For decades, conversations around women’s health and personal care have been surrounded by embarrassment, stigma and misinformation. From a consumer goods perspective, this lack of open discussion resulted in a stale marketplace, with a distinctly limited range of products which are often hidden at the back of health and beauty stores. Thankfully, this is changing fast – and now buying period, fertility or menopause products is far from the embarrassing endeavour it once was.
Over the last few years, challenger businesses designed to solve and normalise female health issues have exploded onto the market, bringing with them creativity and innovation. Covering menstruation, fertility, menopause, sexual wellness, pregnancy, breastfeeding and social networking, the sector is growing rapidly as entrepreneurs and consumers alike reject established norms and begin demanding more – and better – from their products. The space has even garnered its own name: femtech.
“The sector is growing rapidly as entrepreneurs and consumers alike reject established norms and begin demanding more – and better – from their products.”
This newly carved out space is becoming incredibly varied. For the first time, women are being offered a range of products to choose from depending on their priorities and preferences.
Sustainability is high on the agenda, with brands like Dame, Mooncup and Modibodi designed to reduce the 200,000 tonnes of waste per year produced from period products. There’s also a strong shift towards plant-based and all-natural brands, such as TOTM, as consumers demand biodegradable products which don’t incorporate chemicals, dyes or perfumes. Some startups are incorporating CBD into their offering: Daye (whose mantra is ‘healthcare should be personalised’) offers women tampons infused with CBD to sooth cramps.
When it comes to the business plan, menstruation-focused brands are embracing the subscription model. While many businesses offer subscription packages to guarantee consistent revenue and provide ease of purchase, there are few spaces better suited to a cyclical purchase and delivery model than women’s health. Yoppie, for example, asks consumers to fill in a questionnaire about their menstrual cycle and lifestyle before curating a personalised box of period and wellness products to arrive every four weeks.
Beyond menstruation-focused products, technology is being leveraged to benefit women at every stage of their lives. Apps such as Natural Cycles – perhaps the first key player in the ‘femtech’ space – Flo and Clue, and hardware such as Ava and Inne, are transforming the birth control and fertility arena. Meanwhile, businesses like Lactapp and Elvie are designed to give women more freedom and control during the breastfeeding process.
“Gone are the days of skulking to the back of the shop – women’s health products are now displayed proudly at storefronts, with brightly-coloured and eye-catching displays. In short, the space is finally beginning to resemble a thriving and innovative consumer goods market.”
Across all areas, close attention is being paid to look and feel. The creative and elegant branding on offer today makes a welcome change from the clinical feel of products in the past. Gone are the days of skulking to the back of the shop – women’s health products are now displayed proudly at storefronts, with brightly-coloured and eye-catching displays. In short, the space is finally beginning to resemble a thriving and innovative consumer goods market.
As a result, funding is being funneled into the femtech space. According to data from Crunchbase, investors gave out just over $1bn to US women’s health technology startups in 2020, up from $625m in 2019. Staggeringly, this is predicted to grow to more than $25bn by 2025. One standout funding round is from Elvie, which secured $42m in Series B from IPGL last year – the largest-ever raise for a female-founded femtech startup.
Big players have also started paying attention. In February 2019, consumer goods giant P&G acquired the organic and sustainable tampon brand, This is L, for an estimated $100m. In retail, Primark has released its own range of “period pants”, which start at £6 – offering alternative personal care options to the masses at accessible prices. Moves like this are lifting the taboo in the industry and proving once and for all that women’s health is not a ‘niche’ issue.
Today, all eyes are on the menopause space. According to a 2020 report released by Female Founders Fund, about a billion women worldwide are expected to be in menopause by 2025 – representing a $600bn spending opportunity for businesses to tap into, and a market more than twenty times larger than the vegan space. Until now, it has been largely ignored: since 2009, only $254m has been raised by global startups focused on menopause, and only 5% of global advertising spend is targeted at menopause-aged women.
“The menopause arena represents a $600bn spending opportunity for businesses to tap into, and a market more than twenty times larger than the vegan space.”
Excitingly, all this is changing. As stigma lifts and more open conversations take place, brands and businesses are emerging targeted specifically at those dealing with the menopause. While brands such as Emepelle, SeeMe Beauty, Caire, and LaMaria are largely offered directly to consumers at premium price points, disrupter brands like Womanness are offering menopausal products to the mass market. The company launched in Target in March of this year, providing affordable and accessible products for women ‘at the height of their career’.
Not only are we seeing more innovation, but also the emergence of the next generation of female entrepreneurs. Last year, for example, the Veuve Cliquot Bold Future Awards were dominated by leaders in femtech: Celia Poole won the Bold Future award for Dame (sustainable tampons), and Michelle Kennedy was shortlisted for Peanut, an app for new mums feeling isolated.
Femcare and femtech is no longer hidden in shame at the back of the shop, instead it is front and centre, creatively servicing half of the world’s population – and proving to be a mouth-watering investment opportunity at that. As conversations continue to open up, stigma is lifted, and more women secure senior roles around the R&D table, we can only expect the femtech space to grow and breed more innovation. Certainly, the future looks bright – which femtech innovations have caught your eye?