Vinnie’s Tampon Cases
Distributed by Vinnie & Blue Q
The World’s first celebrated period product. Over 200,000 in use around the world every month.
“Dear Vinnie, you are either crazy or a genius. I elect that you are a genius! Thanks for looking out for us girls.”- Fan letter
Vinnie’s Tampon Case is a canvas case with a velcro snap designed by Vinnie to protect period products from breaking in the bottom of a back-pack, bag, or purse.
Vinnie’s Tampon Case has been featured in nearly every woman’s magazine, on countless radio programs, in newspapers across the globe, on TV shows, in documentaries, in books, at the Andy Warhol Museum, offered in stores around the world, given away by Justin Timberlake at his 22nd birthday party, discussed in Harvard classrooms, and, most importantly, discussed by boys and girls on playgrounds.
I’ve received thousands upon thousands of fan letters over the years from every imaginable type of woman/girl- from every race, culture, class, from almost every continent. I’ve received fan mail written on Hello Kitty stationary from pre-teens who can’t wait for their period so they can use my case, from teens who read my GIANT ROLLER COASTER STICKER BOOK with their entertained boyfriends. I get letters from mothers who get the cases for their daughters, from guys who’ve gotten the case for their girlfriends, from doctors, gynocologists, children therapists, health clincs, crisis centers, from women’s study programs. and a very nice fan letter from a Baywatch actress.
The original product was a canvas tampon case, but the VTC line eventually grew to include a CRAMP RELIEVING BUBBLE BATH & Music For Menstruators CD, two books put out by Chronicle Books (Vinnie’s GIANT Roller Coaster Period Chart and Sticker Book, Vinnie’s Cramp Kicking Remedy Book), as well as a Vinnie Mini Case for non-applicator tampons and a vinyl zippered case for formal events or scuba diving.
The Truth About VTC:
Project Goal: To create an affordable (or free) everyday object that would encourage a positive and non-sexual dialog between guys and girls about a woman’s body– in hopes of sparking education that will work towards ending violence against women.
The Inspiration: A friend revealed to me her having been kidnapped and raped by a group of strange men when she was in high school. The recurring trauma of her experience compounded by the fact that her family didn’t know how to deal with the crime and the fact that the perps were never arrested or brought to justice shook me to my core.
Furious at a society that refuses to develop the tools to deal with such horrific and wide-spread behavior I took it upon myself to attempt to change the environment that allows a college educated male like myself to be willfully ignorant of a woman’s well being and safety.
The Plan: Based on having witnessed the cathartic moment my friend had while watching the scene in Thelma & Louise when Susan Sarandon’s character shoots the rapist I had an inspiration moment. I realized that women/girls are offered almost no oportunities to mimic or role-play their power and there are almost no pop-culture heroines that inspire with their daring do- turning the table on the evil that women, specifically, often face. Boys and men are inundated with ego-props from an early age, from toy guns to comic heros to nearly every Hollywood film that has ever been made. Thelma & Louise was the only outlet my friend had to exorcise the demons of her trauma, and to workshop a level of revenge on her attackers.
I decided to make more outlets. I began by making large cartoony paintings of that exact moment of justice/revenge in T&L, thinking that women could hang this image in their home as an inspiration and/or a warning (see images below).
I eventually realized that I wanted to offer a product that was much more accessible, immediate and less intimidating than a painting. To really affect change I needed to get the message directly into the hands of young men. This led to scaling down and redesigning my gun-toting women into cute cartoon characters adhered to refridgerator magnets. My first two sets were WOMEN TIRED OF TAKING MEN’S SHIT and WOMEN KICKING WOULD BE RAPISTS IN THE NUTS, both of which were part of my FRIGGIN MAGNETS® line.
These magnets were sold in stores around the country and were much more successful than my paintings in terms of attracting eyeballs, but the overt violent images bothered me (violence begets violence) and the off-color language was limiting the ability of my message getting in the hands of kids, at least thru the gatekeepers of parents and retail stores.
The Solution: I sat on this puzzle for six months until I happened across a menstruation conversation between two of my female friends. When I came into the room they laughed and stopped talking tampons. An awkward silence followed and that was it. If women can’t even have a mundane conversation about menstruation in the presence of a man how the frik will men and women be able to share conversations about the much more traumatic experiences that happen to a woman’s body?
I decided I would make tampons with my name, Vinnie, boldly and unabashedly printed on the wrappers. If a guy named Vinnie can get over his phobia of the cycle then other men would surely be emboldened to follow his lead, right?
Well, it didn’t take long for me to realize that making tampons was way out of my league, so, in the course of conversations with friends about my plan it became clear that a case to protect tampons might be a viable alternative. I workshopped all kinds of different case options (plastic, metal tins, etc) until I hit on the canvas case with the inside pockets idea. It was important that the case be durable enough to protect period products from getting torn or broken but it needed to be soft-ish as well to not break other things in the purse. The canvas case was perfect.
