British start-up, organic tampon company Dame’s aims to address the amount of plastic waste the industry produces and to create products that are practical and shows how periods are not something to be ashamed of.
In episode six of SheSays Says, associate editor of The Drum, Sonoo Singh speaks to co-founders Celia Pool and Alec Mills on the start-up sensation and how they aim to reduce plastic wastage within sanitary products.
Having worked in the menstrual product sector for many years, Pool and Mills were increasingly aware of the plastic wastage that came from these products. Following research around women’s use of sanitary items, both found that while other environmentally friendly products like coffee cups, water bottles and bags were popular, reusable menstrual items weren’t.
“The big answer that kept coming back to us was the habit change,” explained Pool.
“Women were so entrenched in using these products, that they had used since their mothers had shown them how, and to make that leap into something very different was quite scary. We could work with that.”
Pool continued: “The plastic problem is everyone’s problem. Half the population are female, they get their period every month, that's a lot of plastic waste that's piling up and that is everyone’s problem, male and female.”
Education and understanding
Sanitary products have a deep history with misogyny, even in 2019 there is still a lack of understanding of the female anatomy. However, according to Pool, her partnership with Mills means they have had more men wanting to talk about it.
“It's his [Mills'] character, he's very inquisitive,” Pool explained. “He wants to know and learn.
“It's great having Alec involved as we’ve increasingly had guys wanting to talk about it, wanting to find out about it. It opens the conversation up and that's something that was always important to us.”
Cultural shifts produce product shifts
Looking at when they launched Dame, it came at the perfect time. More and more are people becoming comfortable about talking about menstruation and starting to question the products that are used.
Mills said: “If we launched this business 5/6 years ago, it would have gone under in a matter of months. There's had to have been a cultural shift before there was a product shift.”
“Each body requires different things,” adds Pool. By offering a choice, it paves the way to more and more people switching to a new way of thinking and thinking about using environmentally friendly products.
Getting the word out
Having started on Kickstarter, this gave the duo a good platform to begin selling and they continue sell the applicator via the website and very soon, Waitrose.
“It's incredible because it means it's pushing this product into the mainstream, allowing people to see it and getting to grips with it.
“Our biggest goal is to try and convert as many people away from using plastic.”
Female involvement in a male dominated industry
When looking at the advertising and marketing industries, there is still a heavy male to female ratio, particularly in designers. There aren’t many female creatives in the field.
In every stage of Pool and Mills' process, they have had women involved. In their experience up to the point of raising money to fund the project, it was an all-male world. Pitching to make investors who would often laugh at them in meetings.
“As soon as we decided we were going to do this product, we thought right then that we're going to consciously get women in every step of the way,” said Pool.
The only hurdle they had was when they took the product to medical engineers and the one female staff member was on maternity leave. “We helped them with a campaign to try and get more female engineers involved, because you can't have products that are used by women when they're not designed by women. It just doesn't work.
Addressing the cost implications
The lack of access to sanitary products, even in London, is at an astonishing high.
How are Dame addressing this issue? The product itself is not the way to fight it, but through other partnerships, explained Pool.
“We have been working quite closely with an amazing charity called Bloody Good Period, who make sure that they get these products to refugee centres. Further out we have been donating to homeless shelters.”
She concluded: “We feel that that issue is incredibly important because every woman should have access to these types of products and every woman should feel comfortable about using them and feel comfortable on their period. Because the implications otherwise are not cool.”