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Indiana women fighting period poverty create menstrual cup that inserts like a tampon

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Posted at 7:07 AM, Mar 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-08 18:52:34-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Menstrual cups are better for the environment, easier on the wallet, and, let's be honest, better for vaginal health.

"There are so many benefits with menstrual cups," Drew Jarvis, CMO and co-founder of Sunny Period, told WRTV.

Menstrual cups save the use of 2,400 pads or tampons in a person's lifetime, according to Global Citizen. Menstrual cups are also estimated to have less than 1.5% of environmental impact.

The bell-shaped cups can be left in for up to 12 hours and last up to six years, according to Global Citizen. Most menstrual cups are made of silicone, which is derived from silica, a type of sand that reverts back to its original state once it degrades, and is not harmful to the earth.

Cindy Belardo, CEO and co-founder of Sunny Period, told WRTV it was her background in environmental studies and pre-medicine that lead her to actively lower her ecological footprint.

"I started hearing about menstrual cups as this low, zero-waste option for periods. And I decided to try that out in college and learned a lot about myself, about my body, and, of course, about periods," Belardo said.

Despite its plethora of benefits, people who menstruate tend to lean more toward tampons and pads.

FILE - Picture of various menstrual products are seen, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Menstrual cups can be intimidating.

People who menstruate have to find the right fit, the cups have to be properly washed after every single use and not instantly disposed of like their plastic counterparts, plus there is still stigma and misinformation.

In addition to all of that, there is something menstrual cups aren't necessarily the best at — easy application and removal.

"There was certainly a learning curve. And I thought, 'I can't be the only one with this problem. There has to be a better way to do it,'" Jarvis said of the challenging first time she used a menstrual cup.

Jarvis and Belardo founded Sunny Period in 2019 with the mission to find a better way of inserting a menstrual cup, to help end period poverty, and to make period care, in general, the best it can be.

"We ended up learning a lot about first-time users' experience and learned what did work, what didn't work, which later led to the founding of the company. Which was an idea to innovate on menstrual cups and make them easier to use for people who want that option," Belardo said.

By the end of 2022, Sunny Period will be releasing a product they've been working on for a few years now — the "Sunny Cup and Applicator."

The Sunny Cup and Applicator is a menstrual cup that comes with an extra nozzle to apply the silicone cup, essentially inserting through the vaginal opening to the vagina, the same as a tampon.

"We're just trying to innovate on that insertion process," Belardo said.

"The main issue people were speaking about was, 'how do you get started for a beginner?'" She further explained. "Maybe someone who's used tampons before, but was still not sure how to make that switch, you know, it doesn't quite translate. And so that's how the applicator piece came to be. Because it's something more familiar to the tampon user."

The Sunny Cup by Sunny Period will be available for purchase at the end of 2022.

How did a woman from Oklahoma and a woman from Indiana meet?

"Cindy and I both started getting into the period care space at the same time in two totally different states not knowing each other, and just happen to connect," Jarvis said.

Jarvis, 22, won a business pitch competition for $25,000 in 2018 while a senior at Fishers High School. She had invented what was basically an early model of the Sunny Cup.

"I kind of noticed that there wasn't a lot of competition in the market at that time, and there wasn't a whole lot of innovation," Jarvis said.

Around that same time, Belardo, 25, was on a grant-funded trip to help lower the level of period poverty in northern India.

"The goal was just to educate about menstrual cups and make sure that people in that area that we went — different schools and villages around that area — knew about this option as a reusable period care," Belardo, an Oklahoma native, said.

The two women both found they were passionate about period care and began to research more ways to help eradicate period poverty. They both landed on inventing a menstrual cup that was easier to insert and remove than current models.

By 2019, Jarvis and Belardo were both working with a product engineering firm in Indianapolis, "Glassboard." By this point, Jarvis was living in Bloomington and Belardo in West Lafayette.

"They were like, 'Hey, what are the odds? There are two young women working in the period care space, trying to make a new menstrual cup.' And yeah, that's kind of how we got started and how Sunny and the Sunny Cup came to be," Jarvis said.

Drew Jarvis (left) and Cindy Belardo (right) founded Sunny Period in 2019.

Sunny Period is looking toward the future of period care.

Jarvis and Belardo started down the path of period care because they were so passionate about

eradicating period poverty and changing the conversations our society has about menstrual cycles.

"We definitely have some interesting conversations at times and had to get super comfortable talking about periods with everyone of all ages and genders and mindsets," Jarvis said.

On the Sunny Period Instagram page, the team often answers any questions its followers have about its Sunny Cup, and period care in general. And most of the time, they initiate the dialogue with their followers.

"We want to always be there for people, to...keep that line of communication open," Jarvis added.

To help fight any taboo and educate young kids starting their period for the first time, the two have co-authored a graphic novel together as well, "June and the Menstrual Mates: a Young Menstruator’s Journey and Guidebook."

"That's that first education, again, just to encourage that honest, open, inclusive conversation," Belardo said.

Sunny Period has also partnered with PERIOD., a nonprofit organization working to eradicate period poverty through service, education, and advocacy. Sunny Period donates 10% of its merchandise sales to the nonprofit and when the Sunny Cup becomes available for purchase, they hope to partner with the organization to do a "buy one; give one" plan.

If you're interested in purchasing a Sunny Cup when it's released later this year or learning more about Sunny Period, visit sunnyperiod.com and sign up for their newsletter.

WRTV Digital Reporter Shakkira Harris can be reached at shakkira.harris@wrtv.com. You can follow her on Twitter, @shakkirasays.