Blank Studio’s normally bare white walls stood juxtaposing posters of STI myths and Sex Ed talking cards. My 8th grade P.E teacher—who preached abstinence by way of doing laundry with your partner rather than having sex—would not have known what to do with herself. I stood amidst maize and magenta scrunchies, lunch trays of grilled cheeses and cake jars, and a school picture backdrop—a physical reimagination of puberty but with a current self that no longer shied away from discussing my pimples or my latest period. Cue Blume’s State of Sex Ed campaign.
The campaign is twofold: a deluge of school pictures nostalgic of middle school (but with clearer skin and perhaps more confident smiles) plastered across the NYC subway, and a partnering with mobilizers nationwide to provide sex-educator approved, medically accurate, and culturally inclusive sex education on Blume’s site. This campaign, though, stands apart from many of the popular subway code marketing ploys we pass daily. The curriculum provided by Blume x sex educators—spearheaded by Dee Stacey—is available online for free download to anyone who might come across their page. It tackles concepts from gender identity and healthy relationships to pregnancy and STIs with accessible language for a range of levels. Through this campaign, Blume has manifested their ethos through an actionable campaign. They used subway ads to garner awareness and then created a physical solution to our knowledge gap when it comes to sexual education—originating at puberty and transcending well into our sexually active years. I spoke to Taran and Bunny Ghatrora, sisters and co-founders of Blume, to hear more behind how Blume and this campaign came to life.
OK, starting with the typical questions: What is Blume and how did you all start it?
Taran: When I was in law school, [I was] studying how womxn and girls in developing countries suffer—both socially and professionally—from stigmas and lack of access surrounding their periods. I called Bunny with an idea for a subscription service focused on providing organic pads and tampons across North America. She was immediately on board.
Shortly after launching the subscription service, we started to notice something: the majority of our customers were reporting how they wish that they’d had something like this [growing up]. We realized we had to address puberty. From there, Blume was born to provide natural products for all self-care needs—from periods, to acne, to sex ed. Blume is the brand that leads you through puberty.
Like you said, you all did not simply dedicate your products to menstrual items, but have gone beyond that with deodorant and skin treatment, etc. Can you expand on why you chose to go that route? How is Blume responding to a gap in a way other femtech companies are not?
Bunny: We did a survey with 1,000 womxn, [where] 60 percent said they felt their self-esteem plummeted around puberty. The goal of Blume is to get to the root of this so that we don’t have to re-train another generation of womxn to love themselves. In another survey of 1000 respondents, 71 percent said they have experienced depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, or felt alone because of their acne. We’re creating a community that focuses on this [entire] life stage.
We’ve seen so many sex-tech innovations and movements to empower women to embrace their bodies (which are great!); but so many of those innovations are for people after they’ve already established these negative thought processes about their bodies and sexualities. Imagine growing up feeling like your body was doing exactly what it was supposed to? It can majorly change the direction of your self-esteem journey to feel good from the start. Blume is the U.S.’s first cohesive line of self-care products curated specifically for puberty. It’s so important to feel spoken to at an age that often feels isolating.
I really admire this campaign, and how you can download sex-ed curriculum; it’s actually meeting people where they are. How do you feel that you’re able to reach wider audiences who might not be able to come to an in-person activation, and don’t know that their sex ed might be medically inaccurate or nonexistent?
Bunny: Only nine states in the U.S. mandate medically accurate sex ed that is LGBTQ-inclusive and comprehensive—that’s abysmal. We hope this campaign both draws awareness to the desperate need for change in our sex education system, as well as make it easier to start these important conversations with today’s teens. Very few teachers receive appropriate training on how to talk about sex, gender, etc. So, in addition to the curriculum, our certified sexual health educator—Dee Stacey—also developed a handbook with tips and additional resources available beyond the classroom.
Can you speak more to how you specifically chose what information you would include in the downloadable PDFs? The PDFs are truly phenomenal and thorough, so I’m assuming it took a long time to put this together?
Taran: I had the idea for the campaign and was looking for the right person to head it because I knew we didn’t have the information or the experience. I met [Dee] for coffee and immediately was obsessed. She is a sex educator in Vancouver and has been doing this for YEARS. She puts inclusivity at the forefront, and we all vibed with her right away. She was the perfect partner for this project.
It was incredibly important to us to address topics that many of us in our 20s and 30s are just tackling now. Many of us fall into shame patterns due to unhealthy relationships, issues with consent, gender identity, etc., that we then have to overcome later … because we were never given the proper tools. We’re partnering with mobilizers across the country to ensure our materials are disseminated widely—especially to places where fearmongering sex education is leaving so many people misinformed. There are so many people who have been working hard in the sex education field long before Blume—we wanted to use this campaign to amplify their work!
Why now, with the campaign? Is there something more specific about 2019? Why did you decide to choose the back-to-school staple photo as your visual?
Bunny: Because our institutional systems aren’t stepping up, we felt compelled to do so. We’re reaching young girls in their most formative years to ensure they have products that will support their changing bodies, resources that empower instead of shame them, and a community to validate their experiences to show them they’re not alone. From there, we feel confident that the process of asking for help or finding the tools they need to face life’s challenges later on will be much easier, because of the resources they began with.
Even as adults, many of us still struggle with acne, self-esteem, body confidence, questions about sex; it’s a myth that these issues are only prevalent in our younger years. So, we wanted to give everyone a chance at a do-over. The campaign visuals are inspired by a school picture day theme. While some of the retro elements like butterfly clips and AIM away messages might feel nostalgic, we wanted to show that we could do skincare more confidently this time around. We hope that this campaign helps to normalize many of the uncomfortable moments that come along with growing up.
Images provided by Blume