Diva Co-Founder Carinne Chambers-Saini On Revolutionizing The Menstrual Market

Did you know that menstrual cups were invented in the late 1800s, and first entered the market in the 1930s, but it only turned mainstream almost 80 years later! Although menstruation is a bodily function, the topic surrounding menstrual health has always had a stigma tied to it, keeping the products and conversation around it trapped behind closed doors – until now. 

Thanks to pioneers in the space, the conversations have become more normalized and period products have gone beyond single-use pads and tampons. Carinne Chambers-Saini is an entrepreneur, and co-creator of Diva, a brand dedicated to empowering women and paving the way for better menstrual health products. She founded the brand with her mother, Francine Chambers, and first brought it to market in 2002.

Carinne is a trailblazer in the menstrual health space and one of the leaders in innovations. For the past 20 years, Carinne has stopped at nothing to bring the menstrual cup to the market, and most importantly, advocate and bring awareness to menstrual equity and period poverty. With Diva, Carinne has made menstrual care eco-friendly, clean, and comfortable to talk about because it is a normal bodily function and SHOULD be part of the conversation. 

In addition to advocacy, Carinne has created a certified B-Corp and competitive sustainable business model for Diva that is making a positive impact, creating necessary conversations around how we interact with our menstrual products

We believe in menstrual equity for all, so we had the opportunity to speak with Carinne about how Diva is working to make their products more accessible, educated consumers on the importance of breaking down stigma, and how media (inc. recent films such as Pixar’s ‘Turning Red’) play a pivotal role in driving conversations in this space.

You and your mom are trailblazers in the menstrual health space with theDivaCup. How did you both first decide to create the company? 

I’ve always looked up to my mom, she’s always been both an entrepreneur and an advocate for women’s health, and instilled in me the importance of understanding and advocating for our health and bodies. When I graduated from Uni, we decided to join forces and develop the DivaCup. With a shoe-string budget, we worked from our kitchen table and relentlessly challenged the male-dominated industry. Twenty years later, our products are sold in over 40 countries and we’ve made over 80million periods better and more sustainable, worldwide. 

The menstrual cup was first seen in the 1930s, but it was companies like yours that made it mainstream for our generation. Why do you think it took so long for a product like this to catch on?

The older generation is hesitant to talk about periods as it was seen (and is still seen) as taboo. The menstrual cup was also viewed as unconventional and people were probably afraid to veer away from what they knew. We knew we needed to innovate within the menstrual care space – with everyone’s menstrual cycle being so different, we understand that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of product when it comes to menstruation, and having access to different products is essential.  

The industry was dominated by disposables at the time when my mom and I tried to enter the market with the DivaCup. And those companies weren’t interested in a competitor entering the space, no less one that would create less turnaround for their shelf space. DivaCup’s can last five years plus with proper care – and many distributors and buyers (most of whom were older men) didn’t want to make waves on the shelf.

Today there are a number of menstrual products available on the market, that are now mindful of what they put into their products. How does Diva stand out from the rest?

When you buy from Diva, you’re supporting a company that is committed to being as sustainable as possible. DivaCups are made from 100% medical-grade silicone that is also 100% recyclable through our recycling program with Terracycle (the first menstrual cup recycling program in North America!). Once you’ve reached your DivaCup’s lifecycle, you can return your clean cup, free of charge, through our program. Once collected, the silicone menstrual cups are cleaned and ground into a crumb-like powder that is used to create new products such as a playground, athletic field, or track ground cover. 

We’re one of the only period product companies that offer this type of program and are committed to being the most sustainable, human-friendly, and eco-friendly menstrual product in the market. Since launching DivaRecycles we’ve received over 1,000 DivaCups that will be recycled and kept away from landfills. 

Although it is 2022, there is clearly still so much taboo toward menstruation. Why is something that is a normal bodily function, that almost half the planet experiences, such a source of shame or fear? 

We know that this is steeped in a history of shame and stigma. Women have faced oppression through many centuries and in many cultures in recent history. One of the tools of this oppression has been using women’s bodies and bodily functions against them – such as the period.

