I’m so pleased to share my conversation with Cherie Hoeger. Cherie is the co-founder and CEO of Saalt, a women-owned period care company aiming to modernize reusable period care. In 2018, Saalt launched its flagship product—the Saalt period cup—with the vision of making cleaner, more sustainable period care accessible to everyone.
Leading Saalt’s social impact efforts, Cherie began networking with impact partners to provide their period cups to underprivileged girls and women so they could confidently manage their periods, stay in school, and lift themselves out of poverty. Now in their fourth year in business, Saalt has donated over 20,000 cups in 34 countries to create a wave of informed cup users who then act as mentors for other donation recipients.
A quick note on today’s show – we recorded this early last year, so please check the Saalt website for the most up to date information about the products.
Cherie and I had a fantastic conversation about her inspiration for starting a menstrual product brand, her journey as an entrepreneur, how to try a menstrual cup and of course, the story of her first period. I can’t wait for you to hear this episode!
Thank you, Cherie!
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Le’Nise: On today’s episode of Period Story, we have Cherie Hoeger, the founder of Saalt Menstrual Cups. I’m so excited to have her on the show today. I am a huge fan of the cups, a huge advocate, so I’m really excited to dive into her story and find out what inspired her to found the brand. But firstly hear her period story. So this is the question I always ask my guests to begin with. Can you tell me the story of your very first period?
Cherie: So I grew up with an Argentine mother, and she was very street savvy, very straightforward. She taught me a lot about periods right away. So I feel lucky to have known a lot more than I think most girls my age. And to be honest, I can’t remember my first period, and I think it’s this indication that it was a pretty smooth experience for me because I was so knowledgeable. So I feel really grateful to be able to have had that experience but I also felt more prepared than most girls my age, but I never loved my period regardless. I remember struggling with it, feeling embarrassed about certain situations and experiencing what so many others do, leaking through their pants when their periods comes early or tampon leaked to their underwear, or having these terrible cramps during school.
Le’Nise: So when you’re when you said that you felt more prepared than others, tell tell me more about what made you feel more prepared.
Cherie: It was the knowledge that confidence I had someone walking me through with that freedom and granted there was so much I still didn’t know, but the fact that she took time to prepare for it was something that just surprised me as my underwear. One day I was just really grateful for my love for being proactive.
Le’Nise:.So your mom prepared you and you feel more confident. You felt like you were more in control about what was happening to you. What about in school? How did you learn about periods, say in health class or from your teachers?
Cherie: Yeah, so I had classes, just like most do in American schools here, where they had a class where they pull you sside, it was funded by Tampax or Playtex, and they introduced you to tampons for the first time, my mom attended. I think it was overall a good experience for me, but of course I was introduced to disposables right away. Reusable just wasn’t something that was even in schools and very little taught in schools right now as well. That’s something that I hope to change. But of course, it was embarrassing being there with with so many peers and learning about periods for the first time. And and, you know, everyone just struggles with those with those same stigmas that hush hush talk, that’s still a problem.
Le’Nise: Why do you think it was embarrassing?
Cherie: You know, looking at what I know about periods now, I’m ashamed to say that I was embarrassed, but I just think that it’s a reality for so many women and girls all across the world, and it’s because of those learned stigmas that we learn in society, that we learn from our male colleagues and our male peers and also our female peers and even my even my mom would tell me, Hey, hide your tampon up your sleeve. And so it was it was still very much the stigma that shame.
Le’Nise: So that you you went through high school hiding your tampons, feeling like this was something that had to be hidden.
Cherie: Yes, very much so.
Le’Nise: How old were you when you got your first period?
Cherie: I believe that I was 13 years old. Yeah.
Le’Nise: And when you got your first period, you felt really confident and then how how was it actually having your period going through high school? Was it painful? Was it heavy? And how did you navigate that?
