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Diasti Brings Boldness and Sustainability to Menstrual Products

A period care brand named “Viv for your V” may seem bold or in your face—but according to founder Katie Diasti, BC ’19, that’s exactly how it should be. Viv for your V provides Earth-friendly and toxin-free period products directly to consumers, but its mission goes beyond just that. Diasti and her team, who understand the struggles of menstruating, are working to push the envelope on conversations regarding period care.

“We actually wanted to personify a brand, and so Viv is who we think of as an older sister, or this like, badass person or a mentor,” Diasti said. “And then the bonus of ‘for your V’ goes along with the boldness of being in your face and like talking about these things up front and wanting more brands to do that.”

A marketing major with a managing for social impact minor, Diasti became highly interested in mission-driven brands, she said. During her sophomore year, when the 2016 presidential election was occurring, Diasti witnessed more and more brands speak out politically or become active for causes outside of their brand, which caused her to decide that after graduating, she either wanted to work at a mission-driven brand or found one herself. 

During her time at Boston College, she also cultivated a deep passion for understanding the struggles women go through, which eventually moved her into the beauty and hygiene space. Through her PULSE placement at Rosie’s Place, a women’s-only shelter, Diasti witnessed the issues with accessibility to period care. Although the idea for Viv didn’t form until her senior year, her work at Rosie’s Place transformed the way she thought about period care, she said.

“I’m very passionate about understanding women through and through and their lives, and at Viv we’re even trying to navigate how to support the menstruators and women during their entire cycle, not just that one-week period,” Diasti said.

During the fall of her senior year, Diasti took an entrepreneurial marketing course, where the whole class was centered around finding a problem and coming up with a solution to it, which would be presented as a final start-up pitch, she said.

“When I got to that class, I dove into the beauty and hygiene space in particular and was really frustrated with the way brands spoke to women in particular,” Diasti said. “They tend to thrive off our insecurities, and I knew Gen Z or, in particular, like, the younger generations would see through that.”

Diasti specifically chose to focus on period care because the more she looked into it, she said, the more problems she found.

“There’s the plastic waste involved, the toxins in traditional products, who even has access to these products, which I … visibly saw at Rosie’s place … so they all kind of tied together,” she said.

After the class ended, Diasti was driven to continue building her brand. She participated in the [email protected]  program during her spring semester. She started hosting focus groups in her Mod, where friend groups would come and she would ask them questions about their menstrual cycles. Most of them responded that despite menstruating for years, they had never had an open dialogue on the subject, Diasti said. 

“Once someone else is like, ‘Oh, like this happened to me, I think that’s kind of weird,’ everyone’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, me too,’” Diasti said. “It just visibly was clear that there’s like this awakening happening or, like, these people were becoming … excited to talk about something that no one’s ever asked them before.”

Through these focus groups, Diasti developed a deep understanding of the problems with traditional period care, she said. After graduating, she had a full-time job offer lined up to begin the following fall, but decided to take a leap of faith with her free summer and continue building Viv. She applied to the SSC Venture Partners startup accelerator, which is led by a group of BC alumni in the technology, entrepreneurship, and investing sector. 

“I basically just pitched this pretty pitch deck and somehow they let me into their accelerator, and that was really cool because then I was able to … find manufacturers and learn about different fibers and the actual FDA regulatory landscape of these products since they are medical devices,” Diasti said.

In the SSC accelerator, Diasti was mentored by Christina Quinn, BC ’13, who was a venture partner at the time. The partners believed in Diasti’s idea, and Quinn encouraged her to be open-minded enough to build Viv more full-time if the summer went well. Diasti’s adaptability has been key to her success as an entrepreneur, Quinn said.

Diasti’s original business model was focused around tampons, but since they are considered medical devices, the process of getting FDA approval is long, arduous, and cost-intensive, Quinn said. Quinn and the other partners pushed Diasti to preserve the mission of her brand while expanding into other products first.

“[We] kind of said to her, you know, how can you take the mission of what you’re trying to build with this … which is clean period products that are better for the Earth and better for the user,” Quinn said. “What can you sell now that still fits that mandate … how do you stay true to the kind of core of your brand while also still getting to test and getting to start to get a product to market that you can sell and start to really grow the business and try to acquire customers?”

