Zi Nguyen – Cocmau
Many Asians probably have gone through this (I know I have): the best-fitting clothes in the American stores for us are in the kids section. Fortunately, for that we have Asian brands that take into account our size range. Unfortunately, when it comes to some things such as menstrual cups, Western standards still prevail, even in Eastern stores.
And it is not like we don’t want some of the stuff coming up in the West. In fact, the first time Zi Nguyen discovered menstrual cups, three years ago, she told herself:
“Wow. This is the future.”
These five words set the foundation for what would become her first startup.
Zi, from Vietnam, is the founder of Cocmau, menstrual cup brand, and at the young age of 24, she has already sold over 1000 cups in a mere four months of launching her business.
In 2017, Zi was in Germany, at a pharmacy, where she saw menstrual cups in the feminine care aisle. Curious, she bought one to try, and said she was lucky that that particular one fit her just right, and she’s been using it ever since. “I’ve never had any leakage issues with it,” she adds.
Lucky indeed. I have tried two brands of menstrual cups and they’ve never really sat right. I share this with Zi and it segues nicely into the topic of research for her product. Zi spent six months researching menstrual cups in Vietnam, and found that most of the brands sold in her native country are manufactured in the United States, using tech sheets and product specifications that may be too big for the regular Vietnamnese menstruator.
The cups seem to be too long, causing discomfort when moving around or when sitting down. Yes! I nodded fervently, that was my experience too, short of trimming the stem. Hence, Zi looked into creating a smaller cup.
Completely self-funded with the earnings from the part-time job she had during college, Zi set out to look for menstrual cup manufacturers. Ten to 12 designs and one year later, she finally settled on a manufacturer from China with over 12 years of experience in the business and fully compliant with international standards and regulations of period care products.
Being roughly 1.5 cm shorter than the average menstrual cup, Cocmau is ideal for the menstruator with a low, or the occasionally low cervix. It also has a rim that curves internally instead of flaring out, to ease pressure on the vaginal canal and bladder. The cup is also shaped like a “V” instead of the usual bell-bottomed form that reduces cup capacity, but allows for easier removal.
One noticeable difference is the loop at the bottom of the cup, in a place where a stem would usually sit. The loop serves as a firmer grip than the stem, though much of that might be in the newbie cup user’s mind, as experienced cup users deftly squeeze the bottom of the cup, stem or not, loop or not.
Though having said that, I can fully relate. I did panic for a second the first time I tried removing my cup, fingers sliding off the stem, despite its raised notches. I would perhaps have much appreciated the loop. Zi says that the loop design helps make the cup more approachable to first time cup users.
I sit at my end of the screen, impressed by the work and passion this young lady has put into her product. At the start of the year, I wrote a piece about how I believe the next generation has the passion, wits, and resources to change the way we consume and be proponents of better products for us. It looked like I could not be more right.
Zi regularly chats with her customers about the products and gathers their feedback on them. An interesting group of menstrual cup users whom she frequently meets is the team of the nation’s best swimmers, as Zi lives by the beach in Da Nang, where they frequently train. From them, she gets first hand feedback of the use of menstrual cups by athletes.
There was a lady in particular she remembers, who had tried a lot of cups, but none of them worked. The first time, however, that she tried Cocmau, the cup sat comfortably in her vaginal wall. This was a lady who had two children, but no clue where her cervix was. This short interaction gave Zi insight to the general level of reproductive and sexual health knowledge the regular woman has; Zi was even more motivated and convinced that this was her life’s work.
Not to sell more cups, but to be a source of education and help for Vietnamnese women to gain knowledge and agency over their own bodies, for no other reason than having the right to. There is a long way to go before each woman is armed with enough knowledge about her body or even equality in medical research, but if brands such as Cocmau continue to push education, community and empowerment, then perhaps Eastern standards may prevail, even in the West.
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