Peeing on an Alaskan glacier was so frustrating for Georgia Grace Edwards ’18, she decided to start an outdoor clothing company.
“I was spending anywhere from eight to 12 hours a day on the ice,” she said. “I found myself having to trek across the glacier for privacy, completely remove three to four layers in freezing temperatures, do my thing, put it all back on, and hike back.”
It was enough of a hassle that Edwards, who was working as a glacier guide, began drinking less water on the job, as many women do in outdoor settings. She thought to herself: “There has to be a better way to do this.”
Several years and many hikes later, she developed a solution: SheFly Apparel, a company she founded alongside Bianca Gonzalez ’18 and Charlotte Massey ’19. SheFly designs outdoor pants with a zipper that runs along the crotch so women can relieve themselves without removing all their layers. SheFly is currently testing prototypes of thermal leggings, snow and hiking pants, and all of their products are made with recycled materials.
Their solution is so good, they recently convinced a biker gang to invest.
The team competed in the Central Vermont Road Pitch competition hosted by FreshTracks Capital, a group of bikers with entrepreneurial experience who ride around the state and listen to business ideas. SheFly took home the People’s and Rider’s Choice awards, which meant $1,250 in prize money. It was the first time Edwards had pitched the product to a group that was not SheFly’s target market.
“I got on stage and talked about pants women can pee out of to a crowd of 40 white, middle-aged male motorcyclists,” she said. “Even though this is not a product they will use, they were convinced of its necessity and importance.”
In addition to prize money, SheFly earned the opportunity to compete for a $5,000 prize in the Road Pitch state finals in October.
Dorm room beginnings
Before they won any awards or even had their own products to pitch, the SheFly team started small last winter, inserting zippers into their friends’ old hiking pants.
“Women have to go out of our way to avoid being exposed to other people, and even then, we still often have to deal with the cold, bug bites, and thickets of trees,” Gonzalez said. “I sat on Georgia Grace’s floor in LaForce for hours with her, tearing apart pants and modifying while our friends brought us food and encouragement.”
The pair presented their ideas to Middlebury Entrepreneurs, a Winter Term course designed to provide mentoring to fledgling companies and ideas. By the end of the term, they had won Vermont’s first SOUP Pitch Competition in Burlington, which gave them a couple hundred dollars to start designing their own products. It was around that time Massey joined the team. Since then, all three women have experienced the excitement that comes with launching a new business, as well as the learning curve that goes along with it.
“One of our biggest challenges is figuring out what order to complete steps in,” Massey said. “Should we start marketing before we get the design patented? How are we going to pay for all of the prototypes before running the Kickstarter?”
Despite the challenges, Massey said her favorite part is trying the “revolutionary” product out herself.
“I’ve been able to pee safely while roped up on glaciers, which I never thought possible,” she said. “It’s really empowering.”
Building the pee product of the future
The team has spent the summer laying the foundation for the company to grow. They have worked on securing patents, incorporating SheFly into an LLC, and completing orders for prototypes. They are currently preparing a Kickstarter campaign, which will launch their product and reach a wider audience.
In September, they will join other female-owned companies in the California Bay Area for another pitch competition hosted by Title Nine, a company that makes active wear for women. If they win, they will earn valuable mentorship and the chance to sell their pants through the Title Nine website.
For now, Edwards said it is satisfying enough to see her product become a reality.
“The most exciting part of SheFly has been watching my idea morph from an abstract idea in my head into a real-life product I can wear,” she said. “It excites me to imagine a world where one day, women don’t have to think twice about using the bathroom outside in group settings or cold environments, and I’m really proud that SheFly is playing a small role in helping to craft that future.”
Follow SheFly on Facebook and Instagram.