No one likes to talk about urinary incontinence, but the loss of bladder control is something that impacts millions of people around the globe. Women are especially prone to developing related issues because of pregnancies, childbirth, and menopause, all of which can affect the urinary tract and the muscles that support it. According to a 2018 University of Michigan poll of 1,000 women ages 50 to 80, nearly half said that they sometimes leak urine. Meanwhile, an estimated 20% to 30% of younger women experience leakage at least once per year.
Unsurprisingly, the market for disposable incontinence products is sizable. A $9.5 billion market as of 2018, it is projected to reach $15 billion by 2025, and it will presumably only grow from there, given that Americans ages 65 and older are projected to nearly double in number from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060.
More shocking is how limited and clunky offerings in the space remain — the best known of these being Kimberly-Clark’s Depend undergarments. It’s precisely the opportunity to update the industry that married cofounders Alex Fennell and Mia Abbruzzese are chasing with their new startup, Attn:Grace. It’s a direct-to-consumer startup that just today began selling a selection pads, briefs, liners, and wipes that are more elegantly packaged.
It was because Abbruzzese was so pained after catching her chic, Whole Foods-shopping, salon-going, 90-year-old mother disposing of a cumbersome product in a plastic newspaper sleeve, that she sprang into action. Abbruzzese already knew quite a bit about running a consumer business, having founded and run a kids’ shoe brand called Morgan & Milo for roughly 16 years. (It was acquired last fall by another children’s brand, Zutano.)
After enlisting the help of her wife, Alex — an attorney who’d been litigating patent cases for 15 years — the couple began figuring out a bladder leakage solution that be less embarrassing generally and also didn’t involve a trip to CVS or the kind of heavy packaging that someone elderly might need help in transporting out to their car. Indeed, though the site sells items as standalone products, part of the brand’s appeal is sure to be its subscription delivery of products that are delivered right to customers’ doors.
Attn:Grace is also — like most newer brands — also selling products designed to be both kinder to the human body and to the environment. Gone are the parabens, latex and synthetic fragrances associated with more traditional rivals. Instead of the petroleum-based synthetics found in the top sheets of some products, Attn:Grace says its top sheets and its back sheets are made of natural fibers derived from sugarcane waste. It also says its packaging was developed with an eye toward minimizing its carbon footprint, including through boxes made from wood fibers sourced exclusively from FSC certified forests.
Older customers are just as interested in making a difference where they can, insists Fennell, who says there are a lot of misconceptions about women of a certain age. She notes, for example, that many VCs with whom they met were reluctant to believe that older women are interested in new products that are discussed in part on social media. “A lot of people we pitched had this idea that you hit a certain point after 50 and you stop using your phone. But we know that women still use channels like Instagram and that those channels are very viable,” she says.
Thankfully for the pair, they were able to raise $1 million — from XFactor Ventures, Precursor Ventures, 37 Angels, and individuals — to try and prove skeptics wrong.
It won’t be easy. The two are the only full-time employees on the payroll, though they have built up a network of consultants, including a designer of some renown, Adam Larson, the founder and creative director at Boston-based adam&co. a multi-disciplinary creative studio specializing in brand identity.
They are also competed against some very deep-pocketed personal care companies that have bottomless marketing dollars, comparatively.
Then again, sometimes a new brand that comes out at the right time can break through through smart packaging, word of mouth, and community, which is another aspect of Attn:Grace that Abbruzzese and Fennell have plans to foster.
Certainly, addressing a largely unmet market need helps, and on this front, Attn:Grace is confident that it can break new ground, especially if it can ultimately capture the attention of caregivers, gynecologists, and others who can spread the word.
“There’s a tremendous amount of stigma and shame and embarrassment associated with bladder leakage,” says. Abbruzzese. It’s time, she says to “destigmatize aging.”