“Up Close + Personal” is a new mini-podcast series hosted on the leading sustainable fashion podcast Conscious Chatter in collaboration between Conscious Chatter x MOCHNI. These 10 sustainable sessions help share quick, intimate moments with up-and-coming and innovative projects in the sustainability and fashion spaces. This series will run on Conscious Chatter in the coming months to keep listeners engaged about what’s truly happening in today’s world to inspire a more conscious lifestyle.
In partnership with OrganiCup.
Kestrel Jenkins welcomes Gitte Dalberg-Larsen, the founder of
Kestrel intro: [00:00:00] This week we’re diving into a topic we’ve never really explored on the show. It’s all about women’s health and sexuality with a focus on periods. And all the ways that typically comes along with menstruation. Or menstrual health can overlap with feminism and freedom. And turns out waste and sustainability as well. Well, I was in Berlin for the conscious loft event. I met this week’s guest. She’s not only a wealth of knowledge when it comes to menstrual health. She’s also built a company that offers one of the coolest ways to get zero waste with your period.
Kestrel: [00:03:39] Gitte Dahlberg-Larson is the founder of OrganiCup, the award-winning menstrual cup that replaces pads and tampons. Thank you so much for joining me. This is so exciting to have you on the show especially after we actually got to meet in real life in Berlin recently.
Gitte: [00:03:55] Yeah. Hi Kestrel. Thank you for having me. I’ve really been looking forward to this.
Kestrel: [00:04:00] Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, to start I always kind of understanding backstories and what leads people to what they’re doing today. So I feel like you’re in this interesting niche world. So to kind of help us understand the context can you share more on your past journey and what actually led you to work in the world of health and sexuality?
“We are on a mission to improve menstrual health on a personal, cultural and global level.”Gitte Dalberg-Larsen, Founder of OrganiCup.
Gitte: [00:04:25] Yeah absolutely. Well, I come from a background of marketing and sales and before OrganiCup I worked for more than 20 years in big corporate companies. I used to work for the biggest cosmetic company for 15 years and it was really really exciting and busy years and you know climbing the career ladder and having my children at the same time so at times very stressful. I really didn’t stop and think about what really motivated me what I really loved in my job. So I just kept going and then at some point after many years, I just came to a point where I just wasn’t happy about my job anymore. I sort of lacked motivation and I missed a purpose I guess. And then after some time, I decided to quit my job without having one actually, which was a bit scary. But I just needed time to think and get a feeling of what really motivated me and I knew that I liked to build new projects. I like to see things evolve. And so I had this entrepreneur in my stomach I guess and I knew that I wanted to work with natural and sustainable products. So that was really the start for OrganiCup, together with my business partners. And you know I’ve always been interested in health and beauty but especially menstrual health. It was so interesting in my opinion and there were so many possibilities opening up from within menstrual health. So that was the start of a fantastic journey with OrganiCup. I feel that at OrganiCup we are on a mission to improve menstrual health on a personal and cultural and global level. So that’s that’s what we work for every day now.
Kestrel: [00:06:38] Definitely. Absolutely. So you said that you kind of were interested in menstrual health and you know natural or organic products. What was it that helped you come up with the idea for OrganiCup? Did you have a situation happen or a conversation? Was there something that sparked it?
Gitte: [00:06:56] Yeah. Actually, in 2012 there was a range of articles in the national Danish newspaper about menstrual cups. And it really was a product that we’d never heard about before. And we were quite amazed to find out that no product innovations had happened in like 50 years within menstrual hygiene products. You had the pad and the tampons and that was it, and then you had maybe the development of wings and different shapes but you didn’t really have any alternatives. And so we really thought – we have to do this better. And that was actually the start of it. And then we realized even though there were other menstrual cups on the market at that time we just found that the knowledge and the awareness were so small about menstrual cups and the reactions when I told people about menstrual cups and it was like big question marks and this reaction. So we decided to do things differently. We didn’t want OrganiCup to be a product only for the chosen few. We wanted it to be for a wide population of women and girls all over the world because this is a fantastic alternative. So we designed OrganiCup to be very soft and comfortable, and the product design was extremely important for us. And then we made the whole packaging very sustainable – we use recycled cotton organic pouches and so on. And I think for us, being a Danish Scandinavian brand we like to do things minimalistic and clean, so we brought that to the design and the development of OrganiCup as well. So now, just over the past two to four years I’d say that the reactions are really completely different. Today, a lot of women know about the cup. And even though far from everybody has tried it, there is an understanding when you tell people about the unhealthy aspects of using disposable pads and tampons and people know about it and they know more, so they react of course to the extreme amount of waste that you create with disposable pads and tampons. So something has really happened in a lot of countries where we work now and this is so great and it’s of course not only due to us but also other menstrual cups and other alternative period hygiene products. But something is definitely moving now and changing which is so great.
