The bare-naked truth: how product innovation can help smash taboos
08 April 2019
Femtech firm Elvie, a company backed by Octopus Ventures, recently hit headlines with its daring social media campaign to #freethefeed. It’s just part of the company’s determination to use femtech to innovate, empower and break down some of society’s taboos.
Sometimes the best way to make a highlight a serious issue is to do something big bold and brave. Anyone who saw the five giant inflatable breasts dominating views across different parts of London last month will have got the message loud and clear. Women’s breasts shouldn’t be considered shameful or something to be hidden. And thanks to femtech company Elvie, women now have more of a choice as to how they carry out this natural part of everyday life.
Leading by example
Elvie is heading a new generation of high tech, high-end consumer hardware manufacturing startups in the UK and Europe. Its first product, a pelvic floor trainer with the aesthetic magnetism of any Apple product, has been a sell-out. Now its second product, a silent, wearable breast-pump, is taking a similar path, following its high profile launch at London Fashion Week in September 2018.
Bringing women’s technology out of the dark ages
Femtech is the umbrella-term to describe apps, services, and devices that use technology to improve women’s health, life standard and well-being. It applies to various types of software, diagnostics, products and services that focus on meeting women’s needs and solving their problems.
As Octopus Ventures investment director Simon King explains: “For decades, healthcare products were designed with little attention paid to the physiological needs of women. Only recently has a sector emerged that tackles the problem – and the opportunity – in a way that’s not only innovative but is driving tech hardware forward in a similar fashion to stellar brands like Apple and Tesla.”
Simon explains how Octopus Ventures first heard about Elvie: “We met Elvie’s CEO Tania Boler, and co-founder Alexander Asseily, in 2015, and we made our first investment in Elvie in 2016. By this time, the team had shown that they could deliver beautiful products from design, through mass manufacture, to sales with their first product (Elvie Trainer) and they had already conceived a second product (Elvie Pump). Tania’s vision for the company – to produce a suite of beautiful and usable tech products focused on women’s health – identified a gap in the market. This was the kind of vision that, with hindsight, seems so obvious following the current macrotrend in female empowerment.”
Elvie co-founder and CEO Tania Boler.
The best breast pump ever?
Elvie has completely redesigned what a breast pump could look like. Theirs is a truly silent, wearable pump that fits discreetly into a standard nursing bra. There are no cords, no wardrobe changes, no fuss and instead connects to a free smartphone app with smart features. The app automatically monitors milk flow and tracks pumping sessions for each breast. It also gives women the option to control the pump from their phones, avoiding the need to fiddle with buttons on the pump inside their bra.
For Mother’s Day in March, Elvie decided to take a bold approach to the taboo subject of breastfeeding in public. Amy Barber, Elvie’s Global PR and Influencer Manager, explained the thinking behind the campaign, developed in collaboration with creative agency Mother. “Almost half (45%) of UK mothers say that everyday life situations, such as office meetings, prevent them from breastfeeding or pumping milk. We wanted our campaign to empower women to feel safe and comfortable breastfeeding or pumping anytime, anywhere, and encourage the British public to support them.”
“We created five ‘boobs’, each varying in size, with the smallest standing at three metres and the largest at six metres tall. They were designed to represent a diverse range of women and we positioned each one at key locations around the city, including Shoreditch, Village Underground, Colombia Road, Ely’s Yard and Huntington Estate in east London.”
Tania Boler added: “The UK has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in Europe. Our campaign is an invitation to everyone to stand with all those women that have felt shamed or confined when breastfeeding or pumping. We know the giant boobs will raise a few eyebrows, but we want to make sure no one overlooks the way that this stigma has been used to repress women.”
Elvie recently underwent a record-breaking round of Series B fundraising, raising $42 million from investors including Octopus, in what is the largest femtech investment to date. As Simon remarked: “Elvie’s pioneering technology places femtech at the forefront of women’s health and wellness. We’re proud to be investing in a company successfully helping women take back control over their bodies and lives.”