Cherie: I used primarily tampons, and I have a regular to heavy flow, and despite feeling prepared for my period, it didn’t mean that I had good feelings toward it and it didn’t mean that I was really knowledgeable about it. It would still surprise me all the time. And I was very active in high school, so I did dance. I did gymnastics, even thought of martial arts capoeira. And you know, we’re we’re wearing white pants, we’re wearing shorts and cheer skirts. And I remember always being scared so you would wear liners. And sometimes it was surprise you and I’d have those embarrassing moments. I think it’s unfortunate that so many women and girls live with fear, with that lack of confidence every single month, not knowing when their period in arrives. So I’m so grateful that we have that are solutions out there. But it just it causes that shame that’s so sad to see that especially young girls, how it’s instilled at a young age.
Le’Nise: And knowing that you had there was a stigma that around periods of menstrual health for you thinking about where you are now. What have you done to change your attitude towards periods and kind of release the stigma around it?
Cherie: That’s a great question. It’s interesting because as a business owner entrenched in the menstruall health industry, I think people expect that I must have gotten into this industry because I was an expert, but that’s simply not the case. I’m an average woman who loved menstrual cups and wanted to get the word out to the consumer, and we knew when we started Saalt that we were going to battle these long held stigmas around periods that presented both our greatest challenge and our opportunity. So from the outset, we knew we were entering this product category that’s still really taboo for a lot of people. So we took that stigma head on with beautiful, high end packaging that looked like unboxing a beautiful lipstick. And we wanted to be able to be a clean personal care product that sat on the same shelves as other cool beauty products. We wanted it to be seen as something that was sustainable and healthier and more comfortable. And so we were able to battle a lot of the stigmas by just how we presented our brand imagery and voice, and we tried to do that same thing with just periods in general is get out this messaging to mainstream consumers that periods don’t have to be considered gross or an inconvenience or something that something that should be shameful or sit in there. Beautiful. This is 50 percent of the population that menstruate. And it perpetuates the human right, we just think that deserves kudos, not censorship. And so we actually just released a brand campaign that’s all about flipping the script, the negative script about periods and turning it into something positive and showing it as divine and something beautiful and something powerful, powerful like the cycles of the Earth. So it shows a woman shows cycles of the Earth, and it shows that same power and that same correlation. And we’ve got a lot of great feedback because we’re really trying to take that head on. In fact, I really have a pet peeve in the industry.
Cherie: And that that is those ads that show women dressed up personified in red, sometimes in a hazmat suit because their boyfriend is coming for the weekend and it’s showing periods as an annoyance and something gross. And I just think really? Are those the messages that we want our daughters to see that we want this next generation to see to form they feel about periods? And I really believe that type of messaging is damaging and creates a stigma. I have five daughters, so I’m a mother of five and I don’t want my daughters or any young person to be degraded by those same stigmas that past generations have. So it’s something that we’re really trying to combat head on.
Le’Nise: So you have you have five daughters. Talk to me about how you’ve been teaching them about periods and menstrual health and taking out some of the stigma that you felt towards your period.
Cherie: So I try to tell them that as menstruators were the ones who set the cues for how other people feel about having a conversations about period, so number one, I tell them to be open when my daughter is on her period, she says, oh, I don’t even want my sisters to know then. That’s just perpetuating stigma. Talk about it when you’re on your period, you can have open conversations. If anything in our household, it should be something very welcome. And yet it’s interesting to see her still struggle. She’s 13 years old, my oldest and her still struggle with the stigma that she gets from school and society in general. But I’ve taught her to have those open conversations and that that’s the way we can progress forward as women and girls. So and menstruators. So I tell her to the way that she speaks about periods and as straightforward as she can be. Those are the cues that her counterparts, her peers see. So if we feel awkward, then they’re going to feel awkward. We feel open. They’re going to feel open and they’re going to be fine. Have. I also like to tell her about how her anatomy works, like, for instance, there is a lot that I wish I knew back then about just cervix height and she uses a cup. Of course, I taught her how to use. a cup and knowing your cervix size is really important when you use a cup. And also that the menstrual cycle has four phases. You have your menstrual, your follicular, your ovulation, your luteal phase. And I think there’s a lot of perception that those PMS symptoms happen just during your period, your bleeding phase when in reality is, you know, they happen two weeks prior and that luteal phase, that’s when you actually. So just teaching her how her hormones are affecting is and how it’s very natural and her cycle brings awareness to her that she understands her body she’s feeling, and she’s able to make better choices and and really focus on her health because of that.
