For many people who menstruate, it was their mother who first introduced them to the world of period products and how to handle that time of the month. But for mother-daughter duo Francine and Carinne Chambers, their period partnership didn’t stop there.
Francine is the cofounder of Diva International, which makes the menstrual cup known as the DivaCup. Her daughter, Carinne, is the company’s CEO and cofounder.
“Carinne and I have always been best friends — not just mother and daughter,” Francine tells SheKnows. “We’ve experienced a lifetime of brainstorming together on topics related to family, friends and every issue imaginable, so I knew that we would be great business partners.”
The story began when Francine was 14 and frustrated by the limitations of getting her period, Carinne tells SheKnows. “She thought that there had to be a better way and had the idea of the cup at that time,” she adds.
But it wasn’t until Carinne herself was 14 that Francine discovered menstrual cups existed and have been around since 1930, Carinne says, and she wondered why no one had brought the product to the market yet. The early models weren’t exactly something you’d want to insert into your vagina (or anywhere else in your body for that matter), though.
“It was a very niche product, and the materials weren’t great,” Carinne explains. “It was made of latex rubber and was a brown, plungerlike thing — very utilitarian. Something you’d use for cleaning.”
Francine would then dedicate nearly a decade to promoting the use of menstrual cups. At that point, Carinne had finished high school and college and says they were “at a crossroads,” and after her mother’s years of work in the space, they decided somebody needed to make a better, more modern version of the menstrual cup and bring it to the mass market. Between Francine’s innovative ideas and Carinne’s background in tech marketing (including stints at IBM and Microsoft), they set out to design the ideal menstrual cup.
After about two years of research and development — as well as going through the necessary regulatory hoops — they had the first version of their product.
“Here was this opportunity that we’re just so passionate about this concept and product and nobody’s doing it,” Carinne notes. “Looking back, I’m grateful that I was naive at the time and thought it would be very easy. I think a lot of entrepreneurs can relate to that.”
Like any new business, DivaCup had challenges. But in addition to the challenges most start-ups face, Francine and Carinne were also dealing with period products — and manufacturers and distributors weren’t exactly lining up to work with them.
So they started on a small scale — getting people to try the product and going to trade shows every single weekend.
“The first few years, that was our life — literally standing at events and talking to people for 18 hours a day, three or four days in a row,” Carinne says. “Any event we could do, we were there. We put all our time, money, energy into that. We just started getting people.”
But despite the challenges, the mother-daughter team kept going.
“Since we were pioneering the menstrual cup industry, there were many obstacles to overcome. But because of our passion and determination, we never gave up until we had a solution,” Francine explains.
Diva International was founded in 2001, and the DivaCup launched in 2003 — back before social media was widespread or before crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter or GoFundMe. In the beginning, it was just Francine and Carinne, working out of Francine’s basement for the first seven years.
“We did a little bit of everything, and luckily, my mom and I had this amazing synergy — her skills complemented my skills and we worked so well together,” Carinne says.
The DivaCup landed in the first major retail chain 11 years after the business started.
Carinne says much of the DivaCup’s success is thanks to her mother’s openness with talking about vaginal health. “I learned everything about how to talk to customers about the DivaCup from her because she’s so open,” Carinne adds. “She always made it seem like it wasn’t a big deal.”
Now, Carinne has an 8-year-old daughter of her own. Looking back, she sees what a gift it has been working with her mother and thinks it’d be great if her daughter wanted to join the family business (though says it’s unlikely to happen).
And Mom feels the same way.
“It has been a joy to watch Carinne mature and transition to being the CEO of Diva International as well as an inspiration to watch her develop our team and grow the business,” Francine says.
Today, DivaCup is one of the most recognizable menstrual cup brands thanks to the hard work of this unstoppable mother-daughter team.