After giving birth to her daughter, Crystal Etienne started experiencing light bladder leakage. She was only in her twenties. "I realized that I had no control over it, which was a very uncomfortable and embarrassing feeling, especially since I thought I was too young to experience bladder leaks."
Then in her thirties, Etienne's menstrual cycle became irregular. "My flow was very heavy, making it uncomfortable to wear tampons, so I used pads. However, I had several bad experiences with leaking, shifting, and chafing pads. I was so angry at hygiene companies for making such terrible products and angry at myself for continuing to use them."
Etienne's frustration led her to create PantyProp, which produces underwear and swimwear with leak-proof protection against menstruation and incontinence. Since launching her company less than a year ago, Etienne has seen her revenues grow by 400 percent, and sales are in the millions. Etienne sat down with Project Entrepreneur to discuss why putting customers first is the only motivation (and marketing) she needs.
Project Entrepreneur: What inspired you to start your business?
Crystal Etienne: One day, I literally had one of those "Aha! moments." After being sick and tired of being sick of tired of dealing with life's pesky leaks, I created a hygiene fashion brand to encompass every lifestyle need for people who experience incontinence and menstruation.
I understand that hygiene isn't "one size fits all," so I created [different types of products]. I created period swimwear so that no one would feel feel isolated at the beach or pool because their period showed up on vacation. I created leak-proof sleep shorts so that no one (including men) would have to worry about waking up to a leak. And I also created leak-proof underwear for people who experience incontinence and heavy menstruation, as well as women and girls with special needs who cannot use tampons.
What's been the biggest challenge you've faced so far?
Being part of a new and growing market, educating the consumer has definitely been a challenge. Most people are only aware of the traditional feminine hygiene products that have failed us for so many years--we accept their shortcomings and complain silently amongst ourselves.
Brands are always discussing fitness, wellness, and good eating, but no brands have ever addressed good feminine hygiene. That was another one of our biggest challenges. I've always discussed the importance of maintaining good hygiene with my daughter, and at PantyProp, we we have created products and a social system around our product that has made it very comfortable for a mother to start that conversation early with her daughter and openly engage around hygiene and feminine care with products that are easy to explain and that one can feel comfortable talking about.
What's been the greatest reward?
Our biggest reward is receiving emails from moms of young girls saying our products made their daughters feel more comfortable--that their girls were able to go to swimming practice and not feel ashamed, or attend camp without feeling awkward. We often receive emails from women who who [tell us] their heavy periods [don't seem] so heavy [and difficult to manage after using our products]. Overall, our biggest reward is being able to say we [provide people with] piece of mind and confidence.
What is the biggest thing you'd like to see change in your industry, and how are you working to make that change happen?
We would love to see mainstream products that are more comfortable, failure-free, and definitely chemical-free; this is our ultimate end goal. By introducing our products into market, we have already started the demand for [comfortable, chemical-free products that actually work].
Who or what motivates you to keep going, even when things get tough?
The daily emails from consumers--knowing we are helping someone that has a problem [is my] biggest motivation. Sometimes we feel like nothing is right, and we want everything perfect, although perfection isn't a realistic expectation. [At PantyProp], we have realized we will never please everyone, but for the 98 out of 100 [customers] that are happy, that is more than enough [to motivate us and make us proud].
Can you provide a few updates on what's new with your business or what you've accomplished since you attended the PE Intensive in April 2017?
PantyProp has definitely been on the move up since April 2017. Our sales revenues have grown 400% from last year [to] in the millions--mostly from word of mouth marketing--and we are expecting to grow revenues four-fold this year. These are major accomplishments for a completely bootstrapped company that hasn't done any gimmicky advertising campaigns. We were also invited to launch at the Macy's Las Vegas Fashion Mall, and we will expand our men's leak-proof line of hygiene-wear (because men leak too!).
What's one piece of advice you'd give to another entrepreneur just starting out?
Remember it will never be perfect.
What do you do every Monday morning to prepare and motivate yourself for the coming week?
Mondays are insane. I am always motivated, but to prepare for the daily grind of the week, I get my thoughts and calendar organized. I am so busy all week--without a clear mind and good calendar reminders, I would never be able to be function at 100 percent.