Our film Pandora’s Box: Lifting the Lid on Menstruation really explores the topic of period shame – to the extent that many menstruators around the world live without access to proper period care. It’s currently on Youtube for free! I also think fundamentally, that we live in a society that aims to disconnect women and people who menstruate from their bodies – as our bodies are such a source of power. 

Terms like “period poverty” and “menstrual equity” are being used a lot more. Can you tell us what they mean, and why we should care about them? 

Period Poverty is the lack of access to menstrual health products that can be pretty costly and depending on your menstrual cycle, you can spend quite a bit of money a month on these essential products. The Menstrual Equity movement is laser-focused on eliminating period poverty. Having a period is a normal bodily function and no one should have to live through not having the proper resources because of their current life situations. This is something everyone should care about. Everyone should have access and the appropriate resources to obtain these essential menstrual products. No one’s menstrual cycle should be a monthly cost that adds unnecessary stress to our lives. Therefore, we should have access to all period products no matter our financial status or situation. 

We’ve seen an Oscar-winning short film about periods, a recent blockbuster Pixar film that includes conversations about a girl getting her period for the first time, and we’re also seeing various countries remove the “tampon tax” for menstrual products. As someone who has been an innovator in the space for a number of years, how does it make you feel to see this kind of progress? 

The tampon tax is a common misconception – there is no ‘tampon tax’ – the truth is a lot more sinister. In the US, goods are taxed in different categories, one of which is a ‘luxury tax’ for items that are not considered necessary for life. This is the awful truth about it: cowboy boots and Viagra are exempt from a luxury tax, while tampons and pads, and all menstrual products, are considered a luxury and not exempt. Diva believes that products are a fact of life, not life-limiting. And the imposing of this luxury tax on period care is unfair and creates inaccessibility, while exacerbating period poverty.

It makes me feel ecstatic that we’re finally catching momentum on the period equity movement and this is just the beginning. Diva will continue to advocate and challenge the menstrual health status quo. 

As said, Diva feels so passionate about ending period poverty that we produced the first-ever feature-length documentary on the subject, Pandora’s Box –  it highlights the important work being done across the world to address period poverty. 

How do you recommend a parent, caregiver, etc starting a conversation about periods for the first time? 

Speaking about the menstrual cycle for the first time with teens can be intimidating at first, but there are so many resources available to help make the conversation more educational and not as intimidating. We have a blog section on our website dedicated to chatting about all things periods, from what cup size is better to how to deal with cramps and understanding your cycle. 

I’ve also made periods of regular conversation in my household, ever since my two kids were young. It’s kind of hard not to, what with my job and all! But that’s also how I was raised. My mother had faced so much stigma and discrimination as a menstruating person, that she talked often about her period and bodily functions when I was growing up. There was never shame or embarrassment around it. I’ve naturally done the same in my family and I think whatever we can do to facilitate open conversations with our kids about their bodies will only empower them and enrich their lives.

How does Diva work to close the menstrual products access gap, which many girls and women still experience? 

Diva is actively looking to close the menstrual product access gap through partnership and donations. In 2020-2021, we donated 15,677 DivaCups to menstruators who wouldn’t have had access to menstrual products. We’ve partnered with Days For Girls, No More Secrets and I Support The Girls to name a few. With I Support The Girls, we provided 1,200 Diva Cups to 6 of their chapters across the U.S.!

Direct action and impact work has also been at the center of Diva’s ethos. Even when my mom and I were just starting the company, we ensured we had monthly and annual product donations to groups, organizations, shelters, and the like. We’ve continued this commitment and in 2018 formalized our Impact program with the creation of an internal impact program and official sponsorships and partnerships. Our impact program continues to grow, as does Diva’s impact on period poverty, globally.

What can we look forward to next from the Diva team? 

We are gearing up to launch our 2021-2022 Impact Report, where we provide an overview of our efforts of the past year across partnerships, advocacy, education, sustainability, and more. Additionally,  Diva has some exciting product innovations coming down the pipeline! Our hope with these upcoming launches is to take an even more active stance in the menstrual health space and continue to offer our customers products they love when it’s that time of the month.  

Get familiar with the DivaCup menstrual revolution by visiting the website.

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