New Zealand brand Confitex is helping to bring fashionable and sexy incontinence underwear into the mainstream by fighting to end the stigma associated with this condition, which may be more common than you think…
A year-old brand based in New Zealand it turning on its head the notion of how incontinence underwear and lingerie should look and make people feel.
Incontinence is a silent epidemic. The condition affects one in three women and one in ten men, and is particularly common for women after childbirth and during menopause; and for men dealing with prostate health issues.
Until now, the main underwear options available have been disposable pads and nappies, which might be functional but are also uncomfortable, embarrassing, unsightly, and environmentally unsound. The plastics used in them can take 500 years to degrade and they make up to 15% of all landfill waste.
Enter Dr Mark Davey, the founder and CEO of Confitex, who is helping to bring fashionable and sexy incontinence underwear into the mainstream by fighting to end the stigma associated with this common condition.
Dr Davey and his business partner Frantisek Riha-Scott are former Alpine ski racers who crossed over into the lingerie industry in 2012.
They initially started developing absorbent underwear for racers, marathon runners, cyclists and the like, after becoming familiar with the distress these sportsmen and women experienced when nature calls.
“What we identified was a significant gap in the underwear market for performance wear. There’s been a lot of innovation in the performance space with outer garments, but very little in underwear,” Dr Davey explains.
Before too long, family and friends were having their say in what the partners were doing, and they suddenly became aware of the issue of light bladder leakage (LBL), and a wider market for their products.
“The reason for their interest, it emerged, was because several of them experience bladder control problems. Surprisingly, they opened up and complained to us about what was wrong with the current products on the market and what they thought the perfect product would look like and feel like,” Davey reflects.
In 2013, Davey and Riha-Scott set out to create a range of luxury designer, washable underwear that is highly functional and gives wearers confidence.
How does it work?
Over two years, Confitex developed a patented underwear technology that rests on three layers.
“The first layer wicks the moisture away from the skin and keeps you dry, which is really critical because it prevents skin irritation associated with that; the middle layer is the absorbent layer, which holds onto the moisture; and the outer layer is waterproof, breathable and stretchable,” explains Davey.
The underwear is textile based, so it doesn’t contain plastics or harmful chemicals, and can be washed again and again.
The women’s range includes a full brief, hipster and boy short featuring crochet lace on the hips and a full brief and hipster developed using stretchable fabric made from bamboo fibre. All styles are available in light and moderate absorbency and come in black, white and blue.
Confitex’s men’s range features a short brief and two long-leg briefs available with or without a fly. These styles are available in black and grey.
Fighting the stigma
In a world’s first, Confitex showcased its designer incontinence lingerie on the runway at New Zealand Fashion Week in August 2015 and received rave reviews from talent scouts, the media and health professionals alike.
The brand is now stocked in stores across Australia and New Zealand, and is in talks with a number of premium online retailers in the UK and US.
But Davey admits that Confitex still has a long way to go in convincing global, physical retailers to buy into the product.
“We would like to see ourselves in department stores and the like, but it needs a change in mindset and a change in attitude to make that happen,” he says.
“We’re are in early stages, so I think that once the stigma starts to erode I hope that some of the leading retailers in this market will see the opportunity to expand their product offering to the consumer and also recognise that some of their customers will be looking for products like ours.
Just because they haven’t existed prior to this, doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t exist next week, or
A more pressing challenge for Confitex, however, is encouraging people with incontinence to open up about their condition. Nearly three quarters (70%) of people affected by incontinence won’t discuss the matter, not even with their GP.
“It’s a huge challenge because of the stigma associated with it – it’s a taboo market. It’s about testing and building awareness that the product exists, that the issue is mainstream and that it’s no longer a scary thing to talk about,” he explains.
“It’s very similar to menstruation or erectile dysfunction, which have been taboos, but in the last three decades have been normalised and become acceptable to talk about. Incontinence hasn’t yet been normalised, but I think we are part of the change that is starting to occur,” he enthuses.
“It is just like any other medical issue and there should be no reason why people should be held back from living their life to the full just because they have a bladder issue.
“Essentially, what we are creating is a new category and so a big part of what we are doing is actually educating and informing people about how the underwear works. It’s fun though and it’s really exciting because those early adopters of the product are now real champions for it.”
Contrary to popular belief, incontinence is a common condition among men and women everywhere
• One in three women and one in 10 men experience bladder control problems
• As many people who are younger than 65 are affected by incontinence as those aged over 65
• The number of people living with incontinence globally is between 340 million and 520 million
• This number is rising at 6% to 7% per year
• Around 40% of adult women in the UK experience incontinence – 33% of whom are affected by it in the first six weeks after giving birth
• 70% of people affected by incontinence won’t discuss the matter, not even with their GP