The private label menstrual cup market is growing. It’s is a practice where a business or entrepreneur buys a product in bulk for wholesale (in this case menstrual cups) from the manufacturer and packages/sells the cup under their brand name.
Depending on the cup brands, the cups can be bought for as little as $0.60 each from places like AliExpress. Menstrual cup manufacturing, as with other industries, happens all over the world. Yes it’s true, most of the cups that are bought for white labeling are manufactured in China, but not always. As an example, the cup model sold by Casco Molding under as many as 15+ brand names (such as Ultu Cup and Wa Collective) is made in a manufacturing facility in the US. I’ll also add that there are many reputable brands who manufacture their proprietary designs in China.
Why Does it Matter if a Cup is “Private Label?”
Why should consumers care if it’s a private label menstrual cup or a true, unique “brand” cup? After all, not all private label cups are bad cups in quality or design. In fact at this point most are made by the same factory that touts all of their designs are FDA cleared. I think the Casco cups are a great design and I like their 3 size options. The reason I write this post at all is to simply inform you that the “brand” you see advertised may not be what they claim to be. Arming yourself with this information may help you decide which company deserves your dollars and is worthy of going into your body.
My own feelings on this are complicated. I choose to support the brands that create unique and innovative menstrual cups. Innovation and quality come at great financial costs for the molds/tools and prototyping/testing. I know that the design process comes with much blood, sweat, and tears; a reflection of the love and care innovators put in that the consumer usually never sees. It can feel like a slap to the face to see a brand receive undue praise and sales for something they claim is their design when it’s just a cup they put a box around at best, and a flagrant copy of another unique brand’s design at worst.
In many cases (if not most) the generic cups sold by manufacturers are blatant copies of brand name cups. They copy (steal) the design rather than develop a proprietary shape and form. By supporting these blatant copies of reputable brands you’re supporting copyright and IP theft with your dollars, thus rewarding a company that cosigns on this as a way of running a business. The company who created the design that was copied and bore the financial investment of making that a successful design sees no benefit when you buy the copycat model. As consumers, we often see brands like Diva Cup or Saalt as corporate behemoths because they’re in Target and CVS but they’re still small businesses in a tiny niche market. Menstrual cups are still only used by about 5% of the population who use period products.
Low Cost + Access
The silver-lining is that white labeling can provide more countries access to reusable menstrual products and reduce the high start-up cost to the consumer. Brand name cups vary in cost but most begin at $20 per cup, with some as high as $50. Menstrual cups last for upwards of ten years, so they are completely worth the investment, but for lots of people that is money they simply don’t have all at once. Most of the white label brands I know of are sold in countries outside of the US and Canada. Period poverty and the lack of access to products is an issue around the world; menstrual cups can be a huge help and entrepreneurs who see a way to import and sell cups at a low cost to bring access to people in their country is not a bad thing. From personal experience, ordering a low-cost menstrual cup from a supplier in China (for research) took 2 months from the date of ordering to receipt. Importing private label or white label cups and distributing them to your country can make menstrual cups accessible, a benefit especially in developing nations.
Established brands, even large brands like Sustain, Athena Club, Rael, and The Honey Pot Co. have white-labeled menstrual cups to expand their line of personal care products. Rather than spend time and money on a proprietary design they decided it was easier or cheaper or faster (all three, even) to purchase one and design a box for it. Is this illegal? No. But it’s still confusing to consumers who see a trusted, high-quality brand and make the assumption their menstrual cup is their own brand. To be fair, the cups are great cup options as far as the generics go (I actually love the Sustain cup model and Casco Model used by both Athena Club and Rael), but they’re not proprietary designs.
There have been cases of brands starting out with a generic cup and eventually designing their own. Bloody Buddy (not my favorite brand name, fwiw) was once a flat-tab generic cup but they built a solid brand reputation and did educational work while providing the customer service you’d expect from a proprietary brand. They started a Kickstarter to fund their unique design, which was successful, and now sell that proprietary design. This seems like a case of a company wanting to do the right thing but one that maybe didn’t have the capital and means to start with their own design. In similar, but frustrating moves, white-label brands on Amazon tend to change from one generic cup to the next and sell under the same brand name. This is confusing for all kinds of reasons.
The cheap price is good for the consumer but a boon to the business owner. You can start a brand/company for practically no investment. It’s possible to buy menstrual cups from AliExpress for as low as $1.75 per cup with your own custom packaging. Many people will (and do) take advantage of this simply to make a quick buck, especially as the menstrual cup business booms. This industry is full of people who truly care about the health of their customers and want to eradicate period shame and period poverty. While some companies support both of these initiatives with their profits other companies, motivated by capitalism, are there to cash in on the rising popularity of menstrual cups. They see white labeling as the way to make the most money with the least invested (both in money and R&D.)
