Move Over DivaCup — Keela joins FLEX and Periods Will Never be the Same
81 years after its initial release, the menstrual cup is getting a much needed makeover. In 2016, we launched the successful FLEX menstrual disc —and today, we join forces with Keela Cup to add a next generation menstrual cup to our product line which is now called the FLEX Cup™.
The Keela team joined us in July and their reinvented cup is one that both cup skeptics and fanatics can benefit from.
FLEX Cup is reusable, body and eco-friendly. What makes it different is its soft, adjustable stem. The stem’s patented ReleaseRing™ can be adjusted to accommodate different body types and pulled like a tampon for effortless removal. And similar to its 81 year old great grandmother, FLEX Cup can be worn for up to 12 hours and is completely reusable.
Our commitment to innovation started with our single use FLEX disc, which creates 60% less waste than other disposable period products and can be worn during sex. We didn’t want to stop there. We decided to make FLEX Cup because we’ve heard from our customers that there’s no one “right” period product for our unique bodies. We deserve more options that are better for our bodies and the environment.
I knew that if I were to release a cup under the FLEX brand, it would need to be unlike any other menstrual cup on the market, deliver meaningful innovation, and truly address the pain points that both cup lovers and skeptics have acknowledged for decades.
I also knew that in order to win over diehard cup enthusiasts, FLEX Cup would need to be materially different, not just another DivaCup copycat.
To give you some perspective, my friends who love menstrual cups are as vocal and passionate as my vegan friends, my crossfitting neighbor, and my keto diet coworkers.
The first time I met a group of cup zealots was in 2014 over dinner on a cold, foggy San Francisco night. Eight women were crowded around a small table over steaming bowls of ramen. We were celebrating the return of our friend Allison, who is a nurse and had been away in Nepal educating Nepalese women about their menstrual cycles and the benefits of menstrual cups.*
The nonprofit she’d traveled with chose to visit rural Nepal because women there were dying. Chhaupadi is a very old Hindu tradition in rural Nepal where women are believed to be unclean during menstruation and are banished outside of the family home. Women and young girls still die every year from exposure when they’re forced to sleep in outside huts. The practice is now illegal, but that hasn’t stopped it from happening in many rural areas. Allison believed that with better education, women and girls in rural Nepal would be able to fight the stigma they faced each month during menstruation.
That idea deeply resonated with me, especially because I grew up in Georgia where sex ed is far from comprehensive. That lack of education created a culture of period-shaming and made me feel embarrassed of my own developing body.
At the time of our dinner, I had been thinking a lot about periods and education because I was working on an idea for a new period product. But I still didn’t understand Allison’s passion for the menstrual cup.
“What do menstrual cups have to do with Nepalese women?” I’d asked. “The only person who’s ever mentioned a cup to me before was also an American nurse, but I couldn’t get it to work.”
For the next hour, my dinner companions swore by the attributes of menstrual cups. To summarize: cups can be worn for 12 hours and are fully reusable, which means they’re better for the environment and save money. Cups also don’t disrupt vaginal pH, which can help prevent yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis.
What my companions didn’t know was that at that very moment, I had an incredibly uncomfortable yeast infection. They also didn’t know that I had been getting yeast infections following every period for nearly 15 years of my life. Hearing about menstrual cups again reminded me of the first person who’d ever told me about menstrual cups in 2011: a nurse who wouldn’t write me another prescription for yeast infection medication until I promised to quit using my organic tampons.
If menstrual cups were so great, why couldn’t I get cups to work for me? I felt frustrated because I’d tried over 30 period products from all over the world and they all seemed exactly the same.
I later learned that period products perform the same because they are the same.
Almost every period product (tampons, organic tampons, period panties, pads, cups) are made by the same handful of manufacturers. They are often the exact same product in different colors, with different brands and packaging.
I felt cheated.
More than anything, I yearned for a period product that felt like it was made for my body. Something that was healthy and better for the environment.
As much as I wanted to love menstrual cups, I found them uncomfortable (especially the stem).
When you insert a cotton tampon, the moisture of your vagina and your menses help it to expand, which creates a plug. Cups sit where a tampon sits inside of the vaginal canal, but unlike tampons, cups collect blood instead of absorbing it. Once inserted, cups expand to create a seal. But when it comes time to remove a cup, they are much more difficult to remove than a tampon.
The cup’s seal creates suction, and to remove it, you have to wedge your finger inside of your vaginal canal around the cup to break the suction of the seal. This is a tricky, slippery task, and removal becomes a bloody ordeal.
