DAME. The young startup bringing candour and sustainability to Femcare. Period.
DAME’s founders – Alec Mills and Celia Pool – used to run the period subscription service Sanitary Owl. It was here, while working with existing brands, that they first encountered the failings of the Femcare industry. They yearned for a better way to provide period products and, upon realising that an alternative didn’t exist, decided to make one themselves.
Following a resoundingly successful Kickstarter campaign, they finally took DAME to market in February of this year.
It’s been a wild ride so far, with the duo already picking up a prestigious Deezen Award as well as landing 7th place in 2019’s Top 100 Best Companies To Escape To list. We caught up with Alec to find out more…
For those who aren’t aware, can you explain the business in one sentence?
We make plastic-free period products, starting with the world’s first reusable tampon applicator.
What inspired you to set-up DAME?
We used to run a period subscription service, which sold products from other major tampon and pad brands. It was there that we saw first-hand all the plastic and chemicals that go into period products, as well as the negative language – like “discretion” – that covers the packaging.
We started looking a bit further into this, and found that 100 billion plastic period products are thrown away each year. We discovered that period plastics are now the 5th most common plastic item found on UK beaches, with around 27 pieces being found in every 1km of our coastline. It was a huge problem that wasn’t really being talked about, largely because of the nature of the subject matter.
That was really all the inspiration we needed! From there, we stopped selling the products that we no longer believed in and set about creating our own brand that had less plastic, fewer chemicals and better language.
There can often be a hell of a lot of nerves around setting up a new company. What was your first ‘win’ that made you confident that you were doing the right thing?
Well, we launched our reusable applicator on Kickstarter for that very reason – to test whether we were moving in the right direction. The result of the campaign was that we were fully-funded in 3 days, had sold in over 50 countries, and trended globally on Twitter.
That campaign was the moment where we thought “we’re either going to light the fuse on this thing, or walk away”. Our market research had told us that what we were offering was a needed product, but it’s not until you actually get people to part with their money that you can test that hypothesis. When we got such an overwhelmingly positive response, there was no turning back!
You only launched fully in February of this year. How have things been since then?
A whirlwind! In February we launched straight into Waitrose, so really had to hit the ground running. We weren’t necessarily going to go into retail this early, but we had most of the major supermarkets come knocking after our Kickstarter, so we didn’t want to stare down the gift horse. We’ve recently launched into Boots and helped them make and expand their sustainable toiletries category. Being nominated for
DAME is currently UK-based and UK-focussed. Are you aiming to take it global?
Definitely. Half of the global [female] population don’t even have period products, so this isn’t just a domestic [UK] issue, it’s very much something we want to take worldwide. And when women who don’t currently have access to period products start to use them, we want them to be using sustainable products. If that doesn’t happen, then we’re looking at a huge spike in waste-plastic with billions more single-use plastics further damaging the environment.
It’s very important for us to get to those markets and present a sustainable choice before it’s too late.
You were recently celebrated as one of the Best Companies To Escape To in The Escape 100 campaign. What does being listed as a ‘progressive company’ mean to you?
It’s very flattering to be called a progressive company! I think when you produce a ‘world’s first’ product, you’re automatically thrown into the category of ‘progressive’, but to us it means thinking differently. It means trying to set a good course and a good example. We are small enough to be agile, and therefore we can make quick changes. We try to foster a culture where everyone ‘gets it’, where everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet.
We think of our impact when considering every aspect of the business, whether that be us going carbon neutral, our B-Corp status or our work environment. Whatever it might be, everyone’s got to be on board with the programme, contributing ideas to further the overall mission.
Had you always planned on gaining B-Corp Certification when setting up the business?
My co-founder Celia and I always wanted to run a company which ‘did good’, and we wanted to ensure that our company was aligned to a certain set of values. We were thinking along those lines when we found out about B-Corp. We went to one of their ‘Hackathons’, and ended up winning!
This is going to sound very cheesy *laughs*, but when we took part in the Hackathon it actually felt like we had come home. We were working alongside a family of companies that were all thinking the same thing: the world can be a better place and we can do something about it. It was awesome! We were running DAME along those lines already, so it made perfect sense to officialise it and become a part of the B-Corp community.
What I love about B-Corp is that it stops any BS, it stops any greenwashing. When you’re B-Corp Certified, what you claim that you do is proven and provable. It’s one thing when a company says they’re doing good, but another when they’re actually accredited for it.
What would you say has been the biggest challenge for DAME so far?
What we’re set up to address relates to a part of a woman’s life and a woman’s body which is obviously very intimate, so it was essential for us to ensure that we had a trusted product and were a trusted brand.
We went to a hell of a lot of effort, from day one of designing our product, to ensure that it was medical grade. It was really important for us to get all the safety and trust marks that we could possibly get. When people made the decision to have a more sustainable period, we didn’t want a lack of confidence in the product to be the thing that stopped them.
The second challenge was that we wanted to make periods less pink, less girly, less pharmaceutical, and basically less ‘periody’. We really wanted to build a brand that was good-looking and aspirational, rather than overly clinical.
What impresses you the most when you’re considering hiring someone?
The most important thing is that people believe in what we’re trying to do. When a startup is quite small, like ours, most people who join are generalists, not specialists.
The earliest employees for DAME have all been fantastic at picking up something and running with it. This helps so much because, regardless of which project or task somebody is working on, we’re all driving towards a common goal – championing sustainability and championing women’s health.
What are DAME’s ambitions for 2020?
We want to make reusable period products mainstream. We’re on the cusp of doing it, but we’re not quite there yet. I guess it’s similar to something like reusable coffee cups or water bottles: the first people to do it are pioneers, and then more and more people start adopting it and it becomes ‘normal’.
One way we’d like to normalise sustainable periods is by having our products available in many different supermarket chains across the country [DAME is already available in Waitrose and Boots at the time of writing]. If we can make reusable period products a normal alternative for people in the UK in 2020, rather than a niche option, then I think we’ll be very happy.
We’re also looking to grow our team next year. We’ve had people getting in touch with their CVs for a while now, but the time hasn’t been right to expand our size. I think we’ll be ready to bring more people into the DAME team in 2020.
Tell us one little-known fact about DAME?
We partner with a local homelessness charity, and some of their men and women come in and work alongside us, helping us to pack tampons. Our record-holder in doing this managed to put together a phenomenal 144 packs in an hour!
Is there anything else you’d like people to know?
Only that Escape The City are awesome. We recommend Escape to anyone who asks us, and think that the calibre of people you field is much higher than all the rest. You guys kick-ass!
Thanks Alec, the guys at the office are definitely going to think I made that up!
Want to find out more about Dame?
Find out more about The Escape 100 – Best Companies To Escape To 2019 campaign.