BABE #313: CARINNE CHAMBERS - CEO + Co-Founder, DivaCup
Carinne is the CEO and co-founder of DivaCup, a company known for its menstrual cup that’s been revolutionizing the period industry for over 15 years. Dedicating her life to improving menstrual care, Carinne and her mother, Francine, created a user-friendly, environmentally responsible and reusable period product that’s easily accessible around the world. What started as a project at their dining room table has grown into a multinational corporation with a team of 40. As CEO, Carinne works tirelessly to ensure DivaCup is always on schedule to achieve their utmost mission: a better period experience for all people.
Hometown: Kitchener, Ontario, Canada
Current city: Kitchener, Ontario, Canada
Alma mater: Wilfrid Laurier University
Degree: Honours Bachelor of Business Administration
Very first job: Working at my mom’s retail fashion jewelry store at the mall
Hustle: CEO & Cofounder, DivaCup
Babe you admire and why?
No question, my number-one choice is Michelle Obama. Her authenticity, confidence and grace are inspiring. Her truth-telling is a gift to the world.
How do you spend your ‘free’ time?
I like simple things, like family movie night, walking the dogs, cooking healthy recipes and, of course, spending as much time as I can with my husband, Ricky, and our two children, Maliya (9) and Jovan (8). As for relaxation, I find that meditation and yoga really help keep me balanced.
Current power anthem?
“I Love Me,” by Meghan Trainor, because it reminds me to care about myself and to love myself (something I’ve struggled with in the past).
What’s something you want to learn or master?
Salsa dancing! I love the music, the movement, and it’s something fun I can do with my husband. Also, because I hate going to the gym, it’s a great way to exercise.
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Madonna. She was my music idol growing up, and I admire her because she’s ever-evolving, reminding me you can change and grow no matter your age.
Tell us about your hustle.
As the CEO of DivaCup, I’m involved in every aspect of the business, from manufacturing and packaging design to advertising, marketing and operations. I know the company from the ground up. We started Diva at our dining room table with just me and my mom, and grew over 17 years into a multinational corporation with a team of 40. Together with our company’s president and executive director, my role as cofounder and CEO is to create the overall vision for Diva and work collaboratively with our team to achieve our prime mission: a better period experience for all people.
What does your typical workday look like?
Every workday is different. Whether it’s new product development, expansion into foreign markets or the mission of our philanthropic division, DivaCares, there’s never a dull moment. I'm also involved in special projects, like our upcoming book about the history of our company and a documentary film about menstrual equity. I love the variety of it, which is totally energizing. By the end of the day, I’m tired in a good way, feeling like I’ve accomplished something, spreading the word about a product I passionately believe in. But there’s never enough time!
How did DivaCup start?
It started with my mother. She told me that, as a teenager, she hated her period and the bulky menstrual products available at the time. She dreamed of a better way. And then decades later, she was flipping through a magazine and spotted an ad for a rubber menstrual cup. It was one of those a-ha moments in life. She became consumed with the idea of that cup replacing tampons. We both tried the cup out, which was as good as its promise. It didn’t leak, you couldn’t feel it, it was easy to clean, hygienic and odorless, and it did the job perfectly. You could even swim with it. After that, Mom became the Canadian distributor of the cup. As a teenage girl, I was at the kitchen table helping her process credit card orders, clean the cups, package them, mail them out, you name it. Menstrual care was part of our daily dialogue. It was the ultimate mother-daughter project. After seeing a generic menstrual cup owned by somebody else, Mom knew it needed to be improved in both appearance and function. So, in 2001, we went into business together and created a brand-new cup—made out of silicone instead of latex, softer to the touch, less slippery, with a better shape. Then we needed a name for our cup: “What about using the word diva?” Mom asked. Rather than thinking of a diva as a spoiled prima donna, we thought of a diva as fierce—a determined woman who wants to raise standards, expand options and defy convention. We were disruptors, revolutionizing the menstrual care industry, and nobody could miss us at conventions. There we were, dressed in black leather pants and hot-pink suede bomber jackets with our hair, makeup and jewelry all on point. It became our uniform as we shook up the feminine hygiene industry. Women would crowd around our booth and we felt like rock stars.
How would you describe your working dynamic with your mother?
As an only child, I’ve always been incredibly close to my mom. Once we went into business together, that closeness became a total asset. We almost never argue about anything. Yes, we sometimes disagree on strategic approaches, but it’s always a discussion, not a fight. We balance each other perfectly. Mom is a total extrovert, a risk-taker who is talkative, persuasive, charming and assertive, whereas I’m more of an introvert; thoughtful, quiet and strategic. What we have in common is total commitment to a product we love. We’re a powerful team.
