As CEO and co-founder of Diva International Inc. (Diva), Carinne Chambers-Saini has lead a 15-year journey to create and market the revolutionary product and brand, the DivaCup. As the only real innovation in feminine hygiene in decades, the DivaCup has completely disrupted the industry by providing the most eco-friendly, clean and comfortable way to address menstrual care on the market today.
The incredible growth of the company and the rise of the DivaCup brand have received much recognition. To name a few, Carinne has been awarded the EY Entrepreneur of The Year for Sustainable Products and Services, EY National Special Citation Award for Industry Disruptor, in addition to being recognized as one of Canada’s Top 40 under 40. Additionally, Diva has ranked 138 on the 2018 GROWTH 500 list and 103 on the 2017 PROFIT 500 list, along with being recognized as one of the Waterloo Area’s Top Employers for 2019.
This would not have been made possible without the 35-plus member team that has helped to lead the company to triple-digit growth over the last four years, outselling established brands and positioning Diva as a company to follow.
In addition to working towards her business dreams, Carinne is also a daughter, wife and mother of two amazing kids. It is because of her family that she is motivated to achieve more each day.
What inspired you to go into this line of business? On your website, you mention that you’ve always known that you would join DivaCup and that you’ve been working towards it your entire life. What is it about this industry that inspired you to become part of it?
Menstruation was a topic that my mom was very open about as I grew up – she had always been searching for a better period care option. Growing up in the 60s, the options were very limited for her, and it became her personal mission to pioneer a better option. My mom’s passion for seeing the incredible potential of menstrual cups, and then falling in love with the concept ourselves, really ignited that passion within me.
Honestly, after that, it was just a natural progression to bring a more user-friendly, modern menstrual cup to the market. It was a lot more challenging than we ever imagined, but we have really played a big part in the acceptance of menstrual cups in the world. That is so rewarding!
How does it feel to be the head of an organization that hasn’t been mentioned a lot until very recently?
My mom, Francine, and I worked hard for so long to get the DivaCup on shelves, and we met with a lot of resistance from some of the retailers we met with early on – many of them just didn’t understand why innovation in the category of menstrual care was even necessary. Whenever budding entrepreneurs ask me for the greatest lesson I’ve learned through DivaCup, my answer is always “patience.” It takes so much patience and time to build a business, but if you believe in it, it’s all worth it.
Now that we’re seeing the DivaCup on shelves in so many drugstores and grocery stores, and seeing so much dialogue in the media about eco-friendly periods, period poverty and menstrual equity, it feels like this is what we were working for, for so many years.
I really am proud to be leading this organization that is changing lives around the world. Diva has really become a platform to elevate the movement and make an even bigger impact in the world through our philanthropy.
For the longest time, the subject of menstruation has been very hush hush. Why do you think that is?
There are so many reasons! Typically, menstruation has been treated as a shameful bodily function that needs to be kept private and hidden. We have been taught that periods are something to be embarrassed about, and I think that’s partly because, to this day, women’s reproductive health is poorly understood and not prioritized. For a long time, the medical community did not understand menstruation, and this led to a number of myths and misconceptions about periods that have just contributed to the silence.
Today, more and more women are comfortable talking about menstruation in public. Although there is still a long way to go, the subject is no longer considered as shameful or an embarrassment. In your opinion, what factor do you believe contributed towards that?
Again, I think so many factors have contributed to this. For one thing, as we’ve learned more about the impact that menstruation can have on people’s lives and what a crucial role it plays in overall health, it’s become something that is taken more seriously. And I also think that a newer generation of women is more willing to say “This is a reality of our lives, and it isn’t something we’re going to be silent or ashamed about anymore.” That, combined, with the fact that there are so many amazing and innovative menstrual products out there now – once you’re willing to consider different options for menstrual care, like reusable cloth pads or a cup, you’re more willing to question everything else you’ve ever been taught about periods.
What would you say is the biggest challenge that women face currently when it comes to their personal hygiene and menstruation and how is DivaCup helping them overcome it?
This question very much depends on the situation of the individual accessing period care. We know that many people around the world frequently have to choose between buying food or buying menstrual products that month – so finances are a major barrier for so many, and this is a need that our DivaCares program was developed to address.
For those who are able to afford period care products each month, having a sense of fear or intimidation about exploring alternative menstrual options is the biggest barrier people face around managing their periods. Many people have only ever learned about two options – disposable tampons and disposable pads – and the idea of considering something reusable is often a strange concept to people! Using a DivaCup also requires you to become a little more familiar with your flow – something that many people are squeamish about at first. Part of our educational initiative is to communicate that being acquainted and familiar with your flow is natural, normal, and healthy.
DivaCup has been contributing greatly towards women empowerment. What would you say is the biggest accomplishment that DivaCup has had to date?
We have so many fantastic relationships with charitable partners. We work with Period: the Menstrual Movement, the Native Youth Sexual Network, and Diva Day, to name only a few. Working with these organizations is so rewarding because it allows us to really make a difference by providing education, resources and cups to people who need them. I think the fact that we’re in the position right now to develop our DivaCares program and create a comprehensive strategy to champion period enlightenment is one of the accomplishments I’m most proud of.
We’re also incredibly proud of our recent B Corp certification. B Corp is such a great way to make businesses work as a force for good, and though the certification process is quite rigorous, I’m so proud of our team that we received it and are continually working at getting better and better!
In February of last year, you joined the first-ever conference of PeriodCon. What was it like for you to be part of other industry leaders and talk about better solutions for menstruation?
Period Con in 2017 was a fabulous experience! It was a privilege to be part of the first Period Con, especially because Period is such a valued partner of our DivaCares program. I was honoured to be asked to be the Keynote speaker for the event and share our journey. It was definitely eye-opening and amazing connecting with other industry leaders and come together to celebrate all that we do.
As head of an organization that many people still have a certain discomfort towards it, you must come across several challenges during your day. What are some of those challenges and how do you work on overcoming them?
One of the questions I used to get when we were first bringing the DivaCup to market was “are you still selling that thing?” or even “is that really a full-time job?” The fact that women’s health and period care still isn’t taken seriously was a huge barrier when we first started, and while we’ve seen massive change (along with massive growth of our company!), I still run into people who are surprised that I’m so open talking about menstrual cups.
I also feel like there are still some opportunities that we are not considered for because of the topic. That is definitely changing, and as well as periods have a lot more presence in the media today. I try not to focus on that though. Because our team is so passionate and focused, we simply keep doing what we do. If we focused on the discomfort towards our company or products or industry, we would not be where we are today!
What is the best advice that you can give to women who are seeking entrepreneurship in an area like you, that is not often well received by others?
Patience and persistence are so key to succeeding! If there’s no clear path or category for what you want to do, don’t be afraid to forge your own. And if people won’t take you seriously at first — don’t be discouraged! If you believe in what you’re doing, then it’s worth sticking to it.
On a final note, where do you see DivaCup 10 years from now? What is the main goal?
We really want to grow our DivaCares program – as I mentioned earlier, there are so many organizations we support and love working with, but we also know that period poverty is an issue around the world. We want to continue making a difference, expanding our partnerships, and helping as many people with clean, comfortable period care as we can.
This year we’ve also released our brand-new Model 0, a smaller cup for those under 18 years of age. We want to continue listening to our consumers’ needs and producing innovations that help people have the best possible period experience.