Ebby Weyime, 31, was pursuing a noteworthy acting career in Cape Town before her period brought her back home to start a new business. She speaks to Florence Bett-Kinyatti.
“I didn’t plan on going to university. I wanted to become a professional model. I’m 5’9”. I remember looking at magazines in high school and thinking, ‘These girls look just like me, I can do this.’ I also loved acting.
“My dad wouldn’t let me pursue a fulltime career in modelling and theatre though; he insisted I go to Daystar University for a degree in PR and marketing. I’m grateful for his foresight because everything I learned from Daystar I use to run my business now. Modelling was my side job.
“I got into a toxic romantic relationship when I was 21. It was toxic in the sense that he financially supported me to the point where I wasn’t pulling my own weight with schoolwork or modelling. I lost my personal drive and didn’t have any big goals. What’s worse, I didn’t understand the value of money. I felt trapped, I had frequent bouts of depression.
“I’m the first in a large family, and my parents were worried about my emotional welfare. Maturity eventually cornered me to make the painful yet necessary decision to choose my life over him and end the relationship. It was heartbreaking. Sorry, it’s been many years but I still cry like this sometimes.
“Nairobi was feeling claustrophobic. I wanted to start afresh in a different country. I’d circulated my portfolio to modelling agencies around the world; an agency from Cape Town reached out with an opportunity. I graduated from Daystar in July 2011 and in September, I was on a plane to Cape Town. I had nothing but a heart full of dreams and suitcase full of clothes.
“Many Hollywood blockbusters are shot in South Africa, so I booked more acting jobs than modelling jobs. I had roles in movies like ‘Death Race III’ and ‘Roots’. Acting helped me overcome the heartbreak, but I’d built a wall around me. I remember one of my casting directors telling me, ‘Ebby, to be vulnerable is to be human.’
“I’d always had painful and heavy periods. I’d wear a tampon plus a pad to catch the leakage. Tampons and pads didn’t give me freedom because I’d sometimes be on set in a bikini. The first time I bought a menstrual cup was in December 2016; I was home for Christmas and was staying at my aunt’s. The environment was unfamiliar so I didn’t use the cup, I gave it to my aunt.
“I was anxious when I returned to Cape Town that New Year – I was fast approaching 30. I’d been in Cape Town for six years. I was living comfortably uptown but my career had plateaued. I saw actors in their 40s auditioning for roles alongside 20 year olds yet rejection was still a stinging possibility. I didn’t want that for myself.
“I wanted to return to Nairobi to start a business. I didn’t have a business idea but I was clear I wanted control, and something that would serve a niche market, was scalable and would leave a positive impact on community.
“I told God, ‘Don’t give me signs, tell me what to do.’ I tell people this story but they never believe me: I was having my period and I ordered a menstrual cup online. I opened the delivery box and heard the cup tell me, ‘This is it.’ Ha-ha.
“I contacted the woman manufacturing the cups and told her I wanted to take them to Kenya. She graciously taught me everything she knew about running the business. I returned home in April 2017 and sold my first cup in June. I got certified as a trainer by the Ministry of Health.
“The menstrual cup is a hygiene solution. It’s folded and inserted into the vagina to collect the period. I have a video on my YouTube channel – ‘The Grace Cup’ – where I show different ways of folding the cup for insertion. Insertion is a huge challenge for first-timers. It takes a woman three cycles on average to master the technique. But as long as it’s inserted correctly, you won’t feel the cup and there’ll be no leakage.
“The cup can conveniently collect your period for up to 12 hours. To empty it, remove the cup, pour the period in the toilet, wash the cup under running water, dry it with tissue and reinsert it into your vagina. Repeat for the duration of your period. Store your cup clean and dry in its bag for your next period.
“The cups are made of platinum or medical grade silicon, the same material used on the teat of a baby’s feeding bottle. The silicon has no chemicals and no known side effects to your health or the environment; pads and tampons, unless incinerated, aren’t biodegradable. The platinum grade cup can last up to five years, the medical grade to 10 years.
“I’m showing you these cups and nobody here [at Java] knows what they are. Imagine if it were pads or tampons. I want one day that people will turn around and ask, ‘What are those menstrual cups doing on that table?’”