Talking about menstruation isn’t an easy topic to address out in the open, but the Kitchener-born founders of a menstrual product are empowering women to be unfazed by their period.
The mother and daughter duo of Francine Chambers and Carinne Chambers-Saini are the founders of the DivaCup, an eco-friendly menstruation cup. The two grew the business from their Kitchener basement to reach the mass market as the world’s top selling menstruation cup.
It started when Francine was growing up, as she was looking for an alternative to pads or tampons. It wasn’t until the 90s after Francine had her own daughter that she discovered an American magazine article from Europe touting the solution she sought for all those years.
“She found that the pads at that time were really debilitating, they were thick, they were uncomfortable,” said Roxanne Law, Chief Operations Officer at DivaCup. “All through her life, she knew there had to be a better way to have her period.”
Ever the entrepreneur, Francine already had a jewellery business, but she then became a distributor for the menstrual cup and brought the product overseas from the United States. Together with her daughter, they refined and remodelled the product into today’s version of the DivaCup, which hasn’t changed since the original design in 2001.
“Francine’s vision always from the beginning was to have every woman to have the availability of this cup so they could see what the advantages were of 12 hours of protection, being able to swim, being able to do whatever they wanted to do and not have any limits when they were on their periods,” Law said.
While they had an innovative product on their hands, the mother-daughter duo faced an uphill battle when pitching the product to prospective buyers. Along their journey, they were left out of many boardrooms and offices after they explained what their product was for.
The Chambers started making inroads after demonstrating the DivaCup at various trade shows, where they could explain the benefits of the product and people could see the cup in-person. After running the company solely by themselves, they brought on a team in 2012 to bring the DivaCup to the masses.
Rather than attack the individual retail market, the team targeted the buyers of big retailers. Diva took out large advertisements in prominent magazines to help raise brand awareness for the burgeoning product.
The company got its first big break when Shoppers Drug Mart agreed to sell the product in the summer of 2014, and the DivaCup landed on store shelves in 2015. Suddenly, retail chains in the United States like Walgreens and Walmart wanted to jump on the DivaCup bandwagon.
When Francine and Carinne originally developed the DivaCup in those early days, having a sustainable product was, and still is, a key focus of the company. In 2018, Diva International was named a certified B Corp.
This past June, Diva International (the parent company of the DivaCup) was also named one of Canada’s greenest employers for their extensive green initiatives. Law was also named as a Clean 16 recipient this year, which recognizes the country's foremost contributors to clean capitalism.
“Finding out we were one of Canada’s greenest companies is just a way for us to be proud as a group, as a team, saying we’re doing the right things,” Law said. “We still have a long way to go, but we’re getting there and we’re doing what we can for the environment.”
On a yearly basis, a staggering number of feminine hygiene products are sent to landfill. Close to 20 billion sanitary pads, tampons and applicators are disposed every year. By switching to sustainable products like the DivaCup, they’ve diverted over 3.6 million disposables from North American landfills over the last fiscal year.
Since the DivaCup is considered a medical device, every hour, they have to test a few of the products on their assembly line for compliance. Rather than just sending those test products to the landfill, the company recycles them and the silicone cups are melted down and repurposed as medical device tools.
For many women, the DivaCup has been a huge difference-maker in their lives. Depending on their profession, they may not have the ability to change a pad or a tampon every few hours. Now, they don’t have to worry.
The DivaCup can last up to 12 hours, and the company constantly hears from customers about how the product has made their lives easier. Law introduced one of her friends to the DivaCup, and she’s never looked back.
“She could actually go three hours, and for her, that was life-changing,” Law said. “She was a teacher in Special Ed, and she didn’t have to excuse herself from the class every hour on the hour to take care of a bare, basic need.”
Diva has a few core products (the cup itself and a few cleaning products), but they recently introduced a “first period box”, which includes all the menstruation products young women need.
The company also released a documentary, “Pandora’s Box”, which delved into the cultural and societal taboos from menstruation. The film was featured at the Whistler Film Festival last winter and will receive full distribution in the near future.