The mission of Earth Day this year is to spread awareness and take action to end plastic pollution. Plastic use around the world is skyrocketing and is polluting our land and oceans and negatively impacting our health. In light of this theme, we reached out to our friends and leaders in the menstrual cup industry – Diva International Inc. The DivaCup is a silicone menstrual cup designed to collect menstrual fluid rather than absorb it. It is reusable, affordable, and comfortable and we want to spread the word about this amazing product as an alternative to wasteful pads and tampons.
Read on for an insightful and empowering Q + A session with the CEO and Co-Founder of Diva International Inc., Carinne Chambers-Saini.
Q: What inspired the creation of the DivaCup?
A: The Diva story really began with my mom, Francine. She grew up with limited options for period care and when she finally discovered that there was a better option (reusable menstrual cups), she championed this product for me.
When my mom got her period for the first time, she lost a sense of freedom in the activities she loved. Her grandmother said, “you’re a woman now, ladies don’t climb trees.” The only feminine hygiene product she had available to her at the time were sanitary belts. These bulky belts were not designed for movement and made most physical activities nearly impossible.
Even at a young age my mom thought there had to be a better way. At 14 years old, she had even conceived the idea of a cup that could collect menstrual flow, rather than absorb it. Then, in 1992, my mom found out that the concept of a menstrual cup did exist. She was excited this concept existed, but was also very frustrated that she did not know about it. We both tried the cup and were so impressed with the freedom, comfort and that we no longer had to contribute all the monthly waste into our overflowing landfills.
After years of my mom promoting and pioneering the menstrual cup category, we recognized that the concept needed to be modernized. In 2001 when I graduated from university, we embarked on this journey of a lifetime to create and market the DivaCup to menstruators around the world- and we have never looked back!
Q: In light of Earth Day, what does sustainability mean to you?
A: For the Diva team, we want to continue to challenge the status quo and find a better way in everything we do and promote. As a leader in the menstrual category, we feel a sense of responsibility to empower, motivate and educate our users about their health and the environment. We are champions of empowerment for women, for society and for our environment. This is why we provide our product as an eco-friendly alternative and why we voice environmental sustainability through both our product and our own company. The efforts of our environmental committee and employees have led us to become a Certified B Corporation® and we plan to continue this success. The best way to show environmental sustainability is by starting in your own backyard.
Q: How do you want others to feel when using The DivaCup?
A: For me, it is all about empowerment and positivity. I never want someone to dread their period, I want them to feel good about the experience and to know that they can go through their day with confidence. I know how much it had changed my life and my mom’s life, and we want to share this experience with others. That’s what has kept us motivated to keep going all these years!
Q: Did you have any formal education or experience in entrepreneurship?
A: Every stage of business has presented new challenges and opportunities. Today a big focus for me is personal development and continued learning. It is critical to our ongoing success and to achieving our goals. I’ve held a number business-related jobs throughout my schooling, but Diva has been the most important job in all my life. I graduated from the Lazaridis School of Business in Waterloo, Ontario and after graduation I joined my mom in helping to build Diva International Inc. Ever since then it has been one learning experience after the other. We would fail, learn from the experience and try again. We were marketing a product in a category that had not seen any real innovation in over 50 years – it was a big task.
Today I am trying to do all I can to surround myself with other entrepreneurs; we lend advice and learn how to navigate the challenges together. I think one of the best ways to continue to learn and grow is through mentorship. I am involved with TEC Canada (Vistage), a leadership development and peer mentoring program for Canadian business owners, executives and entrepreneurs, as well as a member of SHEO, a global community of women working to support and celebrate female innovators. I was fortunate to be selected as one of forty of Canada’s top entrepreneurs in 2016 in the Quantum Shift program through Ivey school of business. This education and network has contributed to a lot of personal development and growth.
Q: Who has been your biggest inspiration/best mentor?
A: My mom has always been and will always be my biggest inspiration. She is the one person that has kept me going through this entire journey and I have always admired her fearless entrepreneurial spirit. She never accepted things because that’s the way they’ve always been. My mom will challenge the norms and find a better way. She was born to be an entrepreneur, and her experience has taught me so much. She continues to support me and I am what I am today because of her.
Q: What has been the biggest challenge with owning a business?
A: I always joke that we are an overnight success story 20 years in the making. This has been a long journey for our team. We really had to pioneer this category and in the beginning there was not a lot of regulatory guidance for menstrual cups. We had to create our own customs codes to ship products across the border and had to use the guidance documents for tampons for the US FDA 510k application.
At the distributor level, buyers were not interested in talking to us. They could not believe we were trying to get this kind of a product in stores and told us that this would never be on shelf or used by menstruators. We were laughed out of boardrooms, but now the DivaCup is in almost all major retailers and is sold in 21 countries worldwide. For all the progress that we have made, we still have a lot of work to do to educate potential partners that the DivaCup is a viable, worthwhile and life-changing product.
Q: Can you tell us what is in store for the future of DivaCup?
A: I think one of the biggest areas for growth at Diva is the same area where we have seen so much improvement already, and that is the education element. So much has happened in the last decade to improve menstrual health and we have barely scratched the surface when it comes to education and menstrual equity. We not only want to improve the lives of our ever-growing Diva Community, but we want to educate all people about their own menstrual health and of course, the benefits of sustainable products. One of the main ways of doing this will be through our Diva Cares initiative, which will be rolling out this year!
Q: Any advice for other women with dreams of creating their own business?
A: When it comes to being an entrepreneur, and more specifically, a female entrepreneur tackling a male-dominated space, you need to take it one day at a time. It can be difficult to be taken seriously by investors when proposing a product for a bodily process men don’t experience themselves. In fact, all “out of the box” products will come up against resistance from investors, distributors and retailers. You will experience failure, but it is important to learn from it. Try something and if that doesn’t works, try something else. This has been a long journey for me and my mother, longer and more difficult than we ever thought. To see how far we have come, and how far the category has come is really a dream come true and makes it all worthwhile.
Q: For fun, do you have any period “horror” stories you’d like to share?
A: My first period was a bit of a “horror story”. It happened during the summer around my 13th birthday at a pool party at my Uncle’s house. I ended up crying in the bathroom after trying to get a tampon in for hours. Just goes to show how little I liked tampons, even then! I still used tampons for about a year until my mom found out about menstrual cups and introduced the concept to me. I will never forget the frustration and fear I experienced that day.
I was on vacation not too long ago and was horrified to discover I actually forgot my DivaCup. Everything was closed so I had to go about 12 hours without it until I could get to a store to buy one. Once the emergency was diverted, I literally couldn’t stop talking about how much I love my DivaCup! I almost forgot since it’s been so long since I’ve used anything else. I am definitely going to make sure I always have two on hand so that never happens again!
Social Media Handle: Instagram: @thedivacup @carinne.chambers.saini