Nadya: : "Periods make human life possible, yet, we have this ridiculous stigma around it that leaves menstruators feeling like they should be embarrassed of their bodies literally working."
Issue XV Cover Feature Empower
Interviewed by Bhagyashree Prabhutendolkar
15th October, 2022
Nadya Okamoto is the Co-Founder of August, a lifestyle period brand working to reimagine periods to be powerful. She is also the author of the book PERIOD POWER: a Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement, and founder and former Executive Director of the nonprofit organization, PERIOD. Outside of her work in the menstrual health space, Okamoto is also a mental health advocate and known as a Gen Z marketing expert. She recently graduated from Harvard College, class of 2021.
Her debut book, PERIOD POWER, published by Simon & Schuster in 2018, made the Kirkus Reviews list for Best Young Adult Nonfiction that year. Nadya is also the former Chief Brand Officer and Board Member of JUV Consulting, a Generation Z marketing agency based in NYC. She has been recognized on the lists of Forbes 30 under 30, Bloomberg 50 “Ones to Watch” and People Magazine's Women Changing the World.
When did you realize that you wanted to work for solving menstrual inequity full time?
Nadya: It depends on what you mean by full-time! I was in school until 2021 when I graduated from college, and even today I’m always working on a number of things especially when a large part of my career is on the content creation side. So for me, I’ve always devoted my main focus to periods, but I think that it’s only recently that I’ve been able to not have school so I can give even more of my focus towards it. I started this journey working on the topic of periods when I was 16 and now I’m 24. For the first several years it was all a volunteer position, so I wasn’t able to think of it like a commitment I was compensated for, I was just working on it because I was so passionate about the topic. I’m thankful now to have my profession be something I am deeply passionate about.
What makes you so passionate about it?
Nadya: It’s hard not to be passionate about periods. I mean, periods make human life possible yet we have this ridiculous stigma around it that leaves menstruators feeling like they should be embarrassed of their bodies literally working. I fundamentally believe that menstrual equity is a necessity to be able to achieve larger goals like gender equality and global development.
The entrepreneurship journey is often glamorized with overnight success or flowing revenues. How was entrepreneurship for you while building August?
Nadya: My entrepreneurial journey with August has been so much more balanced than what I was used to when I was working on the nonprofit period.org. And I think it’s because I learned so much from previous mistakes. The process has been challenging and felt really risky at times, but I think that adrenaline is also why I love being in the startup phase so much. I’ve tried really hard to maintain a strong sleep schedule to find as much harmony with my work and social and self-care life as possible. I have experienced so much burnout in the last 8 years of my career, and I’m thankful to be at a point in my personal leadership life that I can pursue work with August in a much more balanced way than I’ve been able to before.
You graduated from Harvard University in 2021. Getting into a prestigious university like Harvard often makes one feel like the University is an end in itself- a promise to lifelong success and happiness. When did you realize that Harvard, too, is another milestone, rather than an end in the journey and what were some myths that were busted when you entered Harvard?
Nadya: You graduated from Harvard University in 2021. Getting into a prestigious university like Harvard often makes one feel like the University is an end in itself- a promise to lifelong success and happiness. When did you realize that Harvard, too, is another milestone, rather than an end in the journey and what were some myths that were busted when you entered Harvard?
You’re a successful entrepreneur, author, public speaker, founder of PERIOD among many other commendable accomplishments you hold. How have all these crowning glories made you feel? Did you also feel burnt out or a constant need to work & achieve in order to feel worthy, like so many hustling teenagers feel today?
Nadya: I feel a mix of imposter syndrome and immense gratitude. I am so thankful for the opportunity to do this work and do what I love. And I’m excited to keep focusing on the work. And yes, one of the biggest challenges I faced was burnout — both physically and mentally. I often worked until I was exhausted, and this was detrimental both for me and the people around me. Since then, I’ve really learned the importance of prioritizing my health (and getting 8+ hours of sleep!) and will continue to work on finding harmony in my work and life.
What is one thing that keeps you grounded ? What are some of the biggest life lessons you have
learnt till date ?
Nadya: One of the habits I’ve built that I’m most proud of is sleeping 8+ hours a night. A huge life lesson I’ve learned is to take care of yourself and prioritize sleeping. Burnout and hustle culture taught me that the hard way.
You’ve been very authentic and brave in smashing taboos and destigmatising periods, and even
mental health. That courage and passion is quite rare & immensely inspiring. What motivates
you to smash all taboos associated with Periods and Mental Health ?
Nadya: My strong belief and passion for this work is what keeps me motivated, along with the
inspiration I draw from watching our community grow and strengthen in numbers and
excitement. Periods are powerful — yet society teaches us to feel ashamed and silences us
when talking about menstruation. We should be conscious of this and stop this mentality!
We fundamentally need to get all of society (menstruator or not!) to acknowledge/act on
that menstrual products are NECESSITIES —and everyone should have equitable access
Sometimes I get discouraged because chipping away at the period stigma is a long and slow
process. The one thing that always affirms me and helps me know my work is valuable is
seeing firsthand the impact that August has made. I receive thousands of comments from
young menstruators on my social media telling us how we’ve changed their perspective on
periods, or the way they approach their period care. It’s amazing to see our impact on our
community, and that is what drives me every day to continue my work.
I believe in what I do —- and I am inspired and humbled by the opportunities to work with
such incredible people who push me to think bolder, work smarter, and be accountable to
the intentions of what we are building.
RAPID FIRE ROUND WITH NADYA
Describe yourself in three words
An advice to 12 year old Nadya.
One mantra for self-love-
The last line of your autobiography
One gift you would like to buy for yourself
Your biggest accomplishment till date
Your biggest support system
Authentic, passionate, curious.
To be more present in the moment and to stop worrying so much about growing up…
I attract abundance: I have enough, I do enough, and I am enough.
And then she went to sleep for her nightly 12 hours of rest…
Trying different forms of therapy (hypnosis, CBT, etc!) or maybe a yoga retreat in some beautiful place in another part of the world.
Sleeping 8+ hours a night every night. And I am really proud of my mental health journey and working through my PTSD triggers.
My chosen family.
If there’s one line of support you can write to someone suffering from Mental Illness, what
would it be?
Nadya: You’re not alone and I hope that you find the community to be able to realize that too. It’s a
powerful thing to share your story and reach out for help. So much of my mental health
practice today is about therapy and other self-care practices that I try to make time for.
And I know it’s a deep privilege to be able to have access to talk therapy - but there are
many other ways to practice self-care, whether that be with yoga, meditation, or perhaps
art. To each their own - find what works for you.
Lastly, what future do you envision for August?
Nadya: For August, sustainability and community are truly the goals that guide our decision making process — from the organic cotton to the packaging of the period products to our biodegradable wrappers. As a founder, I want to ensure that every decision we make at August is aligned with creating a more sustainable future for period care, especially as we continue innovating. Although we launched with disposable period products – we did so because we knew that we needed to take the journey of making more sustainable period care alongside our community’s needs. In the future, I hope that we can just keep expanding on our offerings.