-Even though I called it a tampon case I designed it to hold nearly all menstruation related products. I called it a tampon case because, like most guys, tampon was sort of a catch-all word for the entire business, so I knew guys would know what it was for once they saw that word. Vinnie’s menstruation case was too clinical and plug case too…wrong. My friend Krissy encouraged me to use the word tampon to reclaim it as something cool instead of the dread it typically inspired in both women and men. The first case I made was an iron-on transfer image with my name and smiling face boldly displayed. I sewed it by hand and gave it to my friend Marcy. She laughed and immediately stuffed her tamps inside so I knew I was on the right track. My friend Sasha introduced me to the idea of a period chart, so I created one with additional Vinnie-esque graphics and put them in every subsequent case.
Freeness: Since the expense of menstrual products is also an issue women have with most tampon products (“its just cotton!”) I decided that my newly minted Vinnie’s Tampon Case would always be free from me. This was 1996. Two years later, when I had the time and had saved up some money to print and sew a couple hundred cases (with the help of my mom’s sewing and my grandmother stuffing Period Charts) I embarked on my official five year commitment to VTC. From January 1, 1998- January 1, 2003 I pledged to give out free tampon cases everyday to whoever asked me for one. And to encourage requests I wore embroidered shirts and jackets that had the name of my project on the back. And for five years I did just that, giving out nearly 10,000 free Vinnie’s Tampon Cases.
The Secret: An important part of the project was to never let on that my effort had anything to do with combating rape or violence against women. And in the thousands of interactions and interviews I almost never let on (the one exception being an interview I did for the online website AdiosBarbie.com). My plan was to always present the project with the humble explanation that I simply came up with the idea “after seeing my female friends fumble in the bags for a broken tampon”. My plan was to avoid burdening the case with “a cause”. I wanted the case to bring a smile and to encourage conversations where conversations had never existed before-a non-sexual dialog about a woman’s body between a boy and a girl (Boy- “What’s that?” Girl-”Its a Vinnie’s Tampon Case!” Boy-”What does it do?”). I wanted the case to eventually appear as if it was sanctioned by “the man” so that teens who are all about “sanctioned” products (mainstream gear that keeps them from appearing like a…(gasp) nonconformist) would pick it up and use it.
THE STYLE: Stylistically I wanted the VTC line to have a retro car culture vibe. I modeled the general look after Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s Rat Fink era Hot Rod aesthetic from the 60’s. Like Bid Daddy I wanted the designer (‘Vinnie’) to be featured prominently as a quasi mc for the brand (below).
And just like Big Daddy, I decided to feature big wheels, revving engines and race flags to attract boys to the products. It was imperative to have the exact opposite look of typical period products, to nix the soft pinks and euphemistic jargon, and replace them with bright reds, bold blacks and unapologetic language that announced the function of the case with authority. I figured women would enjoy this complete departure from the norm. They did and do.
The RESPONSE: Even though my friends liked my case I wasn’t sure initially how strangers would respond. The response was incredible and beyond anything I could have imagined. Women instantly got the concept and were SO ready to finally have an opportunity to put the played euphimistic attitiudes about the monthly cycle behind them. And men were, oddly enough, also relieved to finally have an outlet to talk about something they never felt they had permission to acknowledge in the past (since, according to the credo of period product commercials, a successful period is a ‘hidden period’, so by ackowledging a woman’s period you are revealing that she hasn’t been successful in hiding it. Weird dynamic).
On Jan 1,2003 After wearing my VTC uniform everyday for five years (including weddings!), and after thousands of spontaneous conversations about my project, I stopped wearing my uniform as I said I would. But the demand for VTC didn’t stop. The fan mail kept on coming as did the media requests. My brother in LA played the role of ‘Vinnie’ on a daytime talk-show because I couldn’t make it out west (see video below!) and a high schooler became Vinnie (or V2 as we called him- below right) the last semester of his senior year, wearing my uniforms and handing out free cases around NYC with his pals.
Note: To see very entertaining videos of V2 in action please visit www.knowyourflow.com.
VTC site redesign launch: September 08
For speaking engagements contact:
An article about VTC that appeared in Salon.com while I was still doing VTC full time (notice that I stick to my ’cause-free’ talking points):
-Going with the Flow.by Libby Ellis. For menstrual mogul Vinnie Angel, it’s always that time of the month. Designer Vinnie Angel got the idea for his tampon cases from watching female friends struggle to discreetly transport tampons to public restrooms. He listened to their complaints about bent and tattered tampons at the bottoms of their purses. He saw an opportunity and he made a plan.
Nowadays, Vinnie’s grinning face looks up from custom tampon cases and seems to say, “There’s no shame in menstruating! Flaunt it, babe!” (What the cases actually say is “One size fits all.” And on the back: “I break for cycles.”) His inventions — done in durable canvas — are designed to carry tampons and empower the holder. No more carrying the whole purse to the bathroom to get at one measly tampon. No more walking to the bathroom with a pad shoved into the waistband of your pants. Vinnie’s Tampon Cases are like a neon sign that says, “I have my period and I’m one cool girl.”
The thing is, Angel, who is one cool guy, is not very empowered about selling things. In fact, he began his hugely successful business by giving tampon cases away. Since that time, however, he has accepted his inner salesman and branched out. At this point, it is safe to say that Vinnie Angel is a menstruation magnate, a guy with a corner on a market he created himself.
