100 billion period products are thrown away every year. Most contain plastic but cannot be reused or recycled. Instead they break into tiny pieces and enter our food chain, and your lunch. Tackling environmental issues is not a question of if, it’s when. Soon, all business will need to think about how to improve the environment, as the problem will be unavoidable. The recent press coverage and media campaigns about plastic pollution prove that consumers are waking up to the issue, too. Change needs to happen, but it doesn’t need to be difficult or painful. We should be working on this both top down and bottom up, as businesses and consumers, was the thought when two friends, Celia Pool & Alec Mills decided to reduce the environmental impact of the products we use every day, starting with tampons. Together, they have high ethical and environmental standards, but the industry wasn’t meeting them. So after 2 years of careful design, they created D – the world’s first reusable applicator. Alongside D, the duo have launched a range of organic, toxin free tampons.
Providing comfort, without the waste
For Celia, the issue of sustainability was there, lingering under the surface. Scouring charity shops and second hand furniture was a big part. And always being aware at Christmas of that massive pile of packaging and rubbish that immediately built up after the 10 seconds it took to rip open all the presents. However it wasn’t until Celia was at home with a newborn baby that the impact fully hit. “Every day we discard our rubbish in many places, bins at work, on the street, in other people’s homes. Being confronted with how much waste I was producing really knocked me to want to make a change,” Celia recalls.
In 2015, she co-founded a menstrual product subscription service, delivering a range of high street products to women across the UK. Things were going well, but increasingly they couldn’t ignore the waste produced by these products. Celia knew she had to help bring about a change in this industry and fast. Therefore, after 2 years of careful design, D was launched. D works like a normal applicator, but is reusable – providing comfort, without the waste. By switching to a D, a woman can save up to 12,000 disposable applicators from reaching landfill or polluting our oceans.
Bigger than “jumping for joy” moments
According to Celia, as a female co-founder with a female-centric product, she faced some of the usual challenges. “I’m a mother of two young kids and I’ve had investors turn me down for funding because I would be ‘distracted’ being a mother. On other occasions, I’ve had male investors not able to look me in the eye and engage with my pitch purely because of the subject matter. It happens! That doesn’t mean that there aren’t incredible investors out there, both male and female, who get the product and the bigger environmental picture. After all, this plastic problem affects us all. So my advice is to persist, because if your product is solving a genuine pain point then there will be people out there willing to invest and support your growth,” she says.
Sharing about their experience with crowdfunding platforms, Celia says, “For a small startup, crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter are an awesome place to take your idea to the crowd and see what they think. Luckily there were a lot of people who agreed with us. We ended up being featured in over 100 top international publications, trending globally on Twitter, selling in over 50 countries, smashing our funding target on day 3 of our 30 day campaign and overfunding by nearly 300%. The phrase ‘jumping for joy’ does not quite cover how nuts we went after seeing the amazing positive response we got.”
For Celia, walking and cycling instead of taking a bus or train is so restorative. Using that time to listen to music, a podcast, call a friend or just mull over what’s challenging you whilst you pace along the streets is heaven. “In reality, though, you’re most likely to find us nattering to each other about tampons whilst we lounge on our Boris Bikes at the traffic lights,” she says.
Business can be used for good
DAME was founded on the belief that business can be used as a force for good. The team at DAME uses this core value to guide every decision they make in the business, bringing great clarity to their route forward. By communicating team’s genuine and authentic commitment to this mission, Celia hopes that their message will quickly be picked up by those eager to join a movement for change. “To date, we have seen this happen not only with our consumers and the press, but with employees. People are increasingly drawn to companies doing well. 75% of millennial would take a pay cut to work at a socially responsible company,” she adds.
“All this strengthens my resolve that DAME can continue to tackle critical problems that are not openly acknowledged, that are significantly underfunded, and that have historically been controlled by giant monopolies. Today we are focusing on menstrual products, but our vision is to revolutionize the entire bathroom. These are big mountains, but having strong guiding principles makes the navigation much easier,” asserts Celia.
Igniting meaningful environment change
Celia believes the only way for sustainable alternatives to have true mainstream appeal, and ignite meaningful environmental change, is if they are convenient to use, high performing and aspirational. These were the core principles that guided the design of DAME’s reusable tampon applicator, D. The exciting thing for Celia is that since they first had the idea for D, the cultural context has shifted; people are waking up to the impact of single-use plastic, and are looking for change. D makes that change really easy.
DAME is now growing and witnessing the impact that a female-led business for a female-centric product can have. DAME has included women in every step of its journey from design, engineering, manufacturing, marketing and branding. It has been a collaborative process which has been at the heart of what everyone does at DAME. “D, our reusable tampon applicator, is just the start of the DAME journey. You only have to open up your bathroom cupboard to see a myriad of products and unnecessary plastic that haven’t been rethought for decades, and this is a problem that goes well beyond menstrual products. With DAME we effectively want to turn the bathroom green,” Celia concludes.