Le’Nise: So do you feel like she does, sometimes with teenagers, teenage girls? And I don’t have a teenage daughter, but I’m speaking from my own experience where your mom tells you something and you kind of you kind of pooh pooh it because it’s your mom. Do you think she’s taking on board what you’re saying?
Cherie: That’s a great question, so when I first, she helped us develop our teen cup, we wanted to make sure that it was a good size for a 13 year old. So she helped to test it. But at first she didn’t want to. She wanted to try tampons first, and it was so funny. I said, Your mom owns a menstrual care menstrual cup business. You need to use a cup for the first time. But of course, when she tried a tampon, I was going to be supportive. I said, That’s fine. When you’re ready to switch to a cup, do let me know and you can take that jump. And she did. She tried it on her own. She didn’t tell me when she did because you’re right, they don’t always want to listen to Mom. But I had a moment, a moment of celebration when she came to me and said, Mom, I tried the cup. I don’t know why more people don’t use the cup. It was so much better. It’s so much cleaner. I love it so much more, and I just wanted to jump for joy. And yes, I can convert my own daughter then other teens can also enjoy the cup. And it’s interesting because our teen cup is a lot smaller than our regular flow cup. And since within the same few months, her next cycle she moved to our regular size. So it really was just just getting over that first hurdle.
Le’Nise: I want to come back to the cup and the business a little bit later on, but I want to kind of rewind a little bit to find out more about your menstrual health journey. So you did you always have periods that were just that were heavy or you should use a medium to light cup. So did you always have periods that were kind of the same as you went from your teens to your 20s?
Cherie: I actually consider myself very regular, very regular and know when my periods come, I’ve only missed one period my entire life during a moment of stress. And that was that was interesting and very telling to see where I was at. But otherwise very much like clockwork and I am regular with my flow. The one thing I’ve noticed is I have had a decrease over time. I think part of that is because of the cup. But I remember when I was younger, I would have terrible cramps. I remember traveling to Hawaii once and because of the humidity and because I live in a desert area, it really just magnifies. And I stayed in our hotel room. I went in the closet and just sat in the fetal position while everyone was at the beach. My mom came and found me, and she was so mad that I didn’t ask for a Tylenol. Again, that speaks to that shame I was. I didn’t want my brothers. I grew up with four brothers and I was secretive about my period because sometimes I would be mocked a lot by my older brothers about my period. So, so yes, I I feel like that has changed a little bit over time, mostly in cramping, but my flows make pretty consistent.
Le’Nise: And you did you use a mixture of pads and tampons when you were younger? Yeah, you said.
Cherie: Yeah, I started at the very beginning I started, I started with as I moved to tampons very quickly. But as you know, tampons often leak through, especially with the heavy flow and being as active as I was, I couldn’t always go change the tampon quickly. And so I would always wear a liner.
Le’Nise: And what was the light bulb moment for you when you realized that actually that those weren’t the products that you wanted to be using?
Cherie: So I didn’t discover the menstrual cup until a lot later in life, about eight years ago. And I think this is the case for a lot of people. The cup was invented in the 1930s and people are always shocked to hear that it was invented … a rubber cup. But the design was very, much very similar to the modern cups. And I just think that because there’s these big disposable conglomerates that make a lot more profit for disposable products, they were pushed quite a bit more. So menstrual cups have really made a comeback in more recent years but a lot of people still don’t know what it is. There was about eight years ago when I was introduced to the cup, and the story is I had been talking to my aunt in Venezuela, and the situation there is very dire. They struggle to get anything on grocery store shelves, food and diapers, let alone things like tampons and pads. So I thought of my five daughters and what I would do in that situation and that dependance we had on disposables really kept me up at night. So I looked at what other reusable options that were out there, and that’s when I was first introduced to menstrual cups and I learned that it was cleaner and it was nontoxic. And it lasted 10 years and you could wear it for 12 hours. And I just thought, where has this been my whole life? So I tried several cups. I tried several different cups out there, and I just couldn’t find one that fit my anatomy. And one that I felt was ideal to be able to share with other friends something ideal for beginners. And that’s when I roped my husband to help custom design a cup that I felt would be great for the consumer. Great for beginners. And one that would be made of high quality silicone that contained fillers like we have overseas but was US made, US sourced and that that’s kind of what started the Saalt dream.
