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 co-founders 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 of pads, briefs, liners and wipes that are more elegantly packaged.
Its genesis ties to Abbruzzese’s own chic, Whole Foods-shopping, salon-going, 90-year-old mother, who it pained Abbruzzese to see disposing of a more cumbersome product. 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 working out the details of a bladder leakage solution that would be less embarrassing generally and also didn’t involve a trip to CVS or the kind of oversize packaging that someone elderly might need help in transporting out to their car.
Indeed, though Attn:Grace sells items as standalone products, part of the brand’s appeal is sure to be its subscription delivery of products that are dropped right outside customers’ doors.
Attn:Grace is also — like most newer brands — 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 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 don’t believe that older women are interested in new products that are discussed 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 still able to raise $1 million — from XFactor Ventures, Precursor Ventures, 37 Angels and individuals — to try and prove skeptics wrong.
As with any nascent startup, it won’t be easy. The two are right now 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 of a multi-disciplinary creative studio specializing in brand identity.
They are also competing against some very deep-pocketed personal care companies that have bottomless marketing dollars, comparatively. (Kimberly-Clark alone is a $47 billion company.)
Then again, sometimes a new brand that comes out at the right time can break through with a mix of 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, too. On this front, Attn:Grace is confident that it can break new ground, especially if it can ultimately capture the attention of caregivers who, like Abbruzzese, become fed up with the current options available on the market.
“There’s a tremendous amount of stigma and shame and embarrassment associated with bladder leakage,” says, Abbruzzese.
If Attn:Grace can help “destigmatize aging,” that to her is a win.