Pee Empowered: SheFly Brings Gender Equality to the Outdoors

By SARAH ASCH

COURTESY PHOTO
Members of the SheFly team hit the slopes. From left: Bianca Gonzalez ’18, Georgia Grace Edwards ’18 and Charlotte Massey ’19.

Peeing on an Alaskan glacier was so frustrating for Georgia Grace Edwards ’18 that 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, with all of their products made from recycled materials.

Their solution is so good, they recently flew out to the Bay Area to pitch at the Movers and Makers Pitchfest hosted by Title Nine, a women’s activewear company looking to invest in female-owned startups. SheFly was among nine companies out of hundreds that were invited to compete in the event and Massey said they gained valuable mentorship connections. 

The team also competed in the Central Vermont Road Pitch competition in late July. The event was 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 Oct.

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.”

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. Currently patent pending for their design, several other students — Allyson Stevens ’19, Gabby Davis ’19 and Alexis Hughes ’18.5 have joined the company. The team also recently began working with a student PR team through an experiential learning class at Emerson College in Boston to form marketing and advertising strategies. 

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.” 

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Pee Empowered: SheFly Brings Gender Equality to the Outdoors