The Interview: Co-founder Alec Mills on how DAME is helping to transform the period industry
Whilst periods are still widely associated with plastic, chemicals and stigma, the period product industry has embraced some innovation in recent years.
From organic cotton tampons with reusable, self-sanitising applicators to stylish yet comfortable period underwear, there's more choice than ever before.
Launched in 2019, DAME is among the brands helping to transform the industry, creating period products that are better for menstrual health and the planet.
In this interview with TheIndustry.beauty, Co-founder Alec Mills speaks about the problems within the period industry, DAME's sustainable and stigma-free approach, and why access to education around menstrual health is important.
According to DAME, an estimated 100 billion sanitary products are thrown away each year, and as more of the world starts using period products, this problem continues to grow.
"In the UK alone 1.3 million plastic applicators are flushed down the toilet every day, and even tampons themselves contain plastic fibres in the cotton. There's also enough plastic in a pack of pads to make five plastic bags. Yet because of the historical narrative around periods these issues are not openly discussed," says Mills.
"Sustainable products are vital to provide real choice, allowing people to use the products they need without compromising their environmental values. We founded DAME to disrupt the industry and to make periods positive, for people and the planet."
To address the issues around the period product industry, DAME launched the "world's first" reusable, self-sanitising tampon applicator with 100% organic and plastic-free tampons.
Following this, the brand introduced reusable pads with a patent-pending design, as well as period pants containing technology developed by Patagonia to help eliminate any odours.
Most recently, DAME launched a period cup created with the same self-sanitising polymers as its tampon applicator - making it the first menstrual cup on the market that doesn’t require boiling to clean.
"At the heart of our product development philosophy is a focus on redesigning periods for the better. With this design mindset we’re able to focus on the role each product fulfils and think about ways to replicate that role with less waste, fewer chemicals and reduced costs for the end user," explains Mills.
"Since launching, our Reusable Tampon Applicators have prevented over 20 million disposable plastic applicators going to waste, every Reusable Period Pad can replace up to 1,000 plastic filled disposable pads, and each Period Cup is estimated to save 2860 plastic disposables over a 10-year lifespan. Also, if washed in cool water, the Period Cup has a carbon footprint 96x lower than competitor cups."
In addition to environmental benefits, DAME's products help to reduce discomfort and irritation. The brand's tampons are made of organic cotton from GOTS-certified farms and are free of chemicals typically found in tampons, including phthalates, pesticides, bleach, chlorine and rayon - all of which can cause irritation and dryness.
"The response to our products has been fantastic with really positive reviews - genuinely life changing in some cases where people have experienced lighter, shorter or less painful periods as a result. It’s been really rewarding building things that answer actual problems," adds Mills.
DAME also significantly reduces the cost of periods for its users. Its Period Cup, for example, has a lifespan of up to 10-years and can be worn safely for up to 12 hours. Priced at £27.99, its annual cost is £2.70, compared to the average spend of £122 per year on period products.
However, retail isn't the only focus for the business - it places great importance on giving consumers access to information too.
Located on its website, DAME also operates a blog for consumers to access advice and education around menstrual health, such as 'Can You Sleep With Menstrual Cups', 'Period Blood Colour: What It Means and Is It Normal', and '10 Diet Changes that Help You Fight PMS'.
"Having a blog is important on two fronts. Firstly, there’s a tragic lack of research around vaginal and menstrual health due to the gender health gap. For much of the past 200 years, researchers have been male and as a result, the female body and female challenges are less researched and less understood. Our blog is a space to share information that enables women to better understand and care for their bodies," says Mills.
"Secondly, there’s the often wrong or incomplete education given by teachers or parents to people when they start their periods, leading to knowledge gaps that can take a lifetime to correct. Providing a singular source of accurate information around menstrual health allows us to fill these gaps, while putting a sustainable lens on this helps create positive purchasing habits. We work hard to deliver accurate, useful and accessible information and see this as an important part of the role we play as a business."
Another way DAME works beyond retail is through its charitable initiatives. As part of this, the brand offers both financial support and product donations to a variety of charity partners.
DAME currently provides a profit share from its in-office dispensers to Bloody Good Period, as well as partnering with Ranger Lab to ensure rangers in national parks around the world have access to suitable period products.
"We’ve always been aware that thinking about sustainable periods is a luxury when some people don’t have access to products at all," emphasises Mills.
"We can’t achieve our mission or further gender equality without addressing period poverty and this means increasing accessibility to great period products."
Since its launch in 2019, DAME has been working hard to help transform the period industry. Reflecting on this, Mills said he is pleased with the brand's progression so far.
"With the help of our amazing team, I think we have punched above our weight for a small impact business. Activism, thought leadership, and innovation are our core pillars and this puts us at the frontier of some really important conversations and is the bedrock of our brand," he says.
However, it hasn't always been easy. "A consistent challenge we’ve faced is from prospective partners not willing to innovate in this space. The manufacturers we have spoken to over the past five years have not seen the need for change, either from a female health point of view, or a sustainability angle.
"It was not until we received grant funding from the John Lewis Partnership Circular Future Fund that we were able to dedicate time and resources to finding the right partner, and with the clout to match.
"In this way, challenges have always been of the David Goliath variety, which is typical of any start up, but particularly so for a disruptor, and even more so when it’s tied to such zeitgeisty topics such as periods, gender or sustainability. The large incumbents are moving slowly on all three fronts and very keen not to see us take market share."
So, what's next for DAME? Looking ahead, the brand's ambitions centre around the mission it's had since day one: To make periods positive for people and the planet.
"We will continue to focus on redesigning period products, removing waste and chemicals, making periods easier and fighting to ensure everyone can access better periods, regardless of their means. By pushing innovation and education DAME is well placed to achieve this," finishes Mills.