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SPEAKER Q&A DAME Alec Mills: “Running a business is an extension of you”

Image © DAME

This May, during RetailX Event’s brand new conference dedicated to understanding the consumer, Alec Mills, co-founder of sustainable period product company DAME, will discuss creating a brand with personality, beliefs and values that people can buy into. 

Alec Mills, co-founder, DAME

Q: Firstly, tell us about DAME?
We started DAME as a tampon subscription service. The goal was to provide various bundles so that customers had everything they needed, at the time they needed it most, without any compromise.

We did that for several years, before we realised that there was a much greater problem – plastic. 

In the beginning, we were packing these bundles by hand on the floor of my flat. We saw just how much plastic there is in all these disposable products. None of them can be recycled. Data shows there are roughly 100 billion plastic period products thrown away every year. We went on a kind of Odyssey to try and find if we could make our offering plastic free.

On this journey we also discovered that there have been over 3,000 different chemicals found in traditional tampons and pads. All of which can have pretty negative effects on the body and a period. 

Finally, we also didn’t like the way that these products were being marketed. There is an advertising discretion and silence around these products. That is not something I want my daughters to grow up experiencing from these major international brands. 

So all in all, we had a very compelling case to try and make a brand that cut through all of this and created a better set of values for the next generation of people using these products.  

Q: You’ve hit on that important topic there – values. You are very kindly joining us in May to speak on the Value-based Marketing panel. How does DAME communicate to your customer base your values? And show that you’re doing something different to what’s come before?
There’s different ways of doing this. There’s immediate things like packaging where you are trying to express and transmit a certain feeling of what you’re brand is all about. For example: our brand uses only colours that are found in nature. So dark green, or we call it DAME green. We also use earthy, stone colours, which hopefully are an early signal that our products are better for nature and by being naturally derived. 

We use words like ‘re-usable’, ‘washable’ and ‘refillable’. We make sure those are prominent, and immediately show what they do, reflecting our ethos as a brand

We also have trust markers – a B Corp stamp, a Vegan stamp, and Carbon Insetting. These prominent markers show right away that from the roots of our business we have been judged by an external body and have been deemed to be worthy of this accreditation. 

That can be expanded to things like the website. And then the way that we do our marketing. One of our customers sent in a photo of herself dancing in her bedroom with a tampon string hanging out – we thought that’s so cool: It’s positive, it’s bold and shame-free, all values that we live by. We said: “do you mind if we put you on the side of 200 London buses”,  and amazingly she said yes!

We had this fight with the advertising standards authority, trying to get her on the side of these buses. And eventually they let us do it. It immediately says a lot about our values. We’re trying to turn the tide on what has historically been a very taboo and hidden topic. Things like that all start to build this picture of us doing the right thing, and being mission focused. 

Q: March is B Corp month, you have mentioned your status and stamp. Was getting B Corp accreditation a goal or did you set out to be sustainable and transparent with B Corp status being a byproduct of that?
The latter. We set out to create a business that had the same ethics and morals that we had as founders. What’s so great about running a business is it can just be an extension of you. You give to charity; you try to reduce your impact; you support your community. As a business we wanted to try and create a company that did just that.

Businesses have a lot more power to do things because they are spending more and they have a lot more eyeballs on them.  

We discovered B Corp back in 2017. We were doing a B Corp workshop and we ended up winning an award for our reusable applicator. It may sound cheesy, but it was a little bit like finding a family that we didn’t know we had. It felt a bit like coming home. 

Accreditation, we started off in late 2018 and had a score of about 85. It was very interesting because you see very obviously where your weak spots are, and you can tighten up in those areas. The second time we reached a score of around 103. 

It helps to show on our packaging everything that we stood for with one symbol, as opposed to trying to write everything down in several paragraphs. 

Q: When launching and growing this business, have you put women’s health at the forefront of what you’re doing?  
Ultimately the main reason why people buy period products is because they make them feel more comfortable and they perform. Our products have to work incredibly well. They have to be made to keep the body healthy. The sustainability element is sort of a nice thing to have.

We launched very much with reducing plastic in mind, but the more we’ve gone on this journey, the more we’ve discovered that actually goes hand in hand with reducing chemicals.  

We have removed all chemicals because we use 100% organic cotton. What’s exciting about this category is it feels like the truth is slowly coming out. 80% of our tampon customers report that their periods get lighter, shorter or less painful having switched from one of the major brands.

There’s going to be a point in the future where they look back and say: “I can’t believe that we were using those products for so long”.  

Q: Having started as a subscription business model, did that help you to both grow customer retention and create a community?
Any community gathers around a central belief system. It’s exactly the same with a brand. You’re trying to create a personality, a set of beliefs and values that people buy into. By planting our flag in the sand and saying: “We want to get rid of plastic. We want to get rid of chemicals. We want to get rid of shame,” we’ve found people are very invested in what we’re doing. 

We’re very transparent about where our failings are, how we can improve and ultimately try to bring our community on that journey. 

Having started in the D2C world, we have direct communication with the customer. When we launched our reusable applicator we had those early adopters. They then asked “can you make an equivalent for pads. Can you make reusable pads?”. They came with us on that journey.

While now we’re much less focused on subscriptions, our community is still that tight and interested in a common mission of removing plastic, toxins and shame from periods and products. That’s quite galvanising.

Registration for Mills’ panel, Values-based marketing – Aligning your brand with your values: What needs to change?, is open now. For more information about ConsumerX, held on 14 May 2024 at 133 Houndsditch, click here. 

ConsumerX is part of RetailX Event’s Spring Festival, the full agenda will be released in the coming weeks.

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