June, 2016, I woke up at 5 AM. I am surprised that didn’t make it to the headlines. For a night owl like me, waking up at an ungodly hour like 5 AM, that too on a Sunday is a phenomenal achievement. But why had I woken up so early? Well, I was so kicked about putting a stall on eco-friendly period products at this year’s Bhoomi Habba, a sustainability festival at Bangalore’s Visthar Eco-campus.
After a very successful awareness cum sales stall, I was left with a few menstrual cups still in my kitty. Over the next few weeks, I got calls enquiring about menstrual cups, courtesy of having me leave my visiting card at the event! One such phone call was entertaining, to say the least. It was a man on the other side; yes, a man checking out period products for his significant other!
Said Man: So, you have XYZ cup?
Said Man: How much does it cost?
Me: INR 2615/- plus courier costs.
Said Man: Whoa, that’s a lot. But there are a lot of China Cheapie cups on Alixexpress, which are less than 5 dollars!
Me (in my head): Then you must go for them!
Me(to the man): Of course there are! Those may be of terrible quality silicone, and may not have been tested.
Said Man: Convince me that I should buy the cup you have!
Not in a mood to put my not-so-impressive marketing skills on display, I spoke a bit about good quality silicone, testing, this, and that before I ended the call. That evening, I was back home researching the heck out of China cheapie cups. A simple Google search later, I landed in the dark regions of the internet
Q. What are China Cheapies/Cheapies?
These are terms used to refer to copied versions of menstrual cups that are sold on websites like Aliexpress, which are infamous for their knock-offs of popular branded products. While a fake pair of headphones or a fake watch might not be a bad choice, a cheapie menstrual cup may definitely pose problems given the intimate nature and use of the product.
As you can see from the above picture, one can simply purchase a bulk quantity of cheap generic (no name, common design) for less than 1 dollar. Sometimes, this includes free shipping all the way from China to whichever part of the world you are in! All that the ‘companies’ later need to do is come up with a brand name, user manuals, and packaging material. There is also a retail gift box available for free shipping along with the said cheapie cups.
Q. Is using a cheapie cup bad?
I am not Aristotle or Ayn Rand to philosophically discuss the ‘morality’ of things that end up in your vagina, but here are the key concerns of using cheapies:
- Unethical- They may have copyright issues given that their designs are copied from existing popular brands. This is not just a question of copyright infringement, but it also devalues the time, effort, and resources that good companies put into research and designing!
- Poor quality- The quality of these cups are questionable. It is likely that though they claim the cups to be made of medical-grade silicone, they may actually be made of food-grade/industrial-grade silicone, which may not be entirely safe for your vaginal ecosystem. Some of them may entirely be made of plastic, and not silicone. No one knows what the actual materials the cup is made from are!
Pro-tip: Most women opine that good quality silicone feels ‘rubbery’, while cheap quality silicone feels ‘plasticky’.
Apart from this, while good-quality menstrual cups will last you for at least 6-8 years, cheapies might start losing their functionality very soon. Therefore, if you are in a rush to buy a cheapie “just to see if you want to switch to reusables,” then remember that menstrual cups are not biodegradable, and the more you have in number, the more non-biodegradable garbage you are adding to the environment, at the end of it all.
- Product flaws- Most of the cheapie cups come with some manufacturing defects like uneven air holes, bent stems, uneven edges, etc., which is a cause for concern. A woman on the Menstrual Cups Worldwide Facebook had posted about how her cheapie cup came with long splinters (metal, maybe?) embedded inside them.
So, how do I know if my cup is a cheapie?
- If it is too good to be true, it’s most likely NOT true – This is the golden rule of the internet. If a cup is priced ridiculously lower than most other cups in the market or is perpetually on sale/discount, it’s most likely a cheapie.
- The website– If you are buying it on websites like Aliexpress or Alibaba, then it most likely is a cheapie. It’s likely that you’ll find re-branded cheapies even on websites like Amazon; therefore, you need to do some research.
- Consistency– For starters, I’d recommend you have a good look at the product description. Look at the photo of the product and see if it matches the photo in the product description.
Figure 1: Photo of the cup as shown in the product space, as compared to a photo of the cup in the product description as seen on Amazon.in.
- Poor grammar- If the cup advertised/the user manual displayed is literally translated from Chinese and not formatted, it could look something like the image below:
In short, if the product description of the cup looks like it could do with multiple rounds of editing, then the cup is not safe in your vagina! A branded cup company would have definitely taken the efforts to have both the descriptions as well as its user manuals translated legibly.
- Ask others– Maybe, this is the best thing to do when you are new to the world of cups. Before investing in a menstrual cup, check with women on Facebook groups. You can also cross-check on this link to see if it’s a re-branded/cheapie cup as the page lists all the original cup designs as well as their re-branded/cheapie versions, thus giving you a better perspective.
- Burn cups, not bras- If you are feeling particularly rebellious and want to side with your bra-burning sisters from the ’60s, simply burn a bit of the silicone cup (a piece of the stem/if you have a spare one lying around) to check if it’s really silicone. “Silicone should turn to a fine, non-sticky white ash and not smell like plastic,” says a post on the Menstrual Cups Worldwide group.
While we are all finally pushing for the cause of Sustainable Menstruation, it is important to remember that we promote safe and tested products, rather than potentially unsafe ones. The profusion of cheapies might actually take away all the good press that menstrual cups are getting! Therefore, do your groundwork, do your research, and buy a good and tested menstrual cup that will last you for years to come.