The newest reusable period product trend to emerge is the reusable applicator. First, we saw brands like DAME, Thinx, and Get Only offer reusable tampon applicators. Past attempts for a reusable menstrual cup applicator have failed, crude solutions like this menstrual cup applicator I tried were less than successful. Next emerged the Sunny Cup and Applicator, a menstrual cup applicator and cup combination that has been running pre-orders and advertising for what feels like a decade. Now a new promising concept, a menstrual disc and menstrual disc applicator concept is already fully funded in ONE DAY on Kickstarter by a new brand Fillow.
What is Kickstarter?
For those unfamiliar, Kickstarter is a funding platform where consumers can “back” a product with a small amount or in most cases, pre-order the product at a reduced price to help bring the product into production. Every Kickstarter campaign is different. Some use the platform simply for advertising, some truly need the funding to produce, and for some, it’s a little of both. The products are not guaranteed, meaning if the brand isn’t able to manufacture your money will be lost. This was the case for the long ago “Smart Cup” concept that fully funded in 2016 but was never produced.
Kickstarter has been the launching pad for several successful brands and designs including Hello Disc, a product I co-designed, the Keela Cup now sold as Flex Cup, and the highest-backed cup of all time so far – Lily Cup Compact.
Fillow Disc and Applicator
When I reached out to the brand and asked the meaning behind their name they responded, “Fillow is a unique but comfortable sounding name, and it plays on the words of ‘flow’ and ‘fellow’, representing the warm and welcoming community we want to build among menstruators.” I won’t lie, the minute I said the brand aloud in my head it came out like “WILLOW” from the movie. If you’re of a certain age you are probably saying it the same way.
The Fillow Disc and Applicator have advertised for a few months with teasers on social media and I must say, I was sucked in. Last year I filmed and tested a reusable tampon applicator inserting a reusable menstrual disc and knew then that a disc and applicator made more sense than a cup based on how menstrual discs insert and remove. Not to mention that menstrual discs can be more “one size fits most” than cups.
Related: Menstrual Cups vs Menstrual Discs
The Fillow Disc design is not new, nor is the basic principle behind the Fillow Applicator. FIllow Disc has the same removal aid string attached to the rim as Lumma Disc. The applicator design has been customized to work with a menstrual disc in size and length.
The team at Fillow was inspired by a period leak. A team of 4 friends, Camryn Ross, Seoyen Choi, Helena Kim, and Mary Woo came up with the idea in November 2020. The concept won several pitching contests and Fillow was fully funded on Kickstarter within hours of the launch after months of advertising and social media teasing.
Fillow Disc vs other Menstrual Discs
Fillow’s rim diameter is listed at 64.8 mm (2.55 inches) which puts it right between the Cora Disc (both Perfect Fit and Soft Fit) and Lumma Disc Medium. This makes it slightly smaller in diameter than the “One Size” disc size range of around 70 mm. The capacity is estimated at 60 ml which is within an average range of 50-70 ml that most discs hold. When I asked about firmness Fillow responded that they believe it is a “3 or 4” on the Period Nirvana scale.
Since I haven’t tried the product I can only say that if you don’t need an applicator you can save money and purchase the Lumma Disc Medium since these are so close in design, firmness, and all other aspects. I will say the stem appears a bit sturdier and smoother than Lumma Disc but I want to give full props to Lumma for being the first brand with any removal aid stem. Lumma Disc was my first “goldilocks” menstrual disc before Hello Disc.
Related: Menstrual Disc Brands
Are Menstrual Disc Applicators Necessary?
For many, an applicator is not something needed to successfully use a menstrual disc. That said, there are strong cases for an applicator to be made for people with certain disabilities and access issues. Discs are already easier to insert than cups and tend to go into place intuitively without the additional need to manually manipulate the cup’s rim or body to help it seal and open. This is why an applicator for a disc is a much more promising concept than for traditional cup designs. High cervix users may also benefit from the use of an applicator to help push the disc into place. Since Fillow has a long stem, it can still be retrieved if pushed past where the user’s fingers can reach.
If this product works as well as advertised then it would be a huge step forward towards making reusable period products more accessible.
Based on the success of other applicator concepts on social media the idea of an applicator is popular. Especially for Americans, inserting products with fingers directly into the vagina is sadly still stigmatized and “gross” to millions. Reusable products have steadily grown in popularity over the last 5 years. I am glad applicators have made progress and will soon be available but I’m still wary of how they’re advertised in opposition to using discs or cups without an applicator. Destigmatizing periods and reducing body shame are benefits of using menstrual cups and discs.
My hope is that the reusable period care industry can provide more accessible designs while still encouraging people to be comfortable with their own periods and bodies.
Users of Fillow Disc who are attracted to the concept because they don’t want messy hands may want to think again; unlike in the animation shown in the Kickstarter video removing a disc with a string can still be a bit bloody, especially in the beginning. Fillow Disc itself could be used entirely without the applicator if the product is outgrown or lost. Your experience may vary but for me, insertion is never the messy aspect of using discs. Removing a “blood drawer” is when things can get tricky.
Convenience of Menstrual Discs
One of the reasons I love using a menstrual disc is for its convenience. While this seems counterintuitive to those who have not tried one, it’s true. A disc can be worn for up to 12 hours at a time giving you a full day of freedom. Travel is easy – the disc takes up little space and packs light. Emptying and cleaning the disc can take practice; it’s not faster than removing and tossing a tampon but it’s not terrible. Fillow Disc doesn’t come with a case for both the disc and applicator, at least in this Kickstarter, meaning if you want one it’s an additional $15. Any way you slice it you will be carrying a menstrual disc applicator with you and cleaning it along with the disc. I suspect a lot of users might initially use the applicator and quickly start inserting by hand just because it’s more convenient in the long run, save for those who rely on the applicator for accessibility reasons.
Should You Back Fillow on Kickstarter?
I did because of my own professional curiousity.
After trying it, I’d also consider adding to Period.Shop because of the people who might need it for accessibility reasons. When I helped co-design Hello Disc it was with the idea that an easier-to-remove product would be more accessible. Fillow, purposefully or not, has a concept that makes discs more accessible to insert.
But do you NEED it? No. Simply put, applicators aren’t necessary to successfully insert a menstrual disc with some exceptions. For now, the price is in line with other menstrual discs due to the discount but the disc+applicator is expected to retail for $60. Just like tampons don’t need an applicator, discs don’t need one, either. Your finger and thumb are all you need and by doing so you can become more familiar with your body. The messiest aspect of menstrual discs tens to be removal, not insertion.
Unless you have a true need for an applicator or, like me, you have a professional/hobby curiosity to satisfy, this is one product you can skip out on. That said, I can appreciate how well executed this concept is and without trying it know as long as it stays true to the prototype and renders it’s going to work as expected. You can back FIllow on Kickstarter here.