So who was the ace lady who invented the menstrual cup? Spoiler alert: it wasn’t us.
Her name was Leona Chalmers and although others had had a fumble around with various cup ideas, she was the first person to patent the design of what we now know as the menstrual cup.
In those days – the 1930s (yes, that’s right – cups aren’t actually a new thing) – the device was called a “catamenial receptor” (doesn’t that just roll off the tongue?) and there were some difficulties getting women to engage with it.
Leona was, as you’ll discover, ahead of her time. The American actress and author fashioned her cup out of vulcanised rubber and took it to market. Unlike the pads of her era, it was invisible, reusable and didn’t need a bulky belt. It should have sold like hotcakes, but periods were still taboo, and women couldn’t get to grips with fishing around inside their vjayjays. Our grandmothers and great-grandmothers, overall, were far more comfortable with dumping their menstrual waste in the bin, and as global warming, greenhouses gases, plastic pollution and eco awareness were still decades away, it was a case of out of sight, out of mind.
Leona was possibly a little disheartened by her lack of success, but fortunately, the 1950s weren’t far away – and a band of three brothers, the Oreks, appeared on the scene, buying the rights off Leona and launching their menstrual cup company, Tassette. “With Tassette, you are a happier and more relaxed person; not one who feels listless and blue during her periods. You’ll say Tassette is the most wonderful discovery of the jet age,” trumpeted their (very cute) advertisements.
The thing is, women liked the idea but were still icked out by coming in contact with their own menstrual fluid. It was the emptying part they didn’t warm to, and in response, Tassette developed and launched a disposable cup called Tassaway. The point? We’re a little lost too. But thousands of women were fans, despite the relatively high cost compared to trad period products. “I just can’t live without it,” one wrote in to the company, “and there is nothing that even comes close to compare with it.”
Tassette, and Tassaway, couldn’t turn a decent profit and folded in 1987. And about the same time, we seemed to enter a golden age of tampons – TV ads showing girls in white shorts riding bikes, riding horses, playing tennis, and smiling a lot while (presumably) flushing hundreds of kilos of bloodied wads of fluff, and their applicators, down their loos.
Fast forward to the early 2000s. The world fell in love with ecommerce and with it, the vast array of consumer items from across the globe that could be packed and shipped from just about anywhere, to just about everywhere. We could finally find products we liked online – rather than have to rely only what was stocked on the shelves of our local stores. Menstrual cups were back! By the mid 2000s, thousands had tried them. In 2019, that figure is likely in the millions.
We launched The Hello Cup late in 2017, because we wanted a very high quality, fully New Zealand made, thermoplastic elastomer alternative to the silicone cups being produced overseas. Hello Cups offer so many benefits and they’re pretty cute too. We think Leona would love them.
So, no, we didn’t invent it. But cheers Leona for being the brave, kickarse, fabulous woman you were – and giving us all the inspo we ever needed to bring Hello to life.