SheFly takes flight in women’s clothing world
MIDDLEBURY — A business born of the ingenuity of three young women from Middlebury College is hitting the fast track. The co-founders of SheFly Apparel are embarking on a big fundraising push and have forged a partnership with a factory that will begin producing their unique line of outdoor recreation pants for women within a few months.
SheFly is the brainchild of Georgia Grace Edwards, Bianca Gonzalez and Charlotte Massey. They’ve developed a line of attractive outdoor pants for women that feature a special zipper allowing the wearer to comfortably, safely and easily relieve herself outside in a remote location, without exposing her skin to the elements or other people.
Something men have been able to do since pants were first created (for men in mind).
“The problem is not our anatomy; the problem is our pants,” Edwards states through promotional material on the product’s website, sheflyapparel.com.
“And that’s where SheFly comes in.”
Edwards partnered with her student colleagues last year to develop the concept of a pants line that could allow active outdoorswomen to answer the call of nature in the wilderness without having to virtually disrobe. They came up with a zipper that went all the way around, from front to back. They have a patent pending on their SheFly zipper technology.
In the meantime, they’ve been refining their product, creating prototypes that they, and others, have been putting through the paces during rigorous hiking, mountaineering and rock climbing expeditions. They’ve done a lot of the legwork in their dorm rooms, the old Stone Mill building in downtown Middlebury, and at the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies.
“We’ve probably gone through 40 prototypes to this point, iterating and reiterating to find a design that works the best,” Massey said during a Dec. 6 interview. “We call them our ‘ex-pee-ditions.’ I took a couple of pairs out for weeklong trips on glaciers in the North Cascades in Washington, and we send them out with people on ski trips, hiking trips, rock climbing.”
The pants have consistently passed the test and are now almost ready for the masses.
“You can’t feel the zipper, even sliding down a rock or glacier,” Massey said. “You stay dry, you stay comfortable and you stay warm.”
Here’s the latest SheFly news:
• They’ll be featured in February on the iFundWomen crowdfunding platform. The online platform provides much-needed startup capital and advice for new businesses started by women.
Pricing for pants during the crowdfunding campaign will range from $85-$125 based on how early people order; customers can sign up on SheFly’s pre-order website page to lock in lower prices, according to Massey.
• They’ve partnering with a factory that will make SheFly products and soon allow the company to fill the more than 200 pre-orders for its pants. Pre-orders — which require no payment but simply put the customer in line to receive the pants at a discounted rate when they are ready — are currently being accepted on sheflyapparel.com.
“We’ll be working with the factory in the next few weeks to make the first pair of pants — made by them, specifically for us — and then we’ll test them, make sure they’re perfect … and then we’ll be ready for production,” Massey said.
Massey is confident customers will get their pre-orders filled in more than enough time for the upcoming hiking season.
The factory, owned and operated by the Visible Clothing company, is located in Dharamsala, India. It’s a Fairtrade-certified enterprise that prides itself on providing superior working conditions and wages for its employees, according to Massey.
Visible wants its factory to generate zero waste, and SheFly will be a beneficiary of that environmental ethos. Massey explained SheFly pants will be made, at least initially, from spare fabric left over from Visible’s manufacturing process.
“We don’t need to get any new fabric manufactured just for is,” Massey said. “In that way we are not creating any new waste in creating our pants. We’re just taking existing fabric and putting it to use.”
The fabric used will be water-resistant, comfortable and synthetic with two-way stretch capability.
SheFly officials are also looking at making a climbing pant made out of a natural fabric, and are exploring a partnership with a company that can make fabric out of thread made from recycled plastic bottles.
“We know there’s an environmental impact whenever you have to manufacture artificial fabrics,” Massey said.
Size availability will in the beginning be somewhat limited, but that will change, Massey promised.
“We hope in the future to be able to offer specialty sizes,” Massey said, “because a huge problem in the outdoor apparel industry is that sizes of pants are made for people who fit into the ‘norm.’ Petite women can’t find any outdoor pants that fit them. And you need a specialty pant in order to rock climb or mountaineer. So they are often left unable to find the pants they need. So we want to be able to fill that gap in the market, as well as offer plus sizes for people who don’t fit into the typical pant sizes but who still want to spend time outside.”
The launch will involve SheFly pants in two colors: a black, discreet model for people simply looking for the “stealth pee” capability, and a more colorful version with a zipper that can either be hidden or visible.
But Massey stressed SheFly will be about more than pants. The three business partners are developing a line of underwear to work in concert with the pants. Still, the zipper function of the pants works fine with any stretchy bikini-type underwear, Massey said.
Looking to next fall, the SheFly founders plan to launch a selection of “Long Jane” long underwear that will also function with the SheFly pants.
Sarah Kearns is a business advisor with the Vermont Small Business Development Center. She has given the SheFly founders some good advice on how to bring their idea from the drawing board to prototype.
“I met these amazing women in February, and connected with them,” said Kearns, whose specialty is working with young entrepreneurs throughout the state. “They have tons of energy and they have great ideas. These three saw a problem, a need in the marketplace and they are solving it. Those are the seeds of a successful business.”
Massey thanked Kearns for her help.
“Sarah has been incredibly helpful to us,” she said, praising her in particular for “unfiltered and true” advice.
“She’s someone who’s always willing to listen and serve as a sounding board, and we’re grateful for that.”
SheFly officials are also grateful for the testimonials they’ve been receiving from other women who have tried out their pants prototypes.
“We have people email us just about every day with stories about why they need these pants,” Massey said.
Those who have tried the prototypes have been effusive in their praise, according to Massey.
“One woman said, ‘It felt like I had a superpower,’” Massey said with a smile.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]