There was a definite eureka moment for Robyn McLean and Mary Bond, directors and co-founders of Hello Cup, a New Zealand-made, recyclable menstrual cup.
The pair, who have been best friends since they were 11 years old, had always talked about starting a business together but nothing seemed to fit the skills of the former journalist and PR manager (McLean) and registered nurse (Bond).
After thinking about trying menstrual cups for ages McLean decided to bite the bullet and bought one a year ago – and she says it was life changing. However, she couldn’t find a New Zealand-made cup and that’s when the idea came to her.
“I went that’s it – that’s our business. Mary agreed. We’re not in it to make money, we just wanted to do something that made a difference in people’s lives, we wanted a better future for our daughters.”
L-R: Robyn McLean and Mary Bond
Launched in December last year, Hello Cup wants to provide an alternative, particularly for young women.
With their idea blooming, Bond and McLean, both mothers of teenage daughters, set about trying all the cups they could. McLean says it very quickly it became apparent that most cups were the same design and not overly comfortable – especially the tail, or the toggle, as Hello Cup call it.
The duo wanted a design that was as smooth as possible and didn’t have “loads of ridges” where bacteria could potentially hide. As McLean explains, Hello Cup’s design is a rounded cup to ensure no irritation.
“We did a few trial runs and found a factory that could make them for us in Napier. The material comes from Kraiburg in Germany who supply medical grade thermoplastic elastomer (TPE).”
McLean says TPE is the same material used for catheters so people shouldn’t be concerned about quality.
It’s a point of difference – the pair chose to make Hello Cups from TPE instead of silicon because it’s fully recyclable.
They have also created a send back programme with consumers able to send back the products to Hawke’s Bay once finished to be recycled. While the returned cups will not be made into more menstrual cups, McLean says it is to yet to be decided what they will be recycled into as they see they have five years up their sleeves until the first cups are returned.
This is a win for the environment as single-use products such as tampons and pads take at least 500 years to break down in landfills and on top of that often come wrapped in additional plastic.
McLean says the cups have sold “in the thousands”, and despite living in different parts of the North Island – McLean in Havelock North and Bond in Wellington – both work full-time on the business.
“Mary is able to answer any emails medically related – I think it’s really comforting to get a response from a registered nurse – you know you can open up [to them], they’ve seen it all.”
“We get amazing emails every day – this is a complete game changer for people who say they wish they had tried one years ago, which is exactly how I felt.”
The Hello Cup range comes in five different colours and three different sizes – the teen cup (made of slightly softer TPE), small/medium and large. Online it also offers a double ‘pick’ n mix’ box, which McLean says they encourage women to try if they’re unsure of sizing or just starting out.
Another concern for McLean is menstrual waste.
“No one talks about it because it’s one of those subjects that’s a bit icky, an out of sight, out of mind scenario. We’re dealing with plastic bags in supermarkets but no one is talking enough about menstrual waste – we’ve got half the world’s population who gets periods so it’s time we got the conversation started and looked for solutions and alternatives.”
Talking about the cost of Hello Cup – $49 for one, or $69 for the pick’ n mix box – McLean says despite the higher price point comparative to pads and tampons, Hello Cups are able to be used for five years which pays for itself pretty quickly depending on flow.
“You hear stories of girls not going to school during their periods because their parents can’t afford pads and tampons – we should be encouraging schools or the Government or philanthropic groups and trusts to supply menstrual cups as well as other sanitary products. In terms of waste, the environment and saving money you could buy a girl one cup and it would last her entire schooling.”
McLean says Hello Cups is really only focused on the New Zealand market at the moment, however in two weeks the directors are going to New York to the trade show NY Now to have a crack at a wider market.
One area that has been really amazing for Hello Cup is the running market, says McLean.
“We’re going back to New York in November to have a stall at the NY marathon because of the long- distance runners in particular [who use menstrual cups].”
She says there are lots of areas where it makes a genuine difference.
“We’ve had a lot of sales to policewomen, army, nurses, teachers, farming women – they’re out and about, busy, don’t have time to change tampons, they’re on their feet.”
While menstrual cups are a serious matter, Bond and McLean use humour to engage customers. On Hello Cup’s website there is the online tool ‘Vagina Switcheroo’ where you put in your favourite term for your vagina and it changes your preferred name throughout the site.
“I hate the term vagina, Mary is fine with it – it’s all about people having a conversation. Some of the suggestions are hilarious, such as Notorious Vag, people are very clever and have fun with it.”
The importance of social media for small businesses is something McLean is adamant about.
“It’s been our only tool as we’re a start-up with no budget to do any big advertising. It’s hard to compete against big business with big budgets until recently when you can get talk generating on social media – that’s definitely how it’s worked for us.”
The two have also set up the Hello Cup education programme which involves going into high schools to chat about menstrual cups. It has visited schools in Wellington, Hawke’s Bay, and Blenheim, with the intention to go to Auckland once back from New York, or “wherever they are invited to speak,” says McLean.
She says the response from schools and pupils has been amazing.
“The current teenagers are so into the environment and doing good and so conscious about what they’re putting into their bodies.”
She says she thinks the success with school girls comes from the fact Hello Cup isn’t a product your mum would be pushing on you.
“It’s getting girls to go ‘this is a great alternative, I can swim in it, run in it’ – and because it holds three times the amount as a tampon you can wear the cup all day – put it in the morning and not worry about it.”
She says there needs to be more regulation around period education in schools.
“Basically it’s up to schools to get someone in. There’s no set curriculum, a lot of the tutors who speak about it don’t even know menstrual cups exist so they’re not talking about them. It’s getting schools to encourage awareness – most of the schools we have spoken at have approached us. Schools love the fact the cups are New Zealand-made and the fact Mary’s a nurse.”