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Clemmie Ziegler, 1st October 2019
BLEED RED. THINK GREEN
A few years ago, Celia Pool and Alec Mills had a simple but brilliant idea. Billions of plastic tampon applicators are thrown away every year and cannot be recycled. Why not make a re-usable one! they thought, and while we're about it, let's make it chemical and plastic-free. So that's exactly what they did. Now, their elegant and very eco 'D' system is right at the front of the fast-growing 'femtech' market.
We talked to Alec about his and Celia's eureka moment and how they runed it from an idea into reality.
Alec, how did you get involved with tampons in the first place?
It was at dinner with my now co-founder Celia and she had just had a baby. I asked her what the stress points were and she said small things, like forgetting her tampons and having to go back to the shops with her baby strapped to her chest to buy them. I suggested she had them delivered... a few bottles of wine later we'd come up with a period subscription service called Sanitary Owl.
A few months later we had several thousand customers but saw first-hand the amount of chemicals and plastic that goes into tampons. We turned to our investors and told them that we simply didn’t believe in the products we were delivering. So we stopped selling other brands and put our minds to rethinking the tampon industry.
Reusable period options like menstrual cups and reusable pads were available but weren’t being used. We wanted to create a product that required minimum habit change and maximum comfort. Two years later we launched the world’s first reusable tampon applicator and organic biodegradable tampons. Our mission is to make periods better for women, and the planet.
Sum up DAME in three words.
Natural healthy periods
Have you found it challenging being a male founder of a brand that focuses on women’s sanitary items?
Not really. I think in many ways it helps being outside the industry looking in. For decades women have used the same period products as their mothers and never thought to question what goes into them. The major brands have pulled the wool over yours eyes, selling. products on the promise of performance and discretion. Firstly, organic cotton tampons work as well as plastic products but do not have the 14 or so added chemicals that go into them (one of them being pesticides). Secondly, what sort of message does it send to teenage girls about their periods reading the words "24 hr discreet protection" on the side of tampon boxes? There's so much wrong with industry - as an outsider perhaps it's sometimes easier to call out the BS.
That said, there are only two times I ever wish I was a woman (that I'm prepare to share). The first is that I've spent thousands of hours designing and refining our products but will never get to use one! The second is when telling someone I've just met what I do, which inevitably leads to multiple follow-up questions and I spend my whole evening talking about periods. I should probably just say I work in insurance. Although arguably tampons are a form of insurance!
What are the three biggest lessons that you’ve learnt?
What can we expect from DAME next?
We launched DAME to solve 3 issues with tampons: Remove single-use plastic in applicators and the tampons themselves, make tampons toxin-free and biodegradable, improve the branding and customer experience so girls grow up to become confident women.
These three things govern everything we do and we’re constantly evolving and innovating to ensure we drive them forward. We’ve come a long way, but there’s still plenty to do. The wrapper around our tampons is still plastic (an industry standard as organic tampons have to be airtight by law), for which we’re currently developing a solution. Thanks to our fantastic customers and their insights, we’re improving our applicator all the time. We’re also pushing out a period positive agenda to schools across the UK to help foster more confident teenage girls. Our B Corp status is important to us and we’re continuously collaborating with charities that support women, and working with our suppliers to reduce waste and lower our carbon footprint. We have some exciting announcements to make just around the corner!
Give us 3 handy tips to make our bathroom habits more sustainable.
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. In that order.
1. Reduce how much you use (eg wash your hair once rather than the - total nonsense - twice that they recommend). Why not go for organic products while you're at it.
2. Reuse the bottles by refilling them in store. Even supermarkets like Waitrose now offers this in some stores
3. Only 50% of bathroom plastic is recycled, compared with 90% in the kitchen, so an easy step is put a recycling bin in the bathroom.
Thank you Alec.
DAME re-useable tampon applicator and refills are available from selected branches of Boots.
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