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Fit for purpose

30 March 2022
Coralcone owner Yvette Shum, of Dunedin, holds the packaging for her menstrual cups. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH

Yvette Shum has gone from working on global blockbuster films to convincing local manufacturers to make her menstrual cup design. We found out more about the solopreneur’s career change and her commitment to making a difference for Kiwi vaginas and the environment. Words: Anna Wallace

Perfecting an image

Having studied design in Wellington, Yvette went on to work down south in television. From there, she ascended through the ranks of big-budget film visual effects and advertising. Living and working in Shanghai, London, Singapore, she ended up running the post-production side of things.

“I enjoyed it when I was younger – it felt like I was part of something huge, a blockbuster career. But you do get caught up in the industry and before you know it, you’re either spending two weeks trying to perfect an image that people will see for a split second, or you’re pushed up the management train and being less hands-on,” Yvette says.

“I started to think that I wanted my career to align more with my values. I asked myself – ‘what if I put my daily effort into something more purposeful, that could help people?’”

Yvette Shum diving in the coral reefs of Indonesia
Yvette diving in Raja Ampat, among the biodiversity of the coral reef.

A period of clarity

Having dived all around Asia, Yvette volunteered for a marine coral conservation project in Raja Ampat, Indonesia in 2016. While she was surveying the highly diverse marine coral and megafauna – she couldn’t stop thinking about what her next professional move might be.

“Period management was never far from my mind as, ever since I was a teenager, I’d had such painful, debilitating cramps.”

Travelling in countries where there were often no sanitary supplies, Yvette gravitated to sustainable options like menstrual cups. However, she still had a lot of questions…

“Why were they all the same, and made from one type of material? Why moulded as one piece? Why did you have to cut them to suit your cervix size…. What if you cut it too short? Where does that plastic waste go?”

She strongly believed that people should have options.

Making the dream happen

Expecting her first child, Yvette felt that if she stayed in Singapore she’d end up working rather than spending time with her daughter. So, in 2017 she flew back home to Dunedin, at 35 weeks’ pregnant.

“I knew I wanted to do my own thing. My parents are retired and were all too happy to help,” she says.

Yvette would build on the idea of Coralcone at night. Talking with friends, she came across the name of a product development engineer who might be ‘in’ on the concept. That’s when Yvette met Heather Cunningham, who brought the vision to life.

“We discussed what was missing from menstrual product design, we’d get into the grotesque detail and experience – it was awesome. I don’t know if I could have done that with a male product developer,” Yvette laughs.

Dozens trialled the prototypes, many of whom had used two or three different products in the past, without success.

“We knew that the material needed to be flexible but easy to grip, it needed to pop open easily inside. Our detachable ribbon became a real point of difference for us too.”

Coralcone went live in December last year with different-sized cups (for varying cervix heights), multi-packs and eco-friendly packaging.

It took four years from inception to launch, partly because Yvette had a young daughter and Heather was holding down a day job, but finding a manufacturer willing to trial a new product in the time of Covid wasn’t easy either.

“We had to convince a local factory to see the potential and take a chance on us. We couldn’t promise them a big order and so we had to fit in with their schedule. Plus, there were supply delays – it was a crazy time.”

Yvette thinks New Zealand is a place that welcomes innovation. Over the years, she’s learned about intellectual property, branding and more. She has a business mentor and applied for the Startup Dunedin Incubator programme.

“The Incubator people and resources have helped me to gain knowledge – fast – to ramp up and get through all the red tape.”

Coralcone menstrual cups
"We knew that the material needed to be flexible but easy to grip, it needed to pop open easily inside. Our detachable ribbon became a real point of difference for us too,” Yvette says.

The sustainable brand lands

The website is, in a word, cool. It’s language and tone is empowering, reassuring and refreshingly authentic. It’s hard to come away from a browse without being educated – on everything from how to measure your cervix, what’s unique about this product, how much sanitary waste one person creates (up to 200g) and why the business is pro-ocean health.

As well as the reusable menstrual cups, Coralcone pouches are made from recycled plastic bottles and the delivery packaging is home-compostable. Yvette has partnered with Live Ocean, pledging $2 from every Coralcone purchase to marine science research and conservation.

“It was important to me that it’s an end-to-end experience in sustainability.

“Period is less of a dirty word now,” she enthuses. “You don’t have to use tampons just because your mum did, you always have options. With cups like this, you’ll save so much money over time and its better for your body and the planet – I wish I’d had them when I was younger.”

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