Disruptive period brand DAME has shaken up the feminine hygiene space since launching the world’s first reusable tampon applicator in 2018.
Now featured on the sides of London buses and in the pages of Vogue, the taboo-breaking UK start-up is challenging an outdated industry by normalising periods and promoting sustainability.
We spoke to co-founder Alec Mills to find out where the idea behind the brand came from, and how they found their early customer base.
Before DAME there was Sanitary Owl - a curated box delivery service offering accessible period products through the letterbox.
For Alec and fellow founder Celia Pool, operating this precursor to what would become DAME highlighted some major problems with the tampon industry.
Foremost were a lack of transparency around the chemicals entering women’s bodies, the environmental impact of single use plastics, and the persistent stigma of shame attached to menstruation.
It was these insights that informed the development of what would become DAME’s hero product - the world's first reusable tampon applicator set complete with naturally-made, organic cotton tampons.
The innovation would be great for both women's bodies and the planet alike, and marketed via destigmatizing messaging that contrasted sharply with the negative portrayal of periods peddled by market incumbents.
With no market validation or outside investment, the fledgling brand turned to Kickstarter to crowdfund capital for its first manufacturing run. To promote the campaign, DAME looked to the press to tell the story around it's unique product.
It was an inspired strategy.
On the day DAME’s Kickstarter campaign launched, the brand featured in progressive business publication Fast Company. The article prompted an avalanche of press coverage around the world, and the Kickstarter’s initial target was reached in just two days.
“You can have the best idea in the world but if you haven't marketed it in the right way, the benefit to the consumer could be lost.” Alec Mills - Co-founder, DAME
Bold positioning, product innovation and outspoken marketing proved a winning formula, bringing DAME early customers and becoming a source of enduring popularity to this day.
The crowdfunded investors who became the brand’s first buyers weren’t alone among the impressed onlookers. Before the product even went to manufacture, DAME’s founders were courted by two major UK supermarkets interested in stocking their tampons.
By Alec’s own admission, they were in no way ready to tackle the retail market - DAME’s branding, product and packaging were all built with eCommerce sales in mind.
“We started sprinting before we’d started crawling.” Alec Mills - Co-founder, DAME
And yet, with 80% of UK women buying period products in physical stores, the opportunity to get in front of the market proved too big to turn down. Shelves were quickly filled, and more early customers found DAME.
Today the brand is found in Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Boots and Selfridges among others, and are yet to make a pitch to a retailer.
The big picture
Since launching in 2018, DAME’s taboo-busting challenge to a tampon industry traditionally characterised by period-shaming negativity and poor environmental standards has fallen on fertile ground.
The brand owes it’s early, and indeed current, customer base to urbanite, light green, millennial women drawn to alternative period products by the shortcomings of traditional market leaders.
Like many socially responsible brands, the product quality and complex messaging surrounding DAME is reflected in its price points and relative lack of mainstream appeal.
The significance of this challenge is not lost on the founders, whose ultimate aim is to broaden the brand’s appeal beyond their current premium audience.
“We need to make sure we appeal to the mass market at mass market prices, otherwise our job isn’t going to be complete”. Alec Mills - Co-founder, DAME
As economies of scale shift slowly in their favour and incumbents continue to miss the mark with consumers, you wouldn’t bet against DAME’s differentiated positioning giving it an edge in the tampon space in years to come.