Le’Nise: What I really love about the Saalt Cup and this is, listen listeners, this isn’t an advert I just like. You know, I when I talk about the products that I love, what I love about the Saalt Cup is that it’s soft and I’ve used other brands that much harder and you know, it’s you have to fold it. So it is malleable, but it is. It is harder. And I personally started using the Saalt Cup two menstrual cycles ago, and I actually see a difference in my period. And I what I love is that you do that. You have that quiz to see the cervix size and the cups are soft. And I used to get this kind of suction feeling, like a deep suction, rather when I used the old cup I used to use and I don’t get that anymore, and it actually has reduced the period pain that I was experiencing where it just kind of I’ve been amazed by it. Absolutely amazed. So tell me how you how you realized that the softer cup was better and that you needed to pay more attention to kind of cervical size in order for this to be the best product for people who menstruate?
Cherie: Yeah, first, first of all, say that we have a Saalt Cup academy as a private group on Facebook in its made up of 25,000 Saalt users. And they’ve said over and over again the same experience, similar experiences that when they tried the cup, it’s less pressure and it’s just a better, more comfortable experience than other products. So that’s so great to hear. I love hearing how much you love that we did set out to make a cup that was better. And we have two varieties, and it sounds like you might use our softer cup. We have one. That’s an original. Yup. We have one that’s an original and firmer. That one is one we do recommend for beginners, it pops open and stays open, but many people do favour the soft cup over the firmer one. I use the soft cups and it’s a little bit more of a manual open, but it stays in very well. It’s very comfortable. You forget that it’s there. And what we learn is a lot of it has to do with the finish on the cup. Our cups go through this process called cryogenic deflashing. So after they’re made in the liquid, it gets pulled. They go into this tumbler that is called with liquid nitrogen, and they have silicone beads that are blasted all around the cup. And what it does is it creates a super smooth finish. And so there’s no seams like it looks virtually seamless over its sleeve, but it’s part of that cyrogenic deflashing process that makes it so soft. The other thing is that it has a very flexible stem that doesn’t have any of those refrains that you really irritable, especially around the vaginal canal and labia. And so we created a stem that was very soft and flexible so that it wouldn’t irritate people, wouldn’t have to cut it off or cut off their stems all the time because they would say it’s uncomfortable. And I said, why not create a cup that you don’t have to cut the stem off? So that was that was a little bit of a design change that people really appreciated. So I’m glad to hear that it’s so great.
Le’Nise: Yeah, I’m a I’m a huge fan. So for listeners who are hearing what you’re saying, they’re interested in trying a menstrual cup, but they’re a little bit nervous. That’s something I hear all the time there. I had a conversation with a client a couple of weeks ago, who she said, I want to try it, but I’m just nervous. I’m nervous about the spilling. I’m nervous about the mess. How would you recommend that someone who’s feeling like that starts?
Cherie: So number one, everyone is there. It’s a big behavior change, we’re asking you to take a big jump from something that’s convenient to something else that’s convenient, but we use a lot and to be able to make that mental switch. So we like to say that it only takes one moment of bravery. Whether you’re in the shower or shower is a great risk free zone to try a cup, but also to find a friend who uses a cup or to look to an influencer that uses a cup. We have great customer service team that’s really dedicated that will help you literally hold your hand through the entire process. We found early on that for those that were scared to use a cup, we have a hashtag called #asksaalt, and it’s because it’s very word of mouth type of product. You need to hear it from a trusted friend or a trusted resource or mentor, like an influencer who can kind of tell about their experience and kind of lose some of that fear factor. And the fear factor is this there forever what we say, take the lead. Take that one moment of great bravery. Put the cup outside your shower when you’re ready to try it, you can do it before your period if you want to take a dry run and just put it in and take it out. But it’s not that scary. It does have a learning curve. So we like to set those expectations that it’s not going to be something that’s going, that you’re going to catch on really quickly. Although there’s a lot of women who do. They put it in and they figure it out very fast, but go with expectations that that there will be a learning curve. It may take two to three cycles to really get you through to make through, to get it positioned correctly. But when you do, you have thousands of cup supporters who are just cheering you on because you’re making that successful product, making the switch to something that’s more comfortable and better for you and less toxic for the environment.