Kestrel: [00:09:37] Absolutely. And something that really surprised me that I wasn’t aware of until our chat at Conscious Loft was this reality that actually there was a menstrual cup year and years ago. So when was the first one introduced and then what happened to it?
Gitte: [00:09:53] Yes. I don’t know what happened to it – it was introduced in the 30s the first cup and I think it was just at that time it was the big companies with the pads and tampons and I think from a commercial point of view you make more money selling pads and tampons that you throw out every month than a menstrual cup that can last for years. So I think the time was not right for it at that point of time and I think it is now because people are just so aware of waste and the health aspects of what you put inside your body and what you put on your body and so on so I think the time is right now.
Kestrel: [00:10:43] Yeah absolutely. Absolutely. Well, you kind of touched on this a bit but there is this element of the cup that’s I guess kind of scary and this unknown territory if you haven’t tried it yet and I now have mine and I’m prepared for my next period to try. But what do you think it is that kind of causes this fear or why are we resistant to it?
Gitte: [00:11:11] I guess I understand people. I think it’s not scary but it’s something new to most women. And I think when you try something new it also means sometimes changing your habits and that could be quite scary. And I think for most of us we have been using pads and tampons for our whole life. So the menstrual cup is something new. To be honest it’s not scarier than when you used a tampon for the first time. It’s just a matter of making the step and getting started. And I attend a lot of events around the world. And what really makes me happy is how curious people are about the cup actually, and mostly women but also men come and ask because of what they have heard about the cup. But they just have a lot of questions and they want to see and feel it before they actually start using it which I understand. And once they get the introduction and they see how it works and how to insert it most of them just say wow this is amazing and why haven’t I tried this before. So I think it’s just a matter of information and getting answers to your questions and then making the start and we know that once you get started you will love it. We have asked our consumers more than 2000 of them. And nine out of 10 say that they would continue to use the cup and ninety-four percent say they would recommend it to a friend. It’s really a game changer and it is for a lot of women who start using the cup which is so great.
Kestrel: [00:12:51] Yeah. That’s such a high percentage rate.
Gitte: [00:12:53] I think what is important is just to get started and relax and then it’s also important to know that it may not be love at first sight. It can take two to three periods to get used to it. So it’s just a matter of being patient and then relax and try it out.
Kestrel: [00:13:14] Yeah. So what kinds of things can we be aware of as far as if it doesn’t work right away like what doesn’t work or what do we have to kind of get over what are the hurdles to get past that?
Gitte: [00:13:27] I think that one thing you need to practice a bit is to fold the cup and you can do that in different ways. And what you need to make sure is that the cup unfolds correctly inside. And if you can feel the cup it’s not inserted correctly so you can just twitch it a bit and turn it a bit and it will unfold because if it doesn’t unfold it can leak and you can feel it and it feels uncomfortable. So that’s one of the things that you need to learn and then you just need to get used to it taking it out as well because you have to sort of release the suction before you get it out and so there are just a small things that you need to practice a bit and then you’re OK.
Kestrel: [00:14:15] Oh yeah absolutely. You just have to be brave and try it out and most likely it will be a good thing on the other side.
Gitte: [00:14:25] Absolutely. I always tell people to lock themselves into the bathroom to have a glass of wine and relax and just have the time to do it.
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Kestrel: [00:14:37] I love that. Well I know you mentioned a bit of the benefit of the cup but I’m really interested in all of these from health to freedom to feminism. So from your perspective what are some of the really big reasons as far as why the cup can be better than other options like tampons or pads?
