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Jessica Owen looks at what is available in terms of materials and clothing for women going through the menopause.
The menopause is a natural part of ageing for women that usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55 as a woman’s oestrogen levels decline. Common symptoms of the menopause include hot flushes, night sweats, difficulty sleeping, low mood and anxiety, and the experience usually lasts for an average of four years.
For many people, these symptoms can be very uncomfortable, so with this in mind, a few companies have recently launched an option that mitigates the effects of this inevitable process.
“Menopausal hot flushes are not like the perspiration that comes with exercise,” explains Jane Hallam, founder and director of Esteem, No Pause.
“It’s sudden, there’s a large volume of perspiration and this is accompanied by intense heat from the body and you don’t know when it’s going to happen. As a consequence, whatever you’re wearing becomes drenched, and if you have night sweats so does your bedding, and subsequently you can’t sleep.”
Louise Nicholson, founder of Fifty One Apparel, talks of similar experiences that her friends have gone through: “I went to Iceland and it was about -3°C and my friend was taking off layers while everyone else was piling them on.
“Then about 12 months later I was listening to an item on Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4. A man was talking about his wife’s experience with the menopause and how he wished he could do something to help her.”
After doing some research into menopausal clothing, both women found that options were limited. Nicholson only discovered overly expensive polyester nightdresses available in the US that looked cheap and uncomfortable, while Hallam came across Victorian-style nighties that wouldn’t be able to deal with the excessive amounts of perspiration.
With this in mind, both women decided to address this huge gap in the market.
Esteem, No Pause is based in Manchester, UK. Hallam set up the brand in 2015 and began selling her clothing online in 2017.
“I wasn’t satisfied with my current job and I was also suffering from anxiety and my own debilitating menopausal night sweats,” she says. “I didn’t want to wear these old-fashioned options as I wasn’t about to start dressing like a granny at 48 – my wardrobe is full of Agent Provocateur.
“I was aware of sweat-wicking fabrics because I played a lot of tennis, so I knew the fabric technology had to be out there. So, I left my job and I contacted a friend of mine who put me in touch with a pattern cutter and lecturer in Stoke-on-Trent. We looked at sweat-wicking fabrics and I then did a lot of research into athleisurewear.”
After trying on many types of clothes and fabrics to find what she wanted, Hallam settled on using the Sensitive range of fabrics from the Italian company Eurojersey. The fabric is composed of a honeycomb structure so there is more space for the air to circulate, while the material also has strong wicking properties. It’s also quick drying and great for issues other than the menopause such as thyroid problems.
The products are currently manufactured in either Portugal or the UK, and product-wise, Esteem, No Pause offers vests, knickers, slip dresses, palazzo pants, T-shirt dresses and more, and these products can be used as either daywear or nightwear.
“Our clothing is very flexible,” says Hallam. “The palazzo pants can be used for yoga and for lounging around and the T-shirts are quite flattering, especially for ladies who have ‘bingo wings’.”
The brand now also offers a ‘curve’ range aimed at women of a larger size who may sweat quite a lot because of their shape. Esteem, No Pause has also designed a male T-shirt after speaking with a man who has breast cancer and suffers from excessive sweating due to his medication.
The plan now for Esteem, No Pause is to introduce a larger male range and to expand the designs for women.
Nicholson set up Fifty One Apparel at a similar time, back in March 2018. She has a textiles degree including business and languages, is passionate about fabrics, and has a fabrics business, so she had some expertise to get her started with this new venture.
While listening to that story on Woman’s Hour, she was driving back from a meeting to discuss a menswear product and she had some fabric in the back of the car that she thought would be perfect for alleviating the symptoms of the menopause, as the fabric interprets the body’s heat as the body temperature rises, before any perspiration starts. So, she did some initial research, sketched some designs and then asked someone to make some mock-ups for her.
“I organised some focus groups and everybody said they loved the garments and that the fabric definitely helped,” she explains.
“One woman bought the range there and then and told me that this was such an important message, and it’s just grown from there.”
Nicholson now has three collections – daywear, nightwear and loungewear whereby all pieces are designed to be multifunctional in both style and colour. Products include a range of tops, shorts, trousers and leggings and, unlike Esteem, No Pause, Fifty One Apparel’s garments are made using cellulosic fibres such as cotton and modal.
The brand uses an encapsulation process to achieve the required characteristics. Using a phase change material, the fabric interprets the heat from the body and stores it in the fabric, ready to be released when the body cools down. This thermoregulation property helps alleviate the symptoms of the menopause, although she stresses it is not a medical cure.
“I once knew a woman who would wake up around six times during the night with sweats and since she has worn my clothing, she now wakes up maybe twice maximum,” she says.
The products are currently made in Europe, but Nicholson is looking at Sri Lanka too as that may bring costs down. Price is an important aspect, so the management of costs is critical as the technology is expensive, but the price point equally needs to be accessible as the menopause does not discriminate by the size of your purse. Additionally, she is looking at increasing the range for spring and autumn and is working on intellectual property to expand the range into the US.
Just like Hallam, she says: “There has also been some interest from the male market, so that could be quite interesting to look into.”
Considering that half of the world’s population will experience the menopause later in life, it is surprising that Esteem, No Pause and Fifty One Apparel are one of very few companies to recognise this market potential, not only from a business point of view, but also from a personal point of view as well.
As previously mentioned, there are other companies in this area but what they offer isn’t affordable and the designs are old-fashioned. Cucumber Clothing and Become are two other well-known names in this space, but these are the only few companies that can be found from a Google search.
Nicholson suggests the reason for this might be that although there is a large market potential, it is still a niche product, so for some people it is too particular a subject to get involved with.
Hallam also touches on the point that the menopause is still very much a taboo subject. “The only other companies around have been set up by women who are solving their own problems or have been present to witness someone else’s symptoms,” she says.
“It’s also difficult to pitch a start-up business addressing this issue to people who haven’t experienced the menopause as they don’t quite understand the problem.”
However, the menopause is something that is becoming more widely discussed, at least in the UK. The BBC created a Menopause Week last year to highlight the issue, and celebrities such as Ulrika Johnson, Meg Matthews and Gwyneth Paltrow have opened up about their experiences. So, maybe we will start to see this market become better established in years to come.
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