Please tell us a bit about the nature of your business...
I co-founded DAME, a sustainable personal care brand which has designed D - the world’s first reusable tampon applicator. We created this in response the massive single-use plastic waste that traditionally comes from period products.
Each D is crafted from BPA free medical grade Mediprene, with inbuilt antimicrobial Sanipolymers that keeps D hygienic. It’s ergonomically designed for total comfort and fits seamlessly with all standard tampons, giving the consumer the convenience of a conventional applicator, without any of the waste.
We’ve launched this alongside our fully biodegradable tampons, created from nothing but organic cotton. Unlike conventional tampons, our DAME tampons contain no plastics, synthetics, fragrances or pesticides.
This is the first in a line of products we will be launching at DAME to help people rethink their everyday products and reduce the negative environmental impact they have.
What inspired you to start your business?
My co-founder Alec and I were already working in the menstrual product sector, delivering a range of high street products to women across the UK via a subscription service. But increasingly we couldn’t ignore the waste produced by these products, especially as a mother of a young daughter. 100 billion period products are thrown away around the world each year. We knew we had to help bring about change in this industry and fast.
Great reusable menstrual products have existed for decades, but very few of our customers were buying them. Our research showed it was the significant habit change that was preventing women from switching. So we saw an opportunity to create a sustainable solution that was really easy for people to adopt - particularly for the 60% of UK women who prefer applicator tampons.
After 2 years of careful design, we’ve just launched D, the world’s first reusable tampon applicator. 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.
What was the most challenging aspect of building your business in the beginning?
Pretty much everything! The menstrual category is something that no one really wants to talk about; it sits in a supermarket aisle, largely being ignored. The majority of investors we were meeting were male and not interested in funding a product they knew little or nothing about. I even had one investor turn me down because I was a mother and would ‘be distracted’. Plus we had taken on the immense task of creating a new product from scratch. However often those are the best challenges because all the problems are out on the table from the beginning, and you can only go uphill from there.
The most important aspect for us was to get product-market fit, there was no point in creating something that people didn’t need. If we got that we knew the rest would fall into place. So we did a lot of market research, both within the menstrual product sector and the wider market, examining growing interest in reusables and organic. We knew that if we wanted to reach maximum conversion we had to make it a design-led product. It couldn’t look purely ‘eco’ otherwise we wouldn’t appeal to a wider audience who mostly buy based on looks and performance. The zenith point for us was the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. This was a great place for us to do a litmus test and see if the world wanted what we had designed. We ended up hitting our funding target on day 3 of our 30 day live project, trended globally on Twitter and had the major UK retailers knocking on our door wanting to stock us. It blew our minds.
If you were to launch your business again, would you do anything differently?
My answer to this always depends on how I’m feeling on the day you ask me... Small things like if I could go back in time I wouldn’t have built a bespoke website for our previous business. It was the most painful, costly and time-sucking process which, when you’re a small business, can sink you. Unless you absolutely need to, it is insanity to go bespoke these days, there are so many great off-the-shelf solutions like Shopify which can be adapted. However In the grand scheme of things you need the mistakes to learn from and grow. If everything went right from day one your knowledge, grit and determination might not be as strong.
What keeps you motivated?
Believing 100% in what DAME is trying to achieve. We believe humans and the planet can exist in equilibrium, but only if we act now and start making meaningful changes to how we live. Everything we use today can be replaced with better alternatives that create less environmental damage. By using business as a force for good, we can drive this change and empower customers with better choices. If we can change people’s habits and get them to switch to reusables or reduce their consumption, even if it is not DAME products that they’re using, then we will feel we have succeeded. It’s this mission that makes sometimes missing out on bedtime stories that little bit more bearable.
How do you balance work and family life?
Not very well. Kids are brought to meetings and tampons are taken to school so the whole thing is slightly chaotic. But I’m lucky to have a husband who is in this world and runs his own start-up so I can offload at the end of a busy day and he gets it - or just sits, nods and thinks who is this crazy lady I’m with...
What’s your proudest business moment?
Winning the Dezeen Design Award last year was pretty monumental, and we totally weren’t expecting it to happen. We were sitting in this beautiful industrial space in the Tate Modern, with the world’s top talent architecture and design, feeling like the kids who had been let in to watch. The fact that we were seated facing the loos, at the back of the room, told us we didn’t have a hope in hell of winning. When they called our name my jaw dropped and I must have walked up on stage looking like a grinning zombie. For a menstrual product to win such a prestigious award was incredible and really fortified our belief that we can bring the tampon out of its hiding place in the bathroom cupboard and into full view.
What’s been your most successful form of marketing and/ or brand awareness?
For us it has been PR and storytelling. When we launched the Kickstarter campaign we had no idea how the media would react. We just knew we had to tell the story of where we came from and what we wanted to achieve. Thanks to our awesome PR team at Essence we were featured in over 100 top publications from around the world which hugely exceeded our expectations. Our timing was very fortunate as only two months before David Attenborough had opened everyone’s eyes to the plastic waste problem on Blue Planet 2, so the world was ready. Then I think it was seeing that we were coming from a genuine place which really helped spread our message. We weren’t one of the big boy corporations who were jumping on a bandwagon and paying lip service to what they saw as a trend. Our mission genuinely runs through our company all the way from our products, to our packaging, to our business practices.
Do you have any positive habits or routines that you feel have attributed to your success?
I am not your typical founder. I’m not one of those golden entrepreneurs who survive on 4 hours sleep, has endless energy, positivity and everyone always knew they were going to change the world. I have doubts, I have worries, I endlessly feel like the spinning plates are coming crashing down. However I make sure I talk to people to get perspective on what’s happening, whether that’s a co-founder, husband, friend or mentor. And I run, or walk to work as much as possible to clear my head. It resets me which is important because starting your own business is an endless list of challenges. The highs are amazing but the lows are pretty brutal so keeping refreshed is key.
What's your favourite business app/ tool/ book/ podcast etc?
Reading about other founder’s experiences is seriously helpful because if you’re making mistakes, you can bet a million people before you have made the same. Plus you’ve got to love that cheesy bit where it all looks like it’s going to fail and then they turn it around! Dyson and Innocent were two that we really got stuck into.
What advice would you give to new entrepreneurs just starting out?
Ensure that there is a genuine pain point/need for your business. It’s a recurring theme to create the solution and then attach the problem to it afterwards. By really focusing in on the pain point it forces you to be honest with yourself which is difficult, but in the long run it will save you a lot of time, money and heartache. Plus once you have that in place, the rest is easy by comparison.
If you want to get in touch or see more of Celia's adventure, head over to her website or social media:
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