The Badass Businesswomen Creating a New Kind of Period Company
Periods and chocolate go together like Michelle Obama and sleeveless dresses. Which is why sneaking herbal hormonal treatment into tasty cocoa morsels makes so much freaking sense. The ladies behind Chica Chocolate, Elise and Cassidy, knew what was up, and launched there own line of monthly chocolate infused with a special blend of Chinese herbs to make your cycle enjoyable and less painful. By naturally balancing hormones, you can tackle monthly issues like mood swings, PMS, cramps, acne, and more. Not content to simple make a badass period product, Elise and Cassidy are also on a mission to de-stigmatize periods and female bodies, create an inclusive and open community, and address the "goddess archetype" once and for all. Their frank honesty and genuine care are an inspiring example of how businesses could and should be run, and they're changing the game every single month with a simple little box in the mail.
Let’s start at the beginning--how did you two become friends?
Elise: We met in seventh-grade gym class (just like Ben and Jerry!) when I was the new kid at school and I asked to join Cassidy’s group. My mom encouraged me to invite her over, we built a fort, and by the end of the day I didn’t want Cassidy to leave. Once we started high school we started to move in separate directions, but we made sure to prioritize occasional sleepovers, and the friendship stayed strong.
How did Chica Chocolate start?
Cassidy: Chica began in my dad’s acupuncture clinic and made its first sale from Elise’s mom’s basement! A very start-up story, especially considering that we were teenagers at the time. As the daughter of an acupuncturist, I was raised around Chinese herbs. This provided me with a unique understanding of my menstrual cycle even before I started bleeding, but I didn’t appreciate the significance of an herbal remedy for periods until I got my own. I wasn’t the only one who underestimated herbal medicine, either. By that point, my father had been struggling for years with patients who didn’t know how to address their hormonal health until it punched them in the uterus.
Here’s the problem: incorporating Chinese herbs into your healthcare routine requires a lot of you. Chief among them: discipline in changing your habits, respect for your cycle as an integral part of a greater system, and a high tolerance for assaults on your tastebuds. This is why people need an incentive to invest in their holistic health. So, my dad began explore a solution to this multifaceted problem in the form of a “period chocolate,” which he developed with the help of a friend who was trying to get his single-source Ecuadorian chocolate company off the ground. Elise and I took over because we were young women with periods who could relate to our market, and because we saw the potential to bring Chinese herbal medicine to more people that needed it.
In your own words, what is Chica Chocolate’s mission?
Chica Chocolate’s mission is to provide a natural solution for anyone looking for more balance and ease in their menstrual cycles. We want to redefine how we think about periods, not only in the physical sense–where menstruators have become accustomed to ignoring their periods or viewing them as a source of suffering–but in the emotional and social realm as well. We care about destigmatizing the experience of having a period and increasing conversation and awareness around how we feel during our cycle.
How did you develop the mix of herbs used in your chocolates?
Our formula was recommended by our consulting acupuncturist, Marco Lam (otherwise known as my dad). The herbs we use are the same blend that he prescribes within his own practice for patients that struggle with their menstrual cycles. Through him, we are accessing an ancient tradition of traditional Chinese medicinal knowledge.
What kind of response have you gotten to Chica?
The response to Chica has been filled with a lot of enthusiasm, and that is incredibly encouraging. We are overjoyed by the number of people who immediately begin a passionate description of how they feel during their period. We want to hear it all, and it’s special that Chica inspires people to open up and chat freely about the often-chaotic experience of bleeding. We have directly encountered a few older men who grapple with understanding the demand for a product like Chica, but the beauty of being a period product is that we don’t exist for cis-men and we’re not obligated to change to fit into their frame of reference.
Why is it important to use natural remedies like herbs to address period symptoms?
In Western medicine, doctors continuously prescribe hormonal birth control for managing period symptoms. While hormonal birth control is an important tool for managing contraception–it doesn’t have to be the first step when someone is dealing with a difficult menstrual cycle. Herbs nourish the systems that support our hormonal production - the liver, spleen, and blood - while hormonal birth control can suppress and deplete our bodies’ natural hormone balancing mechanisms. Chica’s herbs provide the regular maintenance that our bodies need to have a smooth flow, and we encourage anyone with a period to eat Chica to support their menstrual health, which benefits us in the long run through both long-term fertility and how we experience menopause later in life.