Le’Nise: Actually, the thing that I’ve noticed about menstrual cup users is that they’re really big advocates for the product. Once they find one that they love, they will just cheer, cheer anyone on who uses it. Recommend that brand, and it’s much more so than tampons and pads. And actually, this I found the same for period underwear, people. They just love them and they’ll just, you know, really, really cheer on their favorite brand. I want to talk about there’s tends to be kind of different benefits that users will focus on when they when it comes to menstrual cups. It’s either the environmental side, it’s the the idea of the hormone support or the potential of having less painful periods. And then there’s also the economic side. What I know you started the company because you wanted to fire. You were trying to find a reusable solution. But what about the hormonal and the economic side of of the menstrual products? You talk a little bit about that.
Cherie: Yeah, so it certainly is a money saver when you invest in a cup because it can last 10 years, we like to say it lasts just as long as your passport and gives those dividends over and over again. It can save users, you know, between fifteen hundred to two thousand dollars over its 10 10 year life. It depends on how many pads or tampons or what you’re buying, but it certainly can save thousands of dollars to spend on something more fun than tampons, chocolate, travel and so forth. And so, especially during this pandemic time, that’s been a big driver. We’ve seen a very large increase in just interest in renewables in general. We also have a period underwear line that we came out with the December. And so for both our period underwear and our cup together, because it’s such a perfect way to increase sustainability and to try something again because everyone’s at home. And so it’s a risk free time to try that. And then as far as you know, hormonal, like I said, there’s been many users that report that they have less cramping and that it’s really helpful. I think it’s just anecdotal evidence I can’t I can’t promise that that’s going to be the case, but we have seen it over and over. Tampons also create that environment where there’s a lot of microtearing. When you’re pulling out a dried tampon, which increases the risk of TSS and so menstrual cups doesn’t mitigate the risk of TSS overall because you can get TSS with any products which are inserted into the vagina. But it’s vastly lower than something like a tampon because it just doesn’t create that same environment of that just has that humidity and then that moisture, together with the little rayon fibers that are often found the fiber. And so it’s it’s just the healthier option.
Le’Nise: Yeah, definitely. And for listeners who aren’t aware, TSS, toxic shock syndrome. And that’s when you have, you know, if you’ve been wearing the tampon for longer than the recommended time you can, it can create kind of like an infection that could send you to hospital. So shifting gears to the kind of entrepreneurial side of your story, you founded a company in February 2018. You’ve been running a company that is sustainable, helping users find economic value as well. Talk to us a little bit about your journey as an entrepreneur and also running this business with a very well, in my view, a large family.
Cherie: Yes, it is a large family, five children is large, and I feel I feel lucky every day that I have five daughters as especially, you know, for my husband as well. We’re really working to make a life for them and and change lives everywhere. Take away the barriers that are created by menstruaation. And I’m going to talk about our impact efforts a little bit and then I’ll go on to our story. But from day one, we knew that we wanted to become a B Corp and we wanted to have a philanthropic dedicate two percent of our revenues to help improve menstrual health, specifically girls education. A lot of people don’t realize just how tied girls is to menstruation, for instance, in Uganda. Emirates and then you see it dropped 22 percent. Second, you say what happened, right? It’s periods. Periods happen. It’s as soon as girls hit puberty, school dropout rates just set to skyrocket. So if we could create this cup, this little investment in a cup and get it to girls so that they have a long term solution for their period, then suddenly we’re creating economic opportunity.
