Hot flashes and insomnia are two of the better-known side effects of menopause. There are many others, however, including weakened bladder control. But until recently, few personal care startups paid attention to such problems, mirroring society’s general lack of interest in older women.
Now startup Hazel aims to address that indifference with disposable underwear that can handle leakage and look good under leggings, too. In other words, it addresses the problems older women face, while also acknowledging them as real human beings.
“This is a bigger opportunity to change the conversation about what it means to be a woman at this stage of life and do it in a way that resonates with a group that has been underserved for so long,” says co-founder Aubrey Hubbell.
Hazel is part of a recent wave of startups targeting women in menopause. Despite its $600 billion potential, the market has been long ignored. That’s been true even as an increasing number of femtech startups have appeared, mostly aimed at younger women with such products as ovulation monitoring. Now, a new generation of companies, like Caria, which has an app for helping women learn about and manage symptoms, are looking to address the largely untapped menopause market.
Thousands of Interviews
Hubbell and co-founder Steven 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 that interviewing thousands of women through one-on-one conversations, focus groups and surveys. Her initial aim was to learn about their experiences and pinpoint an unmet need she and Cruz could target.
As she started to dig deeper, the bladder control problem came up again and again. Women could use traditional adult diapers, but those products were bulky and awkward. And they often were ashamed of the problem. “The products on the market were very outdated, based on a stereotype of who this person is,” says Hubbell. “This was a way to not just build a better brand, but also to make life better.”
After that, Hubbell and Cruz turned their attention to developing the product. Working with fashion designers and material scientists, the goal was to create something that looked like regular underwear but could handle what Hubbell describes as “a bladder-full” of liquid. Designing the right packaging that would send the right message, from sizing to the colors on the outside, was also a big part of the development work.
As you might expect, the pandemic complicated those efforts. In particular, the development process was slowed down considerably, thanks to delays in receiving shipments. “There were lots of products being shipped back and forth,” says Hubbell. The manufacturing is being done in the Dominican Republic.
It all started when Cruz, who had been working at a clubhouse for people over 50, became aware of the massive gap in personal care products for older women. He knew there was the potential for a new business, he just wasn’t sure what it would be. Then, to find potential partners, especially women with design experience, he joined an online networking group for financial professionals. There, he met Hubbell’s husband, who introduced him to his wife. She pounced on the opportunity.
The soft launch is happening this week, with a full launch on Nov. 2. Initially, the product will be sold online with a subscription model. The company raised a seed round of $2.5 million last year.
“This is part of the increasing empowerment of women,” says Hubbell. “And being open and honest about what we experience.”