When it comes to period products and vaginal care, women and people who menstruate pay a financial, environmental and physical price they have little choice to refuse. The average person who menstruates will spend approximately $6,000 on period products and produce 400 pounds of garbage over about 40 years — much of it single-use plastic-based. Eco-friendly options have been available — menstrual cups, reusable pads, leakproof underwear, even the free-bleeding movement aren’t new — but as the sustainable health and hygiene market grows, the message is becoming more mainstream.

Globally, the feminine hygiene market is projected to grow to U.S.$27.7 billion annually by 2025 — and the reusable sector is projected to grow the fastest. While it is more difficult to find stats about reusable pads, the global menstrual cup market is expected to reach annual sales of U.S.$636 million by 2027. The industry for menstrual cups, reusable pads and leakproof underwear here in Canada reflects this global trend. Sustainable period products have a long history in Canada with brands like Aisle — which launched in 1995 as Lunapads in Vancouver, and Toronto’s startup community has played a key role. The industry, run mostly by women, is not only growing the low- or zero-waste period market, but other female health sectors as well.

Several Toronto-based brands are producing everything from handmade reusable pads and menstrual cups to vaginal dryness solutions.

Knix makes waves

When Joanna Griffiths launched Toronto-based Knixwear, one of the biggest eco-conscious brands making period underwear, in 2013, the idea still felt revolutionary. It quickly became one of Canada’s fastest-growing companies thanks to their leakproof underwear, anti-chafing bras and the debut of a teen line in 2017. Griffiths focused on building a loyal customer community, listening to feedback to improve products, and perhaps most importantly, reflecting a range of body types for women in all marketing materials. The visuals were impactful; Knix wasn’t just a brand, it was a force of positivity encouraging everyone to embrace their bodies. The possibilities seemed endless for people who wanted a different, more eco-conscious way to deal with menstruation, and local entrepreneurs took notice.

Mother and Nature’s small biz strategy

For smaller sustainable brands like Burlington’s Mother and Nature, growth has been more organic. Founder and current one-woman show, Lindsay Piché, began the business five years ago while pregnant with her son. After researching eco-friendly baby products and cloth diapering, she wanted an outlet for all of her knowledge and began to create products for friends and family. After receiving positive feedback, Piché began signing up for shows and taking her products more public, steadily growing the client list.

Over the past two years, Mother and Nature has branched out into reusable pads and panty liners — inspired by Piché’s personal experience. “I started having an allergic reaction to disposable period products when I was postpartum with my second baby,” she says. “I wanted to switch to reusable products, so I purchased some from one of my cloth diaper suppliers at the time. I loved the switch, but the products themselves were bulky — and white!? — and so I set out trying to figure out how to make my own.”

Piché handmakes Mother and Nature period products in her basement studio using 100% cotton flannel, polyurethane-laminated waterproof lining and 100% microfibre fleece for waterproof protection. It is her passion project, but entering the menstruation market was daunting at first. “It can be a challenging product line because everyone experiences their period differently. I was nervous at first,” she says. “I certainly don’t want to be responsible for someone’s negative period experience because of my products. But they have been well-received and the demand continues to grow. I continue to get requests for new types of products (like thong liners and extra absorbent pads) and there doesn’t seem to be any signs of slowing down.”

Nixit mixes up the menstrual cup market with a unique design

Toronto-based Nixit, founded in 2019 by Rachael Newton, manufactures Health Canada–authorized menstrual cups, made in Canada with a unique design and fit. The cup, made from 100% medical-grade silicone, sits above the vaginal canal, meaning that the body holds it in place naturally without the use of suction. Nixit’s design separates it from competitors that use suction, and can hold more liquid, be worn up to 12 hours and while having sex. Since launch, according to Fortune, Nixit has saved “more than 42 million period products from going to landfill.” Menstrual cups also save users money. One Nixit cup costs $54 and can be used for up to five years, saving hundreds of dollars annually.

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Damiva tackles menopause, naturally

The sustainable feminine health and hygiene market isn’t all about menstruation. One Toronto business is taking on the other big M word in women’s lives — menopause. Chia Chia Sun is CEO and co-founder of Damiva, which makes health products for women that are free of synthetic chemicals, with a focus on the 40+ market. “One of the key reasons I started Damiva was the personal frustration I felt about the taboos around vaginal dryness and other women’s health issues,” she explains. Sun was shocked upon discovering that 85% of menopausal women experience vaginal dryness, but the solutions contained a variety of synthetic chemicals.

Going all-natural was important to Sun from the beginning. Damiva’s first product, Mae, a vaginal suppository lubricant, contains only five ingredients: kokum butter (a fruit-bearing tree), cocoa butter, sugar, calendula flower and hamamelis (witch hazel). Damiva has since expanded into labial cream, post-surgery lotions and breast care to soothe soreness caused by menstruation or menopause, as well as anti-aging and skincare products. They recently launched Angie, a hand lotion in response to over-drying during COVID-19 due to handwashing and sanitizers.

Although you can now find Damiva products in major retailers, such as Real Canadian Superstore, Well.ca, Amazon and The Shopping Channel across Canada and the U.S., finding capital to start the business in 2012 was a challenge. “It was extremely difficult to find support from traditional capital sources, even though we had proprietary formulations, trademarks and patents,” Sun recalls. “I once attended a meeting at a women-led and women-run capital raising organization designed to assist women in raising capital, especially those (like myself at the time) who hadn’t raised any capital before. The meeting was a nightmare — I was told that my “idea” at the time had no value, I would never raise money, and that I should go back to the drawing board.”

Thankfully, Sun and her co-founder and president Gardiner Smith refused to give up. Sun appeared on Dragons’ Den in 2013 with Damiva’s first product, Mae, a vaginal suppository lubricant for menopausal women, which increased their visibility. Sun received an offer of 40% of the company and $100,000 from Dragon Jim Treliving, but ultimately, she couldn’t come to an agreement with the Treliving group and they went their separate ways. In 2014, Damiva launched in Canadian stores, by 2016, they secured $1.2 million in seed financing by KES 7 Capital Inc. to break into the U.S. Today, their 2020 Q4 revenue totals $15 million.

The sustainable women’s health and hygiene industry in Canada ramping up as more and more innovative entrepreneurs enter the market. Consumers want less waste, the planet craves it, and they want brands who support that initiative. The amount of waste saved from landfill already is a remarkable achievement from an industry with so much room to grow — an industry that’s quickly establishing itself in Toronto.

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