Modern science and the perseverance and contribution of several individuals towards women’s health have made some significant discoveries in the sector. The negligence and ignorance regarding women’s health and wellness are now being slowly overcome as people have begun to talk about it and break the stigma around the topic.
One prominent name on the list of people striving relentlessly to improve women’s health by leveraging science is Chia Chia Sun, the CEO and Co-founder of Damiva Inc.
In the following interview, Chia Chia Sun talks about her inspiring journey in the women’s health arena, how she faced the challenges arising from the pandemic and the prospects of her firm.
Give us a brief overview of your journey as the CEO of Damiva and tell us what inspired you to venture into the women’s health space.
About ten years ago, when I was perimenopausal – I’m menopausal now – I realized that there was so much I didn’t know about myself and my future menopause. I was stunned by the lack of information – and my lack of knowledge – about the stages of a woman’s life, our hormonal fluxes, and our bodily changes.
I started Damiva after a trip to the drugstore, looking for a product for vaginal dryness. What I found was that there was absolutely nothing I wanted to use because all the products contained so many chemicals and toxins. After formulating a 100% natural product – called Mae by Damiva – with several partners, including my husband Gardiner Smith, who is a protein chemist and lawyer by training, and a couple of stints on reality TV shows, Damiva came into existence.
It became my passion and life mission to develop products for women that are good for us for a lifetime, and we can use them at any age. I decided that, due to the dire unmet need, I would only work in women’s health for the rest of my career.
Tell us more about Damiva, its vision, and the key aspects of its expertise in health and wellness.
The core vision for Damiva is to create products that are good for women. To us, this means 100% natural feminine care and skincare products that are pH balanced for each stage of life and – as a priority – do not contain any chemicals that are toxic, disrupt hormones, and contribute to the climate crisis.
Creating an all-natural, shelf-stable product is much harder than you might imagine (think Buzzfeed’s Burger Experiment). So, we have proprietary formulations and patents that speak the unique nature of our health and wellness products. For example, by removing water from our formulations, we don’t need to use chemical preservatives and can still maintain a shelf life of three to five years without bacterial growth.
From a leadership perspective, what is your opinion on the impact of the pandemic on the global healthcare sector, and how did you aid your organization to overcome the challenges rooting from the pandemic?
The pandemic focused a lot of attention on the global healthcare sector and helped create more awareness of the need for health care innovation. On the plus side, there is more capital and consumer acceptance and adoption of new health technologies. On the downside, larger companies benefited from the massive shift in public opinion and government funding more than smaller companies.
Our retail revenues were impacted by COVID-19 due to the drop in-store traffic by our retailers such as CVS, Target, and Rite-Aid. We were already expanding our online sales, and we put much more effort into the endeavor as the pandemic unfolded. We realized immediately that the pandemic gave us an opportunity to connect much more closely with our customers, and the learnings have significantly impacted our business and improved our product development.
What is your opinion on the necessity for health and wellness companies to align their offerings with newer technological developments, especially when it comes to catering to the ever-evolving needs of the industry?
A significant lesson from our expansion of online sales was that our customer is highly sensitive, not just to toxic chemicals in formulations but also to the changing world around us, including technology, information, and macroeconomic factors such as climate change.
Our philosophy at Damiva is to listen to our customers and their needs. Accordingly, we packaged our next-generation products in discrete sachets (instead of a large bottle), reducing our packaging footprint by over 50%.
We also developed a customer-centric educational membership program that is entirely online and geared to specific life stages.
Regarding the alignment of health and wellness companies with advances in technology, while I’m personally invested in innovation, as the co-inventor on several patents, I believe that the field of women’s health needs more than innovation; it needs innovation communication.
We need to try harder to understand women’s needs, even if these conversations are awkward or uncomfortable. We need to break down the taboos that prevent women from expressing their needs. Vera Rubin, who is one of my heroines and should have won the Nobel Prize for Physics as the physicist who discovered dark matter, said it best when she said, “Don’t shoot for the stars; we already know what’s there. Shoot for the space in between because that’s where the real mystery lies.”
What efforts did you and your team at Damiva take during the pandemic to sustain operations and ensure the safety of your employees at the same time?
Our team is in Canada, the United States, Europe, and India. While we were accustomed to virtual business already, we made the switch from working exclusively in our Toronto offices to the entire staff working virtually from home during the pandemic.
In your opinion, what could be the future of the women’s health space post the pandemic? And how are you strategizing Dative’s operations for that future?
Women are already the ‘Chief Medical Officers’ of our households as 80% of us make the medical decisions for our families. The women’s health space is already changing post-pandemic as households are increasingly accustomed to at-home testing, diagnostics, and preventive medicine, with women leading the charge.
The new norm will continue to be more technology, less travel, and more local support for women’s well-being. The cons of a post-pandemic era for women’s health are that, while women took on more of a role at home with respect to childcare, children’s schooling, and family health, areas such as career growth and mental health have suffered. To remedy this, we women need to spend some time putting ourselves and our health first.
At Damiva, our future operations post-pandemic will focus on prevention, self-care, and the use of technology to deliver highly informative and specialized content.
Our mission is to develop products that are helping, not harming, women with a focus on prevention. As our products are completely natural and pH balanced, they help preserve the skin microbiome and include preventive ingredients such as probiotics that are stable at room temperature.
With respect to self-care, our strategy for 2022 and beyond is to continue to have fun with our products while creating a supportive environment with our online content membership program. For example, we will always have cheeky slogans such as “lip balm for your other lips” for our labial balm. Now, we will help women understand the different parts of the labia and genital regions and how they change over time.
In response to inquiries from health professionals, we have also started a collaborative Professional Program to work with pelvic health experts, such as menopause practitioners, nurses, physicians, and physiotherapists, to educate women about our products.
If given a chance, what is the one thing that you would change about the global healthcare industry?
I would change the ratio of male to female leaders in the industry. Depending on the area, female CEOs comprise 3% to 6% of the total number, and this is an appalling statistic.
To quote Vera Rubin again, “Worldwide, half of all brains are in women,” and another great quote: “We all need permission to do science, but for reasons that are deeply ingrained in history, this permission is more often given to men than to women.”
As an established leader, what would be your advice to the budding entrepreneurs aspiring to venture into the women’s health space?
Just go for it! Feet first, as fast as you can. We need many more women to expand this important industry that affects half the human race.
Pertaining to your role as Damiva’s CEO, how do you envision scaling your company’s operations and offerings in 2022 and beyond?
One of the major initiatives we put into place during the pandemic was to redesign our packaging to withstand a variety of extreme temperatures that we are experiencing with global warming and climate change. This redesign will enable us to grow quickly and scale our operations in North America and beyond. We are partnering at home here in the U.S. with our manufacturer to be the largest 100% natural women’s health company globally.
First and foremost, as always, our offerings continue to put women first by giving women what we need and want: completely natural, vegan, ethical, and sustainable products that are free of hormone disruptors and toxins.