START-UPS are hard at the best of times, but launching a product riddled with taboos is even more of a challenge.
And when that product is aimed at tackling “embarrassing” female bodily functions – which probably terrifies some men, who are usually bank managers or investors and vital for funding a business – the difficulty score goes off the chart.
Yet despite all those issues former TV presenter-turned-entrepreneur Carol Smillie launched her DiaryDoll business and is now taking her period pants global.
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Initially Smillie, pictured above, though the product would be the biggest challenge. She says nobody had ever thought of putting a super soft waterproof panel in knickers before, even although it seemed a blindingly obvious and simple solution to a worldwide problem.
But the biggest challenge was people’s attitudes to any “women’s plumbing” issues.
“We seem very open as a society when it comes to discussing things like breast cancer, childbirth, even rape, but leaking? We’re still very awkward about that,” she says. “It’s really interesting how people are affected by those around them when it comes to attitudes to women’s continence or menstrual issues.”
Smillie says men fall into two categories; those who have been brought up with sisters, or have daughters, or a wife/partner who suffers and totally “get it”. Then there are those who become incredibly awkward as soon as the female anatomy is discussed in detail, and can’t get away fast enough.
“It’s a long slow road, and we are getting better at discussing these things, but education is key.
“We must include boys in the sex ed programme surrounding the topic of periods for them to understand it’s completely normal,” insists Smillie. “We also need to scrap the so-called ‘Tampon Tax’ as other countries have already done. It sends a huge signal and normalises the topic.”
Has she broken the taboo? Smillie says she’s not sure if she has or if she’s just numbed to it now. In most businesses social media is a huge free selling tool, but not for DiaryDoll; younger women do not want to share and let others know they may have a problem, and older women do not use social media, so it’s very frustrating for her.
So Smillie uses social media to access journalists and authoritative organisations like Endometriosis UK, Crohns & Colitis UK and ACA (Association of Continence Advisors) who already have a database of women looking for help with their condition.
She says the business has been through some peaks and troughs, but is now in a good place.
“We’re in the process of changing the name to Pretty Clever Pants as it addresses a wider audience and better explains the product and we’re working with TV shopping channel High St TV to take it to a global audience, so I’m very excited about the possibilities.”