With his “Vinnie’s Cramp Relieving Bubble Bath and CD,” he really tried to wrap his mind around what women want in the tub, and what he came up with isn’t about Calgon and Kenny G. The blue suds are infused with olive oil and chamomile, and Angel describes the music on the “X-tra Bubbles Soothing Bubble Beats CD” as “cramp-relieving without being sappy or serious.”
Angel reports that he has been wearing at least one article of embroidered Vinnie’s Tampon Cases clothing every day. At first he felt a little funny about it — five years later he’s uncomfortable if he doesn’t have a Vinnie’s Tampon Case logo someplace on his body. (A year into his self-promoting fashion revolution, Angel’s girlfriend, Sarah, made a request. “She asked me if I would wear some non-red shirts,” said Vinnie, “so I started making things in other colors. I mean, she does have to look at me every day.”)
Angel learned to sew in the fifth grade, when he made Abe Lincoln’s beard out of yarn and manila paper. Since then he has used his sewing skills, enhanced by his design skills, to get his project off the ground.
“I started with great advice from women, and I took it upon myself to create a tampon case that worked for them,” he says. “I went around to hardware stores and bought different cases and took them home and decorated them. It was trial and error, and friends let me know what they thought. At first they weren’t sure about the canvas, but it works really well.”
His friends loved the cases. They told their friends, who told their friends, and pretty soon Vinnie was the most well known tampon case distributor in New York.
His goal was, and still is, to outfit every man, woman and child with a free tampon case. In the beginning, Angel’s mom helped him sew and his 94-year-old grandma Joya stuffed period charts inside of the cases while watching “All My Children” or pro wrestling.
“I tried to keep up with the demand, but I didn’t have the ability. My mom and my grandmother helped out and were really supportive, but it was taking more time than I thought it would,” he recalls.
He gave away hundreds of freebies and his friends repaid the favor. They flashed their tampon cases in Manhattan boutiques and talked Angel up to friends in retail. When local stores expressed interest in a piece of Angel’s action, his hobby became a full-time job.
Even though he was reluctant to sell the cases, he tried making and selling them out of a store in Manhattan’s Lower East Side — for a while. “It’s a cool neighborhood, and I painted “Vinnie’s Tampon Cases” on the window. Even though people came in all the time, and some did buy things, most of the time I just gave tampon cases out for free,” he says.
Angel gets glowing letters and e-mails every day, thanking him for his contribution to the demystification of “female trouble.” He had worried at first about what women would think of his staking a claim in the feminine hygiene business. “I was braced from the beginning, being a man, that there would be backlash from women like, ‘What’s a man doing trying to co-opt this part of our lives?’ I was ready for that.” But it never came. “I am very happy about that,” he says. “I have never tried to condescend to it or make fun of it or do the old tampon jokes.”
These days Angel rides the L train around 10 o’clock, every morning, dividing his time between reading the sports section and passing out tampon cases. He offers them up at Knicks games and at his local Laundromat.
He’s still more of an artist than businessman. “I’ve tried to maintain my original goal: that I want to give these out for free,” says Angel. “That’s the number one agenda I have, and I have been able to do that. Everything else I have gotten to do has been gravy. The Vinnie’s Cramp Relieving Bubble Bath and the book and the T-shirts — these have all been great, but my goal is to continue to get tampon cases out there for whoever wants one.”
Interview from SexEtc. (POST 1-1-03- thus, I no longer protected my project from the true intentions):
SE: What do you think causes male reluctance to learn about menstruation?
VA: Basically—due to the sexist attitudes that sadly still prevail in our society—guys have been excused from knowing even the most basic information about menstruation, one of the most pronounced aspects of a female’s life. The media reinforce the stereotypical male response to menstruation— running in the other direction. And guys rarely have an opportunity to develop a more mature reaction.
Guys are also encouraged by the tampon industry— and, by extension, their girlfriends and sisters—to pretend that they don’t notice when a girl has her period. Tampon companies have created and perpetuated the concept that women should be embarrassed by their period and hide it, so “no one will ever know.” Because of this very successful advertising campaign, females try their best to pretend that the monthly cycle isn’t wreaking havoc on their body and moods. And males do their best to play their part and pretend they don’t “notice.”
SE: What would help banish the stigma about menstruation, especially in the eyes of males?
VA: Education has the uncanny knack to dispel myths and reverse bad habits. Boys need to get the scoop, and their gal pals need to pass along the correct information. Obviously, getting boys the essential information may not be an easy task, but it’s far from impossible, and it’s slowly happening. Girls need support during their periods, not boys pretending menstruation doesn’t exist.
SE: Do you feel you’ve accomplished what you set out to do?
VA: As for social and psychological changes in the way men and women view menstruation, I’m only tipping the iceberg. I’d like my work to open up the lines of communication and lessen the gender gap, by taking away the negative connotation of periods. No one, including myself, has period envy, but there is no need to comply with societal pressures dictating that it is shameful and embarrassing, and people should remain silent.
SE: Any final messages to teen guys and girls about menstrual cycles?
VA: Know the Flow!