Hot flashes and insomnia are well-known side effects of menopause. However, there are many other conditions, including poor bladder control. But until recently, only a handful of personal care startups were concerned with such issues, reflecting general society’s lack of interest in older women.
Startup Hazel is now aiming to tackle that apathy with disposable panties that can handle leakage and look good under leggings too. In other words, it addresses the problems faced by older women, while at the same time recognizing them as real human beings.
“This is an even greater opportunity to change the conversation about what it means to be a woman at this point in life, and to do so in a way that resonates with a group that has been underserved for so long,” says co-founder Aubrey Hubel.
Hazel is part of a recent wave of startups targeting postmenopausal women. Despite the potential of $600 billion, the market has long been ignored. This was true even with the emergence of an increasing number of femtech startups, mostly targeting younger women with products like ovulation monitors. Now, a new generation of companies, such as Caria, which has an app to help women recognize and deal with symptoms, is looking to tackle the largely untapped menopause market.
Thousands of interviews
Hubbell and co-founder Stephen Cruz spent two years developing the product. Hubbell, who has a background in product development and user research, devoted a good six to nine months of those interviews with thousands of women through one-on-one conversations, focus groups, and surveys. Her initial goal was to learn about their experiences and identify unmet needs that she and Cruz could target.
As I started to dig deeper, the bladder control problem came up time and time again. Women could use traditional adult diapers, but these products were bulky and confusing. Often they were ashamed of the problem. “The products on the market were very old, based on the stereotype of who this person was,” Hubbell says. “This was a way to not only build a better brand, but also make life better.”
Next, Hubbell and Cruz turned their attention to product development. Working with fashion designers and materials scientists, the goal was to create something that looked like regular underwear but could handle what Hubbell describes as a “full bladder” of fluid. Designing the right packaging that sends the right message, from the sizing to the colors on the outside, was a big part of the development work.
As you might expect, the pandemic has complicated those efforts. In particular, the development process has slowed down considerably, thanks to the delay in receiving shipments. “There was a lot of product being shipped back and forth,” Hubbell says. Manufacture is done in the Dominican Republic.
It all started when Cruz, who worked at a club for people over 50, realized the huge gap in personal care products for older women. He knew there was a possibility to create a new business, and he wasn’t sure what it would be like. Then, to find potential partners, especially women with design experience, join an online networking group of financial professionals. There he met Hubel’s husband, who introduced him to his wife. I took the chance.
The beta launch will happen this week, with a full launch on November 2. Initially, the product will be sold online with a subscription form. The company raised an initial round of $2.5 million last year.
“This is part of the growing empowerment of women,” Hubel says. “And to be open and honest about what we experience.”