My years’ long frustration with tampons, pads and cups led to an unexpected vision: period products must be fundamentally redesigned to solve our most basic needs. Designing new packaging would not be enough; we need better products and more options.
In August 2015, I founded The Flex Company with a commitment to real innovation to solve our customers’ period problems. In October 2016, the FLEX menstrual disc was manufactured for the first time on our line in Canada.
Since that moment, we’ve heard from thousands of customers who’ve told us that their lives are forever changed because they feel like their period week is no longer uncomfortable or disruptive to their lives. Many customers have shared that learning to use a disc was similar to learning how to ride a bike; it took a few tries for the disc to work… but once they got it, it was easy, and now they could never live without it.
But other customers told us that they didn’t like menstrual discs at all.
While it’s never easy to hear someone sheepishly admit that they don’t like your product, I really appreciate the feedback. I deeply empathize with that frustrating experience from my many years of trial and error with period products. There’s no one “right” period product for everyone. (Does everyone wear the same shoes BTW?)
But in my gut, I still felt awful that I couldn’t help people who didn’t like FLEX discs and I wanted to help them, too.
I challenged our team to design a better menstrual cup. We’d heard from our customers that cups are very difficult to remove. Our team produced early prototypes, but as a small company, we had to shelve the idea when menstrual discs started taking off.
In December 2017, I saw a Kickstarter that changed everything. Jane Hartman Adamé and Andy Miller had designed a menstrual cup with a soft, pull-string mechanism, in place of a stiff stem, to aid in removal. When pulled, the stem of the cup breaks the seal, which makes the removal process feel similar to removing a tampon. The prototype design looked promising, even though they had not yet manufactured the product.
Keela cofounder Jane Hartman Adamé has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which is a connective tissue disorder that makes it hard for her to use other menstrual cups. She partnered with her longtime friend and medical device inventor, Andy Miller, to completely redesign the menstrual cup.
Their founding story echoed my own: Jane and Andy wanted to solve Jane’s removal problem, and recognized that in doing so, they could make period products more accessible for millions of people.
We reached out to build a friendship. I flew from Los Angeles to Oakland to meet Jane for the first time for dinner. (Clearly I love period talk over dinner).
I learned that Jane and Andy had been following the FLEX story since we’d launched two years prior. As Jane shared her personal story and mission for Keela, I couldn’t hold back my tears. In that tearful moment, I don’t know exactly what Jane was thinking, but if I had to guess, I’d say that we both recognized beauty and mutual admiration in one another because we shared the same mission and vision.
It didn’t matter that we were supposed to be competitors. I promised Jane that I would do whatever I could to support her and Andy leading up to the Keela launch. That moment was the beginning of our friendship.
A few months later, Jane and Andy flew to Los Angeles to have dinner with me. Over mezcal and tacos, we had a stunning realization: if we weren’t competitors, both of our companies could help more people. The idea seemed crazy. Startups don’t acquire other startups. But our shared vision and chemistry were undeniable, and that night we agreed to join forces.
I’m excited to finally share with the world that Jane and Andy joined The Flex Company full-time in July.
We’ve been tirelessly working to manufacture pre-orders of Keela Cup, and that process has not been without its challenges. Because of the cup’s unique design and manufacturing process, we’ve experienced several setbacks, which have delayed the original Kickstarter ship date. Thankfully, the biggest challenges are behind us and we’re on track to ship all Kickstarter orders in a few weeks.
These manufacturing setbacks made us realize something critical: we had to re-engineer the manufacturing process if we wanted to continue making the cup. Otherwise, it would be too expensive and take too long to make, which would severely limit the number of cups we could make for customers who need it.
Thankfully, our newly combined R&D and engineering teams improved Jane and Andy’s design in a way that’s imperceivable to our customers but will allow us to make the product at scale. And with that change, a new product was born: the FLEX Cup. FLEX Cup is the next evolution of Keela, and includes the same unique ReleaseRing™ design and body safe materials.
For people who’ve only used pads or tampons, I understand that change can be intimidating, which is why we made the FLEX Discovery Kit specifically for you. It comes with a FLEX Cup and two FLEX discs, so you can try both products for the price of one.
If you are a cup lover, we also offer the FLEX cup as a standalone item. We hope you’ll try it and give us your feedback about how it compares to the product you’re using today.
Thanks for reading our story and I hope you’ll share it with someone you care about.
Remember that periods are nothing to be ashamed of. No matter what period product you prefer, you deserve to have the most comfortable period of your life.
Thanks for reading! :) If you enjoyed it, applause will let me know. Your support means a lot to me and helps other people see the story.
*Name changed for privacy