We’re keeping girls in school, we’re helping women work and we’re literally breaking the cycle of poverty for generations. So it’s just something that really drives us every day. We’re very driven by our mission, and one of our internal goals is to help 100 million lives. 100 million women and girls be able to live more authentic lives of their elements through our products. And, you know, we’re well on our way for that. So that was a driver right from the beginning. I think that you need a strong why is an entrepreneur because of so many ups and downs and to be able to push through and say, no, this product, this product can really change the game changing. Is what really motivates us and keeps us going every day. So we did we develop the product? It was a big jump and as an entrepreneur, to decide to pull the trigger. For instance, we started with just our small and our regular cup, and the mold itself was the twenty five thousand dollar investment for one size, so fifty thousand for two sizes. And that’s because you’re literally etching it in steel. So we had to be very confident in our mold that it was going to be a product that was going to work well for people, which is hard when you don’t have the opportunity to have them tested. So we went through 14 different design iterations. We pulled the trigger, created these molds and we had a focus group of a thousand people that we built over time that we would ask all sorts of questions to What do you like about our brand? If you like this color better now, what are you looking for in a reusable product? What kind of voice do you like? One that’s more authoritative or one that’s more approachable and we’d A/B test these questions to that group. And then when it was time to launch, we gave them each a free cup. We wanted them to film their unboxing experience. So they did that on social media and it really helped catapult this is a brand and have these. So when we launched our website, it wasn’t just crickets, but we had a team of 1000 ambassadors who really believed in the product. Believe in our brand and we’re excited to be able to share them. So that was part of our journey. And then I would say our next big milestone was when we launched an all Target stores nationwide, and that was just huge to be able to do that in our second year. And that was due to our beautiful branding. She said straight up that she felt that our brand would be best positioned to take the cup mainstream because the way we presented our products and to educate is very validating.
Le’Nise:I what I love about what you said. You said this earlier is that you didn’t want it to be a kind of typical menstrual product brand. You wanted to be more of a kind of clean, clean beauty sort of brand. And I see that in the branding. It looks, it looks very stylish. It looks like something you could throw in your basket and you wouldn’t. Not that I would hide it, but you know, you could imagine some people hiding those sorts of things and you don’t you don’t need to. And I think that’s very appealing to a lot of people who aren’t necessarily as far as we are in our menstrual health journey. Now you’re you’re launching in the UK. You have launched or you’re about to launch in the UK?
Cherie: Now we do we do have retailers in the UK, so people are there and you can purchase offer off our website. We’re also on Amazon UK and then we’re in a couple of small retailers there and we’re looking to continue to grow our footprint. Our period underwear is not in the UK yet. You can buy it off our website will be shipped there, but we’re hoping to have it there soon.
Le’Nise: OK, great. And so you are. So you’re now international as a brand? Great. Fantastic. So thinking about everything that you’ve learned over your journey as through your period and then as an entrepreneur, what is the one message you would want to leave people with who are on this kind of similar entrepreneurial journey where they have a vision? They have an idea, but they’re unsure about whether or not they should pull the pull the trigger. What what would you say to them?
Cherie: I would say that more and more people want to align with companies that represent their own values that align with their personal values. So I’m a big believer in social enterprise. I love the B Corp movement because I believe that it encompasses the best of both worlds, the nonprofit and for profit business. So for those that are looking at entrepreneurs pulling the trigger on a product that they want to create or brands that they want to develop, I would look into social enterprise and see how you use your business to do good in the world. Use your business as a force. I think that there’s so much that every business do to empower their workers to be able to look and see courts do at not just the bottom line and profit. The taking that triple bottom line approach and looking at people planet profit, which includes your community and includes your customers and includes your suppliers and the factories that you work with, looking at doing everything you do in a clean and ethical way, that’s good for your customers, good for people and planet. So I’m just such a big believer. I think the brand is going to continue to show that those that have a social mission are the brands that are going to grow and those that the millennials Gen Zers are going to continue to support.
Le’Nise: Fantastic, I love the idea of having a social a social mission, and I definitely see that resonating with a lot of people versus companies who. We’re getting all think of big ones that are purely as you see it, focused on on profit. If someone wants to buy a menstrual cup, they’ve heard our conversation today. They want, they want to dive in. How can they find find the Saalt menstrual cups?
Cherie: The easiest way is checking our website, Saalt.com. Like I said, we’re also sold on Amazon, were sold on various retailers nationwide Target, REI or Whole Foods. That’s right.
Le’Nise: Fantastic. Thank you so much for coming on the show today, sharing your period story. And yes, thank you so much.
Cherie: Thank you, Le’Nise, and such a pleasure.