How do you find a work-life balance?
At one point in my life, after two pregnancies in quick succession, I found myself overwhelmed. It was a combination of executive burnout and the demands of motherhood. I was physically and mentally exhausted, barely able to function. It was one of the worst years of my life. But with rest, meditation, yoga, a better diet and reprioritizing my time, I recovered completely. I also benefited from working with executive coaches and attending personal development seminars, all of it creating more confidence and strength. Overall, the lesson I’ve learned is that you must establish a balance between the demands of business, personal health care and home life. I find that getting out into nature or any kind of physical movement really helps keep me balanced. And most important, absolutely, is family. My husband Ricky (Diva’s executive director) and our children, Maliya and Jovan, are the heart and soul of my life. The kids definitely keep us moving! Jovan loves basketball and Maliya is on the competitive dance circuit, so the entire family often travels on weekends, which creates a total bond.
How has being a woman affected your professional experience?
Being a woman in a male-dominated industry isn’t easy at all. In the beginning, older buyers were stuck in their thinking, and catered to the giant companies that made pads and tampons. There we were, a mother-daughter duo from Ontario with a strange new product sold as a better solution to menstrual care. They looked at us like we were crazy. They didn’t want our product on the shelves and refused to make room for it. To attain a leadership role in our industry, we had to break down that glass ceiling. We were kicked down, rejected by major chains and often wound up in debt at trade shows, taking almost no orders. But we had grit. And, eventually, we were taken seriously, and our product sold. Today, we’re in 35,000 retail outlets in the United States and Canada.
What is menstrual equity?
Menstrual equity is a global movement ensuring that safe, affordable menstrual products are accessible to all people who menstruate, no matter where they live, no matter what their financial circumstances are. Whether in African nations, India, South America or here in Canada, it breaks my heart that some people are forced to use newspapers, socks, old rags, mud, ashes, leaves, husks, even dehydrated cow dung to absorb their monthly flow. All this leads to increased risk of infection. Our belief is that people everywhere must have access to clean water, toilets, handwashing facilities and proper waste management. Period poverty must stop! In addition, no longer should any person be stigmatized because they have their period. We can’t live in a world where a 12-year-old Indian girl commits suicide after being publicly shamed by her teacher—just because she had her period. I look forward to the day when anyone menstruating will have a dignified period experience. But, how are we going to get there? Our philanthropic program, Diva Cares, is built around three key pillars of action: Education about menstrual health, which involves showing people the products they need and how to use them; advocacy for legislation—both in the United States and throughout the world—and laws that achieve equitable menstrual outcome (such as the proposed Menstrual Equity/For All Act (M4All); and access to period products, giving people the products they need to have a healthy period experience. At Diva, we’ve created a campaign called the Inner Revolution, a movement of people who menstruate free from convention, prejudice and menstrual taboos, and are proud of their bodies.
What advice would you give to other companies trying to improve women’s healthcare?
Educational outreach is vital for any company like ours; it’s a strong part of everything we do. We continually form partnerships with those on the frontlines of women’s healthcare: doctors, nurses, midwives, naturopaths and pelvic health specialists. Our goal is to illuminate the usefulness of a menstrual cup and improve women’s health care by normalizing conversations about periods. Each and every time we enhance knowledge with key healthcare organizations, it’s a huge accomplishment, making a real difference in the lives of women no matter where they live. If you can get involved in helping to support women’s healthcare research, I would highly recommend it as a social responsibility highest on any company agenda. We provide both product donation and funding to a number of research studies in the United States on an ongoing basis (including Yale and the Feinstein Institute) to support important research on endometriosis diagnostic tests.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
If you have a dream, follow it. I learned this directly from my mom. She totally believed in the power of a menstrual cup when nobody else did. She was fearless, a true disrupter of the status quo, creating a movement that revolutionized menstrual care for people everywhere. And even when buyers laughed us out of meetings, she never gave up, a combination of gentle persuasion and masterful salesmanship. You need this kind of perseverance and drive to make it in today’s world. If you have an idea for a product or business, I want women to assert themselves—to find their unique voice, to take risks and dare to have it all. Resilience is the key. Like any diva, you can rise from the ashes. You can reinvent yourself. You can find the strength to do it. Be patient; never give up. All the little steps along the way compound your investment and are leading to success. Remember, it took 11 years to get our first national account, and it might take you a decade before you get your first break—but stay focused. I’m here to tell you that if a mother-daughter team from Kitchener, Ontario can build an international business, you can, too.