How Activewear Brands Are Making Menstruation Mainstream—And Why That’s So Revolutionary

In 2019, I was on set with Pharrell Williams for Adidas and held a tampon that said “tax-free” in one of the shoots. I remember seeing the campaign come to life, and even show up on a billboard in Times Square and feeling so excited about how the conversation about periods was finally being included on a big screen and mainstream media — in a setting that was not just about menstruation, but also about empowering menstruators overall. 

Historically, when menstruators are on their periods, it’s portrayed that they are less capable or can’t do physical activity. In older period ads, we’ve quite literally seen examples of this. These advertisements for menstrual products were often sexist, strange, and silly, and spread stigma and shame around menstruation. The first print advertisements for sanitary aprons and belts appeared around 1920, promising discretion, convenience, and a solution to “an intimate feminine problem.”  

However, recently there has been a shift in the conversation around periods. As shown through the Adidas campaign, now the biggest athletic brands are beginning to talk about periods openly and normalizing them. This is truly a transformative time and super meaningful, especially when looking at the history of how periods were mentioned in ads and mainstream media. 

How activewear brands are embracing menstruation

With the launch of Thinx Activewear, a period-proof activewear line, other athletic brands have also stepped up and embraced the intersection of fitness and menstruation. For example, earlier this year, R/GA London announced that it is partnering with Nike and leading female physiologist, Stacy Sims, to build the first-ever cycle syncing training collection on the Nike Training Club App. This partnership aims to help menstruators sync their training to their menstrual cycle and optimize their energy and listen to what their body needs for each phase of the cycle.

Recently, Adidas joined this wave by launching their line of period-proof activewear. Adidas has become the first major sportswear brand to produce this type of activewear, called “Stay in Play,” in hopes that it will improve the menstruation experience for athletes worldwide. In this Vogue article, senior product manager Kim Buerger describes the activewear line, saying “the three-layer technology features a wicking layer, absorbing layer and a leak-proof membrane to really make sure that everything stays where it’s supposed to stay.” Along with this activewear line, Adidas is also launching a global education campaign to “change the game for people who menstruate.” 

Making menstruation and fitness mainstream

With my period brand August, we’ve already started conversations about periods and talking about fitness and its impact on menstruation. We recently launched Ask August, the first free searchable database of period health questions, where the topic of exercising during menstruation often comes up too!

As a long-time period warrior and menstrual activist, I’m elated to see that companies and athletic brands are talking more about periods. I hope that this can continue happening and that mainstream media will no longer be afraid of the word “period” and tampons. It’s also important for these brands to be real and authentic about the period experience — it’s not something where you can buy period-proof activewear leggings and they magically can cure period cramps!

We still have a long way to go in being more inclusive of all period experiences, but I can slowly see the taboo and stigma surrounding periods start to chip away. I am more inspired than ever to continue this work! 

Want more from aSweatLife? Get us in your inbox!


Let us know!

Fitness Trends Move

About Nadya Okamoto

Nadya Okamoto is a 23-year-old Harvard student. In early 2020, Okamoto co-founded August, a lifestyle brand working to reimagine periods. As the Today Show describes, “August is a growing online community aiming to "re-imagine and redefine the period experience to be powerful and dignified," with members who engage in conversations about how to properly use menstrual cups or what it's like to be a transgender man having a period, for example.” Nadya Okamoto is also the Founder of PERIOD (period.org), an organization fighting to end period poverty and stigma that she founded at the age of 16. Under her leadership as Executive Director for five years, PERIOD addressed over 1.5 million periods and registered over 800 campus chapters in all 50 states and 50 other countries. In 2017, Nadya ran for public office in Cambridge, MA at age 19 — at the time, becoming the youngest Asian American to run. In 2018, Nadya published her debut book, Period Power: A Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement with publisher Simon & Schuster, which made the Kirkus Reviews list for Best Young Adult Nonfiction of 2018. Nadya is also the former Chief Brand Officer and current 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.