We should all ask ourselves when we purchase something for an extremely low price “does this deal come at a human rights cost?” The proprietary brands who manufacture overseas usually tour their factories regularly and ensure that employees have good working conditions. The US FDA must inspect the manufacturing facilities creating medical products (cups/discs qualify) and brands have to comply with certain regulations to stay compliant. This includes reporting any health incidents directly to the FDA. Paying more is often your way of supporting fair wages and healthy conditions. That goes for everything, not just cups.
Quality Control + Customer Support
On that note about the motivations of each business owner, not all private label menstrual cups and brands are created equal. Some brands offer customer support. Others sell as cheaply as possible on places like eBay with little care or thought to the success the customer has with their product. In some cases, the cups themselves offered for sale by manufacturers are of poor quality and are flimsy, making them difficult to use and leading to leaks and a poor experience. I’m reminded of the Rebel Kate brand that swept through the menstrual cup community as “free for shipping.” The chief complaint of users was that the cup leaked and was hard to use. It was a flimsy and soft cup. Other complaints were that the cups arrived with a chemical odor. Not all white label cups use FDA cleared silicone, and those that do aren’t necessarily upholding strict quality control over the products they sell. When you buy from a company that doesn’t care about the customer once they have your money you will have little or no recourse when the product fails. As much as we want to believe a $5 cup is as good as a verified reputable $30 cup, that is simply not possible. Can people succeed with a $5 cup and even love their $5 cup? Of course.
A huge personal pet peeve of mine is the lack of transparency from brands who market their cups as unique designs when a minimal amount of research can reveal otherwise. White labeling isn’t wrong, by itself, but misleading your customers to think you designed the cup and manufactured the cup is unethical. It’s widespread amongst private label brands who tell the story of “designing” a cup because “no other cups” worked for them. It’s insulting to sell a cup that is identical in design to anyone with eyes to dozens of other “brands.” One example would be the “sport cup” model as sold on AliExpress (widely known as June Cup) that has 27+ brand name varieties I have found. It’s sold for as little as .01 + shipping by one brand, $6 + shipping by June Cup (touted as their Covid 19 price versus a list price of 39.99 that has been in effect since they widely launched), or as much as $30 by another brand. It’s the same cup. It’s unfortunate that consumers will be taken advantage of because most won’t research the brands fully before making a purchase to understand that they’re buying a name, not a unique design. This is also a good time to share that a high price isn’t always an indicator of a menstrual cup not being a white-label cup. The resellers can set their products at any price they choose. I have seen private label cups sold as high as $40 from brands. So while price can sometimes indicate a higher quality that isn’t always the case. The onus is on the consumer to verify. Shopping at Period.Shop is one way to simplify that process since it only carries a curated selection of trusted brands.
How do I know which brands are good?
Ultimately we as consumers have power with our dollars. We can choose to spend more (if able) and support the innovators, the educators, and the brands who not only design quality products but who also support their customers with 24/7 text, phone, and email help. I am not a perfect consumer, I have and will again buy from Amazon (though I do try not to) and recognize that many items are simply not available from small retailers or local. One way to check on the cup brand you’re interested in is by looking for it on the Menstrual Cup Comparison Chart. I’ve researched the white label brands and listed them below the chart. Buying online is now almost required due to the pandemic, but thankfully menstrual cups are easy to find online directly from the brands or from our very own retail store, Period.Shop. As the saying goes, when you buy from a small business someone on the other side does a happy dance. Having just recently started my very own small business I can tell you that is 100% true! Every order that comes in makes me smile and find my husband to do a high five. Period.Shop, as the only retailer dedicated entirely to reusable menstrual cups in the US, has a curated selection and takes the guesswork out of buying cups and wondering “is this a good brand?” If it’s on Period.Shop the answer is yes! Not being sold at Period.Shop doesn’t mean the brand is bad (I can’t carry them all!) but being listed means it’s a brand I know to be high quality and a unique design.
This post is not intended to make anyone feel bad about the cup they are using or shame them for purchasing an inexpensive cup, but is meant to inform and educate. I’d also like to point out that historically the term “china cheapies” has been used for generic cups. This is not only xenophobic, it’s simply not a true statement to say all generics are manufactured in China, and implies all cups made in China are “cheap.” The terminology I have used here (generic/white label/private label) is more appropriate and accurate.