about this educational message. The educational message is going to help grow the business, but you have to invest in it.
I have a 10-year-old daughter. What should I be doing to prepare her for her first period?
The most important thing is don’t wait until you think she’s going to get her period. Girls are getting it earlier nowadays. Make sure you get a book that educates her — they say “The Care and Keeping of You” (American Girl) is the best. And there is one for younger girls and one for older girls. Make sure you read it, too, so you can discuss it.
Also, make sure she understands what everything looks like: what’s a pad, what’s a tampon. You want her to be comfortable talking about it, and you want to tell her about the first time you got your period. I’ve heard from a number of people who said they watched the “Camp Gyno” video with their daughters and used that as a way to start the conversation.
Are more “Camp Gyno” videos in the works? A sequel perhaps?
Not now because we have no time or money for it, but I’m sure there will be more in the future. It was really fun to make and did what it was supposed to do for the business.
In some ways I wish the video hadn’t been so successful. Before, I was doing marketing consulting and was able to manage the business and still make money from consulting. Now it requires my full attention. It went from a hobby to my life project.
This interview has been condensed and edited.