Meeting the woman at the forefront of the green period revolution.
An Interview with Celia Pool, co-founder of DAME
A few weeks ago my teenage daughter and I stood gaping in astonishment at an advertisement on the side of a London bus. It showed the lower half of a woman’s torso, in pretty maroon knickers, with a tampon string visibly hanging down. ‘Bleed Red, Think Green’ read the sales pitch. The ad was for period products made by DAME, a brand that, I fast discovered, won the 2018 Dezeen Leisure Design Award at Tate Modern and was a finalist in the Brand of the Future category at the 2020 NatWest everywoman Awards. DAME is also B Corp-accredited and the first British period brand to achieve Carbon Neutral Plus accreditation from the organisation Carbon Footprint – not bad seeing it launched its reusable tampon applicator in March 2018.
I am naturally delighted when an opportunity arises to meet DAME’s founder, Celia Pool. Lockdown prevents us from meeting at Scarfe’s Bar, so we resort to Zoom. We begin our conversation with the taboo-busting bus ad. ‘No tampon commercial ever spoke to me,’ says Celia, ‘they all seemed to be about unrealistic women bouncing around on roller skates. We learnt almost nothing in school and my mother called periods “The Curse”, so how could anyone be expected to feel positive about them?’
I agree with her but point out that she took quite a dramatic, risky leap from being a high-flying project manager at Sotheby’s to starting a company selling period products. How on earth did that happen? Celia laughs. ‘I’d read History of Art at university and was in a nice, comfortable, art world bubble. Underneath I knew I wanted to do something different, but fear of failure was holding me back. Then I found myself talking to an acquaintance, Alec, over supper one night. He was five years younger than me and very different but full of curiosity about motherhood. I’d just had my first child and told him about strapping my screaming, furious baby to my chest when I had to run out to buy tampons. “Why aren’t tampons delivered?”, he asked. Such a simple question – but that was that.’
Helped by friends and family, Celia and Alec set about delivering period products that weren’t readily available, like menstrual cups. ‘We’d sit on the floor, surrounded by packing boxes,’ remembers Celia. ‘I was already really conscious of the waste a baby creates and all the nappies I was chucking out, and I became increasingly aware of all the plastic packaging mounting up around us. A box of sanitary towels contains the equivalent of four plastic bags.’
Celia points out that tampon applicators were originally cardboard, but almost overnight, and without anyone noticing, they became plastic or plastic-coated. ‘A woman on average throws away 12,000 applicators in a lifetime. They’re contaminated by blood so can’t be recycled. Just think how much waste that is!’ DAME set about developing a reusable applicator, now for sale in Waitrose, Boots, Ocado and Sainsbury’s, and online. But this was not enough for Celia: ‘I didn’t just want to be some worthy, invisible eco-brand. I wanted our products to be cool enough to post on Instagram or display on your bathroom shelf.’ Then as if by magic, and with perfect timing, along came Emma Watson, spilling the contents of her handbag for a magazine and proudly showing off her little green DAME bag containing her applicator. Everyone took notice.
Celia knew B Corp certification, the globally respected measure of social and environmental performance, was the way forward. ‘It wasn’t easy,’ she explains, ‘they literally checked every light bulb. But now we’re accredited, we’re surrounded by like-minded brands and you can feel the collective power.’ DAME then developed a biofilm cellulose in which to wrap its organic tampons, meaning everything they produce is now recyclable and compostable. The next step – or mountain – was to become the first UK period brand to achieve Carbon Neutral Plus accreditation. DAME did this by backing a project in Uganda providing clean wells, so wood doesn’t need to be burned to purify drinking water. ‘Carbon’s not tangible like plastic waste so it’s tricky for consumers to grasp,’ says Celia. ‘It took us four months – but we did it!’
Celia won’t stop until we have revolutionised the way periods are perceived and dealt with globally. ‘I want periods normalised, talked about in every school, including among boys. Reusable, recyclable products should be readily available to all and we’re already working with a charity to do that,’ she says. ‘One day our advert will be deemed normal enough to be on the back of a cereal packet.’
As we wind down our conversation, we chat about our children. Celia has a son of six and one of 18 months. Her daughter is now nine. ‘She’s a redhead and very fierce already – a true warrior,’ laughs Celia. How could she possibly fail to be?
Inspired by Celia’s vision? If you’re an entrepreneur with a growing business, you could benefit from a year of mentoring from The White Company’s Chrissie Rucker. The 2021 NatWest everywoman Awards 2021 are now open and free to enter. For further information visit everywoman.com/ewawards