Not many menstruators are what I would call *passionate* about periods. Though periods are a natural part of life (and necessary for our species to continue), they’ve long been branded as taboo by a patriarchal society. Not only can products like pads and tampons be expensive, there’s also a slew of other issues associated with them, including the waste they accumulate, the lack of transparent information about a product’s contents, and the inaccessibility of period products and general knowledge about reproduction in North America and across the world. Needless to say, periods (understandably) continue to be avoided and sidelined by the majority of people. However, when I spoke to the 22-year-old female founder of viv, Katie Yara Diasti, she reeked of positivity and passion- for period products, for entrepreneurship, and for- no pun intended- changing the vicious cycle of unanimous aversion to periods.
Katie, a recent graduate of Boston College who studied marketing and social impact, was not always working to change the world of periods. While growing up in Tampa, Florida as the daughter of a single mother who immigrated from Egypt, she grew up more interested in a potential career in marketing or fashion than entrepreneurship. Though her mom ran her own vet practice and her uncles started a company, the thought that she too could start a business never occurred to her until a few months ago. During an entrepreneurial marketing course as part of her last year of college, she and her classmates were instructed to do a project where they researched a problem that they wished to solve and then constructed a business model for the company, as though they were starting it. Most students' passion for the problem they were attempting to solve faded once they received their letter grade for the semester, but Katie could not stop thinking about the potential of the product that she and her group have created.
Though we’ve seen innovative period products flood the mainstream marketplace in recent years (think brands like Diva Cup, Cora, Thinx, and Lola), Katie knew that most of these period products were neither truly sustainable nor clean- and most of these new players to the period management product scene weren’t affordable, either. Viv differs itself as a period company that produces pads and tampons, like many others, but the innovative fiber and new material that the products are made from make viv products unique. To boot, because it’s 2019 and everything’s a click of a button away, viv intends to offer a subscription model to send subscribers products on a monthly basis, ensuring that every menstruator can easily receive clean, sustainable, and affordable pads and tampons in coordination with their monthly cycle.
Periods are political- especially as movements like the fights against climate change, the pink tax, and period poverty continue to be voiced by activists and government officials. Katie exemplifies someone whose passion for progress will make her a progressive changemaker in the fight for better menstrual care. To learn more, I chatted over the phone with this inspirational social innovator about being a female founder, the future of menstrual care, our mutual love for Lizzo, and how passion is the fuel for any business.
Maura Sheedy: Let’s talk periods. As someone who's a leader in the menstrual revolution, where do you see the future of menstrual hygiene- as well as reproductive health- headed?
Katie Yara Diasti: Over the next 5-10 years, I think sustainability and transparency are two massive things that all brands are prioritizing. We’re seeing mainstream hygiene products debut “clean” or “organic” lines- which is very cool - but we have to remember that [their decision to develop and market these products] was based on the demands of the consumer. I truly believe that we demand with our dollars and if people are demanding better products [for the earth and our bodies], that’s where the world will move to.
In addition, there’s still plenty of stigma surrounding periods- people don’t usually talk about it in public or lower their voice when asking about it. Menstruators hide pads and tampons when entering the restroom too. The world needs to work on changing the view of periods in society through empowerment education. There’s a lot of issues, but the first step is transparently talking about them In order to solve them.
Maura: As you know, current conversation about periods and period products focus on the many issues intertwined with them. Namely, sustainability, poverty, accessibility are mentioned, as well as periods effects on education, career, family, and health around the world. Can you talk about any of these (or others) and any of these that viv is working to address?
Katie: Periods have a lot of social issues. We’re working to create more sustainable pads and tampons that are accessible for people in any economic or home situation. We’d like to help eradicate the social stigmas surrounding periods as well.
Periods are a really interesting topic because they affect so many aspects of life worldwide, too. During college, I studied how to actually make an impact when entering a foreign place- especially when you haven’t experienced something first hand and are entering as an outsider “with all of the answers.” You need to be able to talk to and understand people’s experience [with] specific issues [especially when it comes to global effects of periods on society outside the U.S.] I believe in giving other countries the tools to empower their nations, which is the most sustainable way.
Maura: As a young female founder (which we don’t see too often, unfortunately), what does a typical day look like for you right now as you’re creating viv?
Katie: Right now, as the sole founder, I manage pretty much everything. This can be things like creating content for our social media, writing and reviewing our newsletter, or doing calls with farmers or lawyers or potential investors. I usually have calls with our interns too.
Maura: If you weren’t creating viv, do you have any other businesses or concepts that you would like to pursue?
Katie: I’ve always loved clothes and fashion growing up- it’s so fun- but I know how unsustainable the industry can be. I always feel so guilty about buying from unsustainable fast fashion chains. I’m really interested in making fashion sustainable- maybe I’d be doing something in that realm.
Maura: What advice, as a female founder, would you have to young people interested in entrepreneurship? What’s your #1 tip to get started or to take a concept from idea to an actual product?
Katie: A really important part [of entrepreneurship] is having a passion to address the problem that your brand or company is trying to solve. Entrepreneurship is hard and can be really deterring, but if you care about something enough, you’re going to be able to keep going. If you’re passionate about it, you’ll be good at it too! That’s a huge part of it.
If you’re a young person trying to start a business, you can definitely find mentors and people willing to help. I’ve found that people are willing to help students and to help startups- especially if the person is passionate. Passion is contagious. A lot of people have help getting to where they are today and are more than willing to give back. I recommend that you, be clear about your needs and be clear about your asks when asking for help.
From my experience, I encourage everyone to go for it and get your product out there- don’t be afraid of being too young or not “ready” to start a business. I’ve heard so many times now that most big entrepreneurs are embarrassed of the first product or service that they’ve ever put out. They even say that if you’re not embarrassed [of your first draft or first product], you’re doing something wrong! Do it, adjust and listen (to your audience or consumers or the people you’re working with). Not being afraid to not continually evolve and change is the biggest piece of advice that I can offer.