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Somerville startup wants to make period products more accessible

Egal Pads are being installed in schools in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, as well as a private school in the United Kingdom and two schools in Rwanda.EGAL

A few years ago, a Somerville startup called Egal had an idea: To make period products more accessible in restrooms, why not distribute them like toilet paper?

The idea was inspired by a 2019 story in the Globe, which mentioned that things like toilet paper, soap, toilet seat covers, paper towels, and even urinal cakes are provided in public bathrooms for free — unlike pads or tampons.

“The period parity logic challenges age-old assumptions about whose necessities are really necessary — and the howl-worthy implication of many states’ sales tax codes that tampons are not necessities but ‘luxury’ items,” wrote Globe reporter Stephanie Ebbert.


Ebbert’s husband, Tom Devlin, an engineer who has worked in product development for 30 years, found the concept to be so simple that he thought someone must have already invented it.

It turned out no one had, Devlin said. “I saw a great opportunity to solve a problem that a lot of people didn’t know existed.”

Devlin then contacted his former colleague Penelope Finnie, whom he worked with at Sensory Cloud, a Boston-based health technology startup, to lead the new company.

“I love products that have some sort of a mission to them, and this one certainly did,” Finnie said. “So I was excited about it, and the timing seemed so right because many states had passed laws requiring free period products, and schools were just about taking effect within a year or so.“

In March 2022, the Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed the ”I Am” bill requiring all Massachusetts public schools, prisons, and shelters to provide free, easily accessible menstrual products.

After 18 months in development, Egal launched Pads on a Roll on Feb. 28. Egal pads are made in roll form with 40 on each roll. Free and individually wrapped pads are available in existing toilet paper dispensers or in Egal’s custom-designed dispensers.


The product allows for convenience and privacy, compared with alternatives such as vending machines or bringing your own, Finnie said.

“If school or work ... had any sort of products, they were generally from a vending machine, and those vending machines never worked,” Finnie said. Some people might not feel comfortable leaving a stall to go over to a vending machine, especially when there’s a chance it might be empty, she added.

Pads on a Roll is also inexpensive when it comes to maintenance, Devlin said. The pad dispensers are easier to refill and require less space and packaging compared with pad and tampon vending machines. Egal dispensers are free and only the rolls of pads are sold.

Egal is conducting pilot programs at the University of New Hampshire, the University of Vermont, and Williams College. The company’s pads are being installed in Cambridge Public Schools and the Mother Caroline Academy and Education Center in Massachusetts, as well as select schools in Rhode Island.

Outside the United States, Egal has installations at a private school in the United Kingdom and two schools in Rwanda.

“We feel like all bodily functions should be treated equally,” Finnie said. “[Pads] should be in stalls just like toilet paper. It’s a vestige from the past that we’re expected to bring the product with us. It’s a vestige of the stigmatization of women and inequality.”

Hannah Nguyen can be reached at hannah.nguyen@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @hannahcnguyen.