This is an installment of Startup Year One, a special series of interviews with founders about the major lessons they have learned in the immediate aftermath of their businesses’ first year of operation.
Striving both to promote sustainability but also a more honest and open conversation around menstrual care, Nixit is a one-size-fits-all menstrual disc designed to “nix” the waste and the stress-inducing and stigmatizing experiences typically associated with having a period.
The market for menstrual cups, a growing trend among millennial and Generation Z women, is expected to be worth $963 million by 2026. Within year one of launching, Nixit was just picked up and carried in stores by fashion retailer Urban Outfitters.
Since launching in 2019, Nixit says its products have prevented more than 42 million single-use period products from going to landfill, which equates to roughly 300,000 pounds of packaging. By using Nixit, the brand says, consumers would reduce period-related waste by 93% annually.
Fortune recently spoke with founder Rachael Newton to learn more about the business, the lessons learned, the hurdles overcome, as well as plans for the new year.
The following interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
Fortune: Could you share a bit about your background and what you were doing professionally prior to launching Nixit?
Newton: I was a lawyer for 15 years specializing in hedge funds and exchange-traded funds, so a very different world.
I was on a career break living abroad when I came up with the idea for Nixit. I had started to become really aware of the waste I was producing—living on a small island with no recycling. I had made lots of changes in our household, but I hadn’t realized how much waste I was producing from using traditional products. I couldn’t believe that there was the equivalent of four plastic bags in a pack of pads and that all those tampon applicators I was using were not biodegradable. I was stunned to find out that menstrual products are the fifth most common source of waste washing up on beaches.
As I began to research the industry more, I realized that tampon manufacturers aren’t required to disclose a list of ingredients and that they can contain pesticides, glue, and even bleach. For years, whenever I had my period I would have this persistent worry in the back of my head: Did I have to change my tampon; was I going to leak; was I going to get TSS?
When I started to look at traditional menstrual cups I found them so confusing. All the different sizes and shapes meant that I ended up down a rabbit hole trying to work out which one was best for me. It seemed strange to me that I needed one size of cup when I was 29 and then a larger cup the day I turned 30. Many people find it difficult to create a seal with traditional cups, and the stem on them is irritating.
Nixit is a stem-free, suction-free, one-size-fits-all cup. You don’t need to worry about whether you’re about to turn 30 or whether you have had children. We made it soft and supple so that it conforms to your body—not the other way around.
It’s daunting to launch a startup in normal times, but doing it during a global pandemic takes a whole other level of courage and motivation. What inspired you to launch Nixit?
I believe in Nixit so much; once I started down this road, I never thought about getting off it. It was a very organic process for me. The research and development phase took years, so I had a lot of time to motivate myself (and lots of times to doubt myself). Ultimately, to be able to solve what is a real problem for so many people—from leaking tampons and uncomfortable traditional cups, to worries about TSS and single use plastics—is so rewarding. To see the benefit that using Nixit has had on so many people and to be a part of that is the best feeling.
I won’t deny that the pandemic has been challenging. I have two small children, and I’ve juggled caring for them alongside growing our team and the business. One thing 2020 made me realize is just how important Nixit is to me. I’ve never been more motivated to continue to build Nixit and get it into the hands of more people.
While it is still a very niche product, compared to other feminine care products like sanitary napkins and tampons, menstrual cups are growing both in awareness and market value over the past few years. What are the primary factors for this, and how is it shaping a greater conversation around period care and women’s health?
I would say that it’s a combination of the #MeToo movement, self-care, and the growth of environmental consciousness.
I would love to think that Nixit has been a part of shaping the conversation around period care. When we first started out, very few companies were talking about nixing the stigmas and taboos around menstruation. It was my vision to break those down. We’ve been very clear from the beginning that we are going to talk about periods openly and not shy away from the conversation. People appreciate our openness on Instagram and the way that we encourage period discussions. We’ve even got a regular blog called The Monthly, where people talk about their period experiences.
So much of the confusion around period products and the lack of awareness about menstrual cups is due to the fact that for so many of us, there is shame and embarrassment associated with periods. It’s not viewed as “polite conversation” to talk about periods, or what you are using. Forget that. By chatting about them and being more open about them, we’re empowering ourselves and others to make the best choices for our bodies and for the environment.
We’re also living in a time where people are really conscious of what they are putting in their bodies: We’re looking for organic food, the benefits of using natural skin care products, etc. The vagina is the one of the most absorbent parts of the human body. It’s only natural for people to then start thinking about what they are putting in their vaginas and to look more closely at the ingredients list (or lack thereof on a lot of products). We’re 100% transparent with our ingredient list because it’s important for consumers to make a fully informed decision.
Personally, the main reason for starting Nixit was because I wanted to reduce the waste that I was creating by using traditional period products. I had no idea that tampons would take over 500 years to degrade, or that I would use 11,000 tampons in my lifetime. As people are becoming aware of making more sustainable choices generally, and talking more about period care, menstrual cups are now becoming a part of that conversation.
It’s no secret that women have trouble securing funding, with female founders raising only between 2% and 3% in venture capital funding over the last few years, on average. What has fundraising been like, before and since the start of the pandemic?
Times are certainly more difficult than ever for female founders looking for funding. For a start there’s such a small percentage of women actually in venture capital. A lot of female founders will have found a gap in the market that solves a problem for people who identify as women. When they are pitching that to a room full of people who identify as men, they’re already at a disadvantage. I can only say that if you have solved a problem, then keep on pushing because eventually your solution will resonate with someone.
Looking forward, beyond the current public health crisis, where do you see Nixit in five years?
With our unique design, Nixit is really the next generation of menstrual cup, and I see us becoming a household name in five years. We proudly expanded our U.S. retail distribution in 2020 (now available in Nordstrom and Urban Outfitters) and look forward to growing our footprint even further in the years to come. Most importantly, I’m passionate about improving as many people’s period experiences as we can.
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