Gitte: [00:14:59] Yeah absolutely. There are so many benefits of using a cup. First of all, it’s healthier for your body. A cup and most cups are made of 100 percent medical grade silicone which is a natural product and it doesn’t contain any harmful chemicals. So, for instance, a lot of women don’t know that in regular pads and tampons you find bleach and glue and even perfume and other things that you don’t really want to put inside of your body. And actually, in the U.S., manufacturers are not required to list the ingredients in pads and tampons. So women don’t know about that. And the other health aspect is that for instance if you use a tampon it’s made of cotton which absorbs the blood of course but it also absorbs the natural liquids in the vagina. And that’s why many women feel dryness and itchiness and allergies even when they use a tampon. When you use a cup, you just insert it and it opens up and it just collects the blood so it doesn’t interfere with your P.H. levels and it doesn’t cause any irritations. So for instance, if you haven’t been able to use a tampon for some of the reasons I said before you can easily use a cup. So these are some of the most important health aspects of using a cup and then the convenience part of it is fantastic – one cup contains the same amount as three big tampons. So if you have a regular period you actually have freedom for up to 12 hours where you don’t have to change it or empty the cup so you can insert it in the morning and take it out in the evening and then you don’t have to think about it at your job or in school. I think we all have tried maybe to hide a tampon up our sleeve and go to the bathroom and with the cup, you don’t have to think about it anymore. So you have a lot of freedom and you can sleep with it. Also, you can do sports – running, yoga, swimming even – it’s really nice you don’t have to worry about getting your period when you go on vacation and want to go swimming and so on. So it gives you a lot of freedom. And I think one other great benefit is the sustainability aspect of it because a cup is reusable and it’s usable for several years. So you save a huge amount of waste because you don’t throw out pads and tampons every month. And if we add that to all of the women in the world we can really save a lot of waste. And then, of course, you have an economical part as well which is really good for you for young students and that you don’t have to buy pads and tampons all the time. So you buy a cup and it can last you for many years actually. So you save a lot of money as well. There are so many good things to say about it.
Kestrel: [00:17:58] Yeah. So how many years can a cup actually last?
Gitte: [00:18:01] Yeah it depends a bit how you treat it and how you clean it and so on. But the medical grade silicone we use can last for up to 10 years and even maybe 12 years but on average we see that people change it every two or every three years because then it may be a bit discolored or you just want a new one for hygienic reasons, but it could last for quite some years.
Kestrel: [00:18:25] Yeah absolutely. And so. OK. You mentioned the waste and I think that is such a huge part of the conversation and I always think about it when I’m throwing away a tampon – I’m like oh my goodness how many of these are out there in the world. So what does the waste actually look like? Are there any stats or analytics of what that buildup looks like around the world?
Gitte: [00:18:49] Yeah for an average woman we use approximately 11,000 disposable pads and tampons in our lifetime of having our period. So if you multiply that number by every other woman on the planet it’s really a substantial amount of waste. And in the U.S. alone, 12 billion pads and 7 million tampons pollute the landfills annually. It’s really really huge huge numbers. And the thing is that the time it takes for a tampon or pad to degrade in a landfill is centuries longer than the lifespan of the woman who’s throwing it out. And it’s even longer because if it’s wrapped in plastic and with a plastic applicator and so on. So it’s huge amounts of waste being thrown out. So we can really make a difference.
Kestrel: [00:19:46] Yeah absolutely. And I’m even thinking of the supply chain behind a tampon. It’s again generally conventional cotton and you said kind of glues and all of these other layers. Do you know anything about what happens behind the scenes in the making of tampons?
Gitte: [00:20:03] It’s not something that I’m an expert in. I just know that of course, they use a lot of cotton and glue to produce these products. And of course, there’s a lot of waste connected with that as well.
Kestrel: [00:20:20] Yeah definitely.
Gitte: [00:20:22] Yeah but I’m not into the details of how pads and tampons are produced and I just know what they contain because they also contain the bleach to make them white and the adhesive that you use in pads to glue it to your underpants and so on so all of these things – they’re just both not good to nature or to your body.
Kestrel: [00:20:48] Yeah absolutely. Well, I just wanted to see if you had any other suggestions when it comes to reducing waste because it seems like this is something we talked about at the Conscious Loft as well as the amount of waste that is connected to sexuality. Seems like there are condoms and there are pads and there are tampons and it seems like there is such a build-up of things that are associated with health and sexuality and it seems to be so contradictory to the idea of health. I guess you know – wasting all of these things and using these things that have chemicals associated with them.
Gitte: [00:21:25] Absolutely. And I think we all need to take our small steps to make a change. And then I really think that changing from disposable period products to reusable products is not even a small change. I think it makes a really big impact on reducing waste on a global level. And I think of course the bigger changes have to come from political elections. But I really think we need to look at ourselves as individuals and to make the small impacts in our everyday life. So what you eat and what you throw out and so on. It’s so important and I don’t know if it’s probably the same in the U.S. but we talk a lot about microplastics everywhere all over the world. So here we can start with ourselves and our daily lives and how we use plastic in our everyday life actually.
