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Courtesy of Julie

Julie: the brand that wants to revolutionise the morning-after-pill

Taking aim at stigma, misinformation and barriers of accessibility, a new emergency contraception brand is trying to make your morning after as smooth as possible

“We’re trying to create a better coming-of-age story than the one we grew up with,” says Julie Schott. It’s a mission she and her business partner Brian Bordainick embarked on a few years ago with the launch of Starface, the pimple patch brand that takes the shame out of acne (and which you’ve seen all over your FYP). Now they are taking on emergency contraception with their latest brand, Julie. “You could say, ‘why do we need another [morning after pill]?’” Schott says. “Because something’s not working. There’s an opportunity, in the same way that we’ve shifted the experience of having acne for a young person, to shift this experience because it doesn’t have to be this way.”

In the US, roughly 48 per cent of pregnancies are either mistimed or unwanted. Similarly, almost half of all pregnancies globally are unintended, totalling 121 million cases a year. “That felt unacceptable, that is so significant for that many pregnancies to be mistimed, or unwanted when we have options. The options are there, what’s missing is the access and the education,” says Schott, who also teamed up with Amanda E/J Morrison when founding the brand. While the morning-after pill is legal in all 50 states and can be bought at any age without a prescription, stigma, misinformation and barriers to accessibility mean that it’s often not getting into the hands of those who need it. “We thought this fantastic drug already exists, it’s already on the shelf. What can we improve: access and education, and that’s what we set out to do.”

Julie is a progestin-only emergency contraceptive (Levonorgestrel 1.5mg) that helps prevent pregnancy by temporarily delaying or stopping ovulation. FDA-approved, Levonorgestrel is not a form of birth control nor an abortion pill – instead, it helps the body stop a pregnancy before it starts. Julie is stocked in Walmarts across the US, and with more than 4,700 stores it will be readily available in every part of the country. For those who can’t afford to buy it, Julia also runs a one-for-one donation program with the goal of becoming the largest donor of emergency contraception in the US.

Dazed spoke to Schott and Talia Halperin, head of impact and innovation, about the brand, using TikTok to educate consumers and their new film which aims to broaden the idea of who uses emergency contraception in the popular imagination.

A few months before you launched, Roe v Wade was overturned in the US. Did that have an impact on the project? How far along were you at that point?

Julie Schott: We were pre-launched by then and we anticipated that coming. It’s a common misconception but those laws don’t impact access to this drug, which is fantastic. But it did make it all the more important to continue to educate and provide access because when one option goes away in a certain market, you need more access to the options that you still have, so it impacted us in that sense.

It must have emphasised to you how important what you were doing was.

Julie Schott: Absolutely.

Were there any other obstacles you faced during the process?

Julie Schott: There’s still fear. When we went out to place something as simple as, like, a podcast ad, there were certain podcasters who you might think of as super outspoken and open-minded and they said, I don’t want to run this ad, it’s going to alienate my audience. I love what you’re doing, but I just can’t. When you hear things like that, you know there’s still a stigma. I guarantee they [the podcaster] wouldn’t say it about a monthly/daily birth control.

Was that one of the stigmas that you found – that difference in acceptance between the pill and the morning-after pill?

Julie Schott: I think so, and that’s why it was important for us in making this video to show the full spectrum of users that we met during our focus groups. In pop culture, you see a monolith of the user, and it’s usually a punch line. It’s usually used for comedic effect and sure you can find the humour in a situation, but if that’s the only experience that we see reflected in media, there’s a problem with that. We wanted to create something that showed a mother, a mother who might be married who’s with her boyfriend, a young single woman – the full spectrum of users.

Where did the name Julie come from?

Julie Schott: We always place an emphasis on names and words that an English, Spanish, or French speaker can read. Julia was this name that was super familiar, if you live in the US, you probably know a Julie. I remember asking my parents ‘Why did you name me Julie?’ And they said it was a really unpretentious and timeless name. That was interesting. Unpretentious was a really interesting word to me and when I thought about the retail landscape that felt really important, it felt accessible and friendly.

In our focus group, we learned that there are many users who go to the store, and they’re afraid they’re gonna run into someone they know because they live in a small community. They might even know the person checking them out at the register. We wanted to create an experience that if you’re looking for discretion, you can get discretion with this. You may be holding this in your hand and run into your neighbour, and it’s not going to scream out what it does. Even to have it in your home, maybe you live with your parents, maybe you’re a young person, so being able to offer that is important to us.

“Our ultimate goal is that this is something that those who use it keep at home”

The packaging is so distinct, what was the initial concept?

Julie Schott: It was a really interesting evolution of what we wanted to communicate with the packaging, because clarity and safety are number one for this, where you’re dealing with medication and trust. Ultimately, you’re making a big investment when you choose this product, and the outcome, it’s not a maybe – this needs to work out. Trust, safety and clarity are really important, so as much as I might have loved to go crazy with a design or an aesthetic, it’s not really what it’s about.

You mentioned making emergency contraception more accessible to marginalised communities. How did you want to try to reach those demographics?

Talia Halperin: With our donation programme, we donate one pill for every pill sold, and that partner network is really diversified across the country and representative of the different communities in the country, which is why we are spending the time and effort to go into the states and communities and find the organisations that are really reaching people who are most affected by health disparities.

We have some great partners that specifically work with women of colour who are typically less likely to use emergency contraception. We have partnerships with this amazing organisation Black Women’s Blueprint, they have mobile healing units, and they work closely in Brooklyn, we also have the Kentucky Justice Network, which serves primarily people of colour. It’s not even just that, obviously we will want to reach everyone, but we also look at people who don’t speak English as their first language, people who are uninsured or uninsured people who are homeless, as well as people who are victims of domestic violence. Any marginalised group, we ensure our donation network has access to them.

Is there anything that you want people to know about emergency contraception?

Julie Schott: What we would love for people to know about emergency contraception is the sooner you take it, the better. There’s no reason why you have to take it in the morning, if you had a moment in the evening, if you have it at home, take it immediately after. Our ultimate goal is that this is something that those who use it keep at home, you don’t necessarily take your allergy meds every day, you don’t use band aids every day, but these things are in the average household.

This is part of your health and wellness kit in your household. There was a time – we learned this in building this brand – when people didn’t keep condoms in the way that they do now, they would buy condoms as needed. Imagine buying condoms as needed if you’re a condom user, it makes no sense. Just have them ready, why not? The ultimate goal is you just have it on hand so it’s not this mad dash, you don’t need to put yourself in that position.

And it has a shelf life thats long enough for people to just keep it?

Julie Schott: Oh, for sure. Yeah.

Starface has done so incredibly well on social media. Did you have social media in mind when you were creating the look and messaging of Julie?

Julie Schott: It's interesting, because the user isn’t currently using it and then sharing it, it’s a private experience. It’s an important but private experience, whereas wearing the Starface Hydro-Stars is a very public and communicative experience. So in order for the user of Julie’s emergency contraceptive to share about it on social media, they need to feel safe. So it’s important for us to create a safe place for people to have those conversations. The priority is putting out easy to digest, accessible education and information around this product. The user has everything they need, and they don’t have to go on a deep dive on Reddit to figure out what they’re putting in their body. 

You’d be surprised how little information the brands who offer this drug actually provide the user in an easy-to-digest way that they can trust. We assembled a medical board for that reason, so the user can ask questions and have them answered in a timely manner. You purchase it without a prescription so you’re not having an interaction with the doctor. It’s important for us to create a safe space where all the information is available so that the user doesn’t have to do any work, they should not have to do work.

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