DAME Interview with co-founder Alec Mills
We recently interviewed Alec Mills, co-founder of DAME, the creators behind the world's first reusable tampon applicator providing women with a sustainable period product that's free from harsh chemicals. Here's everything you need to know about this forward-thinking company...
What was the main inspiration behind DAME and how did you start the company?
In a previous life, DAME was a menstrual product subscription service, but after witnessing the impact of plastic waste from each subscription box, we saw first-hand the amount of crap that goes into these products used by millions of women every day. So we turned to our investors and told them that we simply didn’t believe in the products we were delivering and set out to solve a greater problem.
Reusable period options like menstrual cups and reusable pads were available but weren’t being used. We wanted to create a product that required minimum habit change and maximum comfort. So we set out to redesign the tampon. Two years later we launched the world’s first reusable tampon applicator and organic biodegradable tampons. Our mission is to make periods better for women, and the planet.
What do you believe the future will look like if we don't reduce our plastic waste?
Grim! As global poverty rates hit all time lows, consumerism is on the rise. Growing demand for cheap products containing single-use plastic has created a crisis. Despite every effort to reduce plastic, it’s still forecast to rise over the next decade unless we learn to reduce our consumption and increase recycling rates.
Our climate will not survive unless we make drastic changes. This means consuming less and making smarter choices. It means reusing products and ultimately thinking longer-term to make better products that last. We don’t need everyone doing things perfectly, but we do need everyone doing their bit. If we develop the right products and attitudes to plastic now, we can pass these on to the next generation (sadly, along with mountains of waste).
How much plastic are you saving each month by using DAME products?
Our approximation is that for every woman who switches to using a D, 12,000 pieces of single use plastics are prevented from going to landfill or ending up in our oceans. Since we started, we’ve saved over 300 million pieces of single-use plastic.
What plans do you have for the future of DAME?
We launched DAME to solve 3 issues with tampons: Remove single-use plastic in applicators and the tampons themselves, make tampons toxin-free and biodegradable, improve the branding and customer experience so girls grow up to become confident women.
These three things govern everything we do and we’re constantly evolving and innovating to ensure we drive them forward. We’ve come a long way, but there’s still plenty to do. The wrapper around our tampons is still plastic (an industry-standard as organic tampons have to be airtight by law), for which we’re currently developing a solution. Thanks to our fantastic customers and their insights, we’re improving our applicator all the time. We’re also pushing out a period positive agenda to schools across the UK to help foster more confident teenage girls. Our B Corp status is important to us and we’re continuously collaborating with charities that support women, and working with our suppliers to reduce waste and lower our carbon footprint. We have some exciting announcements to make just around the corner!
Briefly talk us through the process of creating your best selling DAME product.
It’s a real “why has no-one thought of it before?” product. But these often take the longest to develop! Tampon applicator users shouldn’t need to compromise on their environmental values for comfort and convenience. Nor should they feel restricted in their choice, so for us - making D as easy to use and keep clean was paramount.
It started with thousands of sketches and 3D prototypes that looked more like medieval torture weapons than applicators. Once we were happy with the functionality it went to our amazing product designer to make it look sexy. She did such a good job we won a Dezeen Design Award - no doubt the first time a tampon applicator has ever rubbed shoulders with the likes of Foster & Partners…
For us, the design was everything. We wanted it to look good in a customer’s brand neighbourhood. To sit alongside her shades and iPhone and not look out of place. It needed to be pink-free, modern and slick. It’s about time period products came out of the pharmaceuticals and ‘sanitary’ spheres and into beauty and design - this way we can take periods out of the bathroom cupboard, physically and metaphorically.
After the design, we sent it to our medical manufacturers to make it super safe. We knew hygiene was going to be the main consumer concern, so we built D using medical-grade, BPA-free MedipreneⓇ, with self-sanitising technology. Consequently, to clean it, you just need to rinse with cold water and wipe dry.
The last stage was getting it mould-ready, which means we can produce thousands at a time. This was a particularly challenging period for us as they had to make two tiny changes that affected the entire performance, but we worked through it and got there in the end.
Yikes, you said the brief, sorry...