Kestrel: [00:22:26] Yeah definitely. Yeah. I just wanted to touch briefly on this idea of how sexuality can be this taboo topic because I do think that what you’re doing and the work you’re doing you’re also bringing this conversation to the forefront and having the dialogue come out more often. And I’m curious you know – do you have suggestions on other ways that we can kind of challenge this obscure way that society has us thinking that sexuality should be this hush-hush subject or why we have to hide tampons or why we have to hide the fact that you know this is a part of our bodies and what happens. So do you have suggestions on ways that we can kind of challenge that mentality?
Gitte: [00:23:12] Yeah yeah. It’s really something that surprised me so much when I started working on OrganiCup – this period shame and that we experience it actually all over the world even in Denmark which is a quite open country when it comes to sexuality and so on. But even here, you have these barriers talking about your sexuality, talking about your period, and then you can imagine in other countries for cultural reasons how women are treated when they have their period. And we have worked with different NGOs on that. For instance in Kenya and Uganda and other African countries. And it’s where women are sent to huts outside the village when they have their period because they are regarded as unclean. But I think it all comes down to more information and knowledge. You have to start with that. And so what we try to do is really to work with these organizations to inform and educate young girls and women. We go to schools through our partners in different countries and we donate the cups so they get them and they get the education about sexuality, being a teenager getting your period and so on, and what is really important when we work with these NGOs and what I find amazing is that they’re not only educating the girls they are also educating the boys because that’s really where we need to go because otherwise, things will never change. When we talk about a period of shame, everybody has to be informed and they have to be educated. For me, that’s so important to do this work with these fantastic NGOs, but it’s not as I said only in third world countries, it happens here around us as well. And I think we are being brought u to keep our period to ourselves and be very discreet and private about it so a lot of women and girls don’t even talk to their girlfriends about it or their husbands. So it’s just something that you keep to yourself. But I really see a change happening and I think it’s been happening over the past two, three years at least in the Nordic countries, we are talking more openly about it. Articles are being written about it. Books are being written about it and I think it happens in more and more countries that periods are on the agenda and this is really really good. And also another thing that I was quite amazed about is this period of poverty that we find out that a lot of young girls and women can’t afford to buy period products. So a lot of schoolgirls miss out on several school days every month. And it leads to a high percentage drop out because they can’t follow their schoolwork. And then even in countries like the UK, there’s been a lot of talk about period poverty with school girls and homeless women and also with girls and women in asylum camps, refugee camps. It’s really a big struggle with them to get period products. I think it’s so important to get these subjects out in the open and to talk about them. And then I think we really have to start with ourselves as well and be more open about it. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. And that’s really what we work for – nobody should be ashamed about their body or their period. So it’s just a matter of spreading the word and the awareness and getting women to talk together about these subjects.
Kestrel: [00:27:26] Absolutely. And I love what you said about just starting in your own network and talking to your friends or your family or whoever about it.
Gitte: [00:27:34] Yeah exactly. To begin the conversation. Exactly. That’s where we start.
Kestrel: [00:27:40] For sure. Well, you started to kind of touch on this but I want to ask you my last question which has to do with our individual impact. So if you were to make any suggestions to us ways we can bring small changes into our everyday lives to influence a better future for sexuality and women’s health in these kinds of issues and how they overlap with fashion what would be some of your suggestions?
Gitte: [00:28:06] Yeah. As I said before I think it’s so important that we start with ourselves and small steps because sometimes you think if you have to make a change it has to be a big step. And you wait for the big changes to come from political actions. But it’s really starting with yourself and making the changes in your everyday life – changing the products that you use, that you use organic products, that you use vegan products, that you use products that in terms of ingredients as minimalistic as possible, and just really be conscious about what you buy and what you use in terms of products in your personal care as well. And then, I think we can do so many things in our everyday life. I’ve tried to choose as little plastic waste as possible. I stopped using plastic bags for groceries, stopped using plastic bottles. And so it’s all of these things because if we don’t start with ourselves the changes will never happen I believe.
Kestrel: [00:29:17] Absolutely. And when we start with ourselves I think people around us notice and whether they change right away or not, it plants seeds.
Gitte: [00:29:26] Yeah exactly. Then we go from there. Yeah yeah exactly.
Kestrel: [00:29:32] Well Gitte – thank you so much for joining me. I have loved chatting with you and having you on the show and learning more about all of the layers of information connected to OrganiCup and women’s health. This is really important. So thank you so much.
Gitte: [00:29:49] Thank you. And it was such a pleasure talking to you!