How is Chica de-stigmatizing periods and the conversations we have about them?
First, we’re creating a business around them! The category of period products has been stagnant for decades, and we’re just recently seeing growth with the focus on organic tampons and subscription menstrual supplies boxes. This industry has seen little innovation because periods are a topic that people generally don’t want to publicly discuss, and that has limited the creation of products that solely focus on nourishing and celebrating the experience of having a period. We are enthusiastic about sharing our own period experiences–and we encourage our customers to pay attention to their own periods and share with us. We write our phone numbers inside every Chica Box–with the intention of basically providing a period hotline. Want to talk to someone about your cramps, or ask about the color of your period blood?–we’re all ears. We are making ourselves available, not as experts (because the information we share is for educational purposes only), but as confidants–because we are also people with periods who understand how impactful our cycles are in our everyday existence. Our periods, and the pain we feel around them, can be serious indicators of our overall health, and we need to be talking with our doctors, parents, significant others, and friends about our periods.
You wrote about creating a “period experience that can be positive without fitting into the ‘goddess’ archetype.” Can you explain this part of your mission a little more?
We were able to put a name to this part of our mission when we commissioned a group of artists to create pieces reflecting what having a period means for them. All of the artists are in their 20’s, most in school, working, and living in cities. And yet, their illustrations of periods were almost all captures of a nude figure in flowers, water, or fire. We thought, this is not how we experience having periods in our daily lives, so why do we feel the need to romanticize the everyday reality of cravings and feeling paranoid that our sweat is unexpected period blood? Yes, the goddess archetype is beautiful and gives periods a cloak of sacredness, but it also serves the purpose of shaming the functional reality of our periods that we live with, because it’s not glamorous. Cuddling up with your synced friends and snacking is magical! Feeling proud because you’ve finally transitioned to using only a menstrual cup and period proof undies is badass! Talking to your practitioner or doctor about your period, even if it’s uncomfortable, makes you a hero for yourself (and any subsequent bleeding patients that doctor has)! Having a group of people in a bar bathroom come together to find a tampon is bonding. Our lives are filled with little moments around our periods and we want to celebrate them instead of only focusing on the goddess, which tends to celebrate the limited experience of an idealized cis-woman. When we problematize the ‘goddess archetype,’ we are challenging the notion that bleeding is a necessary symbol of the feminine incarnation.
What has your experience as entrepreneurs starting a business been like?
It’s been exciting to discover new skills! Since we have dedicated ourselves to bootstrapping every part of building Chica, we have been challenged to develop skills that people will solely dedicate their careers to–and it feels like we ourselves are juggling being multiple people at once. It can also be exhausting to learn how to sell a product. Almost every person is excited about Chica–but the reality check is that it takes so much effort and follow up to convert subscribers. We are holding faith in the “Tipping Point” mentality and are focusing on creating the best product and business possible. On the personal side, starting Chica has been a beautiful and enriching journey for our relationship. We decided that our friendship will (and successfully can) grow alongside our business. We push each other, and aren’t afraid to disagree, but we also support each other through low confidence and exhaustion and are able to identify and understand when one of us needs space.
You’ve both been open and transparent with your customers and community about the fact that you’re learning and growing in this process, and you make mistakes. Why is it important to you to communicate that?
So that others feel they can do exactly the same! We honestly want to have a relationship with all of our Chica customers, and that means starting by sharing our true personalities. Especially when the marketing landscape is inundated by brands that have predetermined templates on how to be “authentic,” sticking to our voice feels more valuable than pretending to be something we aren’t. We don’t hold ourselves on a pedestal as any type of role model now, but when Chica does become a thriving community, we hope to be an inspiration for anyone aspiring to turn their ideas into businesses.
Get your own Chica Chocolate here!