It was announced today that FLEX, the maker of the FLEX Disc, has acquired Keela Cup. Keela Cup was a successfully funded kickstarter project that raised over $55,000 from more than 1,000 backers. The cup was intended to make it easier for people with certain types of disabilities to use a menstrual cup. Jane Hartman Adamé and Andy Miller designed the cup with a “pull tab” that could be tugged on to release the suction, and this tab could also be shortened. The design was unique and addressed a few issues that face some people — so it’s no surprise it was successfully backed. Put A Cup In It has not previously posted about Keela because until the cup was in the hands of consumers it wasn’t a really product, merely a concept.
Earlier today we received an email from the FLEX company’s mailing list announcing that they had “redesigned the DivaCup” as the subject line. Inside the email was the introduction of the FLEX Cup, along with a photo of it standing in front of a row of other popular menstrual cup brands in the background. To our knowledge no other menstrual cup company has degraded another in the marketing of their own cup, nor used their products in photos. Perhaps there is a secret “honor code” that FLEX, unsurprisingly, doesn’t ascribe to. The email goes on to elaborate on the features of the cup and we quickly realize that it’s identical to the Keela. Nowhere in this email is it mentioned that FLEX acquired Keela Cup or that their FLEX Cup is a Keela in a fancy black dress and slick packaging. Soon, however, we are made aware that Fortune posted an article detailing the acquisition of Keela by FLEX, and at some point today both FLEX and Keela posted to their respective social media accounts about the acquisition.
In an article from Medium, written by Lauren Schultze, founder of FLEX, laments that none of the cups on the market worked comfortably for her (especially the stem) and that the cups (implied is that until the FLEX Cup AKA Keela Cup) were all essentially the same in different packaging and colors. Hmm, sounds familiar… This story is always repeated when a brand comes onto the scene. “x didn’t work for ME so I created a BETTER one.”
Since the invention of the very first menstrual cup, the Tasette by Leona Chalmers in 1937, the cup’s basic principles have not changed.
Lauren Schultze can say her FLEX Cup is changing the game but the fact is this: the cup is bullet-ish shaped with a stem that seals inside the vaginal canal and collects menstrual fluid. It is not that far from the original design with the exception of the stem pull-tab release feature, but many other cups have offered their own changes to the stem including ones with valves, long skinny stems that look like a tampon string, ring shaped stems, or none at all. The cup itself sees very few changes in the basic shape and form and it likely never will because it’s a proven form that works for millions of people. The fact is The DivaCup, currently the world’s most well known cup brand and the one FLEX Cup has “reinvented” according to their insulting marketing, is just another version of Tasette and so is the Lena, the Saalt, the Lunette, and all of the other brands. We appreciate healthy competition in the market and the improvements made to the menstrual cup, but to say that the cup has been reinvented is a laughable claim. Keela improved on the menstrual cup design for SOME users who many prefer this style, but others may prefer the simple stem, and that’s ok.
So Where’s the Heat Coming From?
We here at PACII have a lot of feeling about this news and also about how the cup itself has already been marketed and represented. (In short — FLEX didn’t design this cup, though they have represented it as so in several locations.) We also remember a not too distant past when FLEX introduced their groundbreaking menstrual disc, saying in an interview:
“I tried more than 30 products from all over the world and felt really frustrated by the lack of real design innovation to make periods more comfortable. … If I wanted real change, I knew I had to take matters into my own hands.”
We would like to note here that she certainly did… with someone else’s design. FLEX turned out to be identical to the Instead/SoftCup brand of disposable menstrual disc, save for the fancy black dress again. If that weren’t enough for us, the manner in which their disc was initially marketed as only for “mess free period sex” was very distasteful. Period sex is cool but do what you do for YOU. Their focus was all on making sure your man wouldn’t be grossed out by your messy period, which only fed derogatory stigmas surrounding periods.
In the end FLEX sold a high priced version of the SoftCup which split the marketshare, and when the time was right they purchased the carcass of the company they stole their design from. This may have been helpful to the Instead/SoftCup company’s monetary situation at the time, but it left a bad taste in our mouths.
Then There Was Keela
Keela Cup was struggling with the manufacturing side of business and it wasn’t looking good for them, or their backers. According to the Fortune article. FLEX claims to have been working on a menstrual cup design of their own but then acquired Keela to easily and quickly get a cup to market for their brand, while saving Keela and solving their manufacturing woes. The tale makes FLEX look like they saved the day, but to us it feels more like exploiting another company, most especially when taking the current marketing into consideration.
We’ve seen the marketing of the FLEX disc which oftentimes compares it to cups as the FAR superior option. Looks like they’ll have to walk back their stance on this now that they have a cup to push. We suspect they wanted to offer a reusable menstrual cup because they see that cups continue to gain popularity among the menstruating population — which in itself isn’t a bad thing, but the approach here is all wrong and goes against all of their previous statements regarding silicone cups. Feels like a flip-flop financial decision to us. Not to mention that they are currently offering the *already funded by Kickstarter* cup for pre-orders that won’t ship until Spring 2019.
Where Does That Leave Us?
We aren’t sure where to go from here because we do like the design of the Keela Cup and see that it could be a helpful product for many, but we aren’t comfortable with promoting a product from a brand that we feel lacks basic integrity. Until today no one from Keela had contacted us, but they confirmed that FLEX acquired their company through a private message on Instagram. It’s a win for the original backers of the Keela Kickstarter, since they will receive the product they funded, but it hurts our hearts to see this company be taken in by FLEX.
So to summarize, FLEX as a company has brought two menstrual products to the market, one they copied from Instead/SoftDisc and one they acquired from another designer. Perhaps they will “invent” period underwear next… oh wait that has already been done, twice.