Diasti pivoted to creating liners and pads made of bamboo, which were Viv’s first products to hit the market in January 2020. 

At first, Viv focused on supplying office spaces, yoga studios, and bathrooms with its products, while also staying true to its unique direct-to-consumer model where products are ordered online and shipped to the user. The emergence of COVID-19 shortly after Viv’s launch pushed Diasti to hone in on its direct-to-consumer subscription model, she said.

With people becoming increasingly reliant on ordering things online during the pandemic, as well as an increased mindfulness toward climate impacts and sustainability, Diasti said that COVID-19 ended up helping Viv. 

After pads and liners launched, Viv also expanded its offerings to include menstrual cups. The pandemic saw an especially large uptick in this industry, Diasti said, since trying something new felt much more doable when people were leaving the house much less frequently.

What felt like an extremely niche industry when Viv first started has since grown substantially, Diasti said. Viv continues to differentiate itself by being both toxin-free and eco-friendly, where many new brands only cater toward the former. 

“We’re seeing great reviews on the actual performance of our product,” Diasti said. “A lot of people have this connotation that eco-friendly products just don’t work as well, but our products are actually, like, five times more absorbent than the traditional … pad.”

In addition to working to be completely plastic-free and toxin-free, Viv is also committed to encouraging dialogue around period care, and increasing usage of the term “menstruators” rather than “women” with the understanding that its products serve anyone with a period, Diasti said.

Compared to most large period-care corporations whose decisions are mainly made by boards of old men, Viv is led by a team of young millennials who, according to Diasti, understand their target audience because they are their target audience.

Larger period care brands, many of whom are run by those who do not experience periods, often act like everyone has a period once a month—which is often not the case, Diasti said. 

“When we build our subscription models, we are working on our overall user experience,” she said. “As your body is shifting and adapting to the world around us, your cycle is also going to change, and so ensuring that like [you’re] shifting what product you’re using is easy to do.”

Diasti also started a podcast called Voices by Viv, where she brings guests on to talk about topics like menstrual equity, period poverty, and intersectional environmentalism. She has also found success partnering with climate justice and activism-related influencers to market Viv products.

“[Diasti] has really a lot of clarity of purpose, and a really strong sense of what her brand is,” Quinn said. “That’s something you … can’t really teach … it’s artistic to some degree.” 

Young founders will face issues of having to advocate for themselves in any industry, but in the period care sector, having investors—who are mainly old men—take you seriously can be even harder, Diasti said. To move past this, Diasti has relied heavily on a community of other young female founders in the direct-to-consumer space, which has been instrumental in keeping her going and connecting her with investors who would take her brand seriously, she said.

Her largest hurdle, though, has been mental. 

“I kept being like, ‘Oh, I’m not ready,’ but it was only me that was not ready, like, everything else was falling into place,” Diasti said. “I think setting actual milestones and just starting is the hardest part.”

In summer 2020, Viv for your V was a finalist in the MassChallenge accelerator, during which she launched menstrual cups and continued working toward launching tampons, which were eventually released in May 2021. Diasti has also expanded Viv’s product lineup into non-period care, in order to hopefully get non-menstruators involved in the brand. She recently launched her “Show Up” sweatshirt line.

The successes of Viv for your V are far from finished, and Diasti has her eye on future accelerators that can help increase the accessibility of her products by selling them at more in-person stores.

For any BC students looking to start a company of their own, no matter the focus, Diasti said the hardest part is simply starting. From there, continue to get your idea in front of as many eyes as possible, she said. 

Lastly, being your own best advocate is crucial to building a brand—and this becomes a whole lot easier if you believe in the mission, Diasti said.

“I think a lot of us, especially young women, are taught to always be humble, and to never brag, or to never show off or to be out there, but we sometimes need to in the startup space to actually convince people and show people how much we’ve been built and how much we can do,” Diasti said. “Being an advocate for yourself is not a bad thing.”

Hannah Thompson contributed to this reporting

Photos Courtesy of Katie Diasti 

 

September 26, 2021

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