In an absolute inspiring interview, Claudette and Fanny, designated as a Forbes 30 Under 30 French innovator, are giving some precious advices regarding the launching of FEMPO, the menstrual panties. As as matter of point, what values lean behind their business and how they have managed to first and foremost bring a taboo issue on the table, regardless of any critics and jugements.
Claudette and Fanny meet ten years ago in Vancouver, where they are roommates before becoming business partners! Fanny comes from an Algerian family living in Vénissieux (Lyon) and Claudette is from Haiti but she grows up in Montreal. In 2016, a few years later after this encounter, they meet again when Claudette decides to come to France to resume her studies. From that point, they decide to leave behind everything. Without money, without a plan B and even without a parachute, they commit a 100% on FEMPO. As they state it boldly:
” We had no choice but to succeed.”
TCT: What’s the story behind FEMPO? Why did you create it?
F.: 2-3 months after Claudette’s arrival in France, we started to chat. We quickly realized that we had the same values, the same ambitions and the same culture … We had to build up something together! At that time, Fanny was working as a freelance and she was questioning herself. After working for big companies such as Bouygues Telecom, in an agency, she wanted to develop a project that made sense, that she digs it! Both coming from modest backgrounds, we were sensitive to women’s health and to inequalities and there was more and more media noise in France around women’s health. There has been a real awareness in France and in Europe.
The subjects of menstruations and hygienic protections were completely taboo! We don’t say anything and we don’t know anything. Claudette was already using an alternative to tampons, the menstrual cup for ten years but in France, it had just started. We both liked the subject, so we got started. The question was directly to the people concerned, the women. We launched a survey on Facebook groups with questions like “What products do you use during your period?”, “Are you satisfied with your hygienic protections?”, “If you are dissatisfied, tell us why”
After 48-72h, we already had 3000 responses and 600 emails from women who wanted to follow our adventure. And 7 out of 10 women told us that they had a problem and were dissatisfied with their current hygienic protections and that these were “uncomfortable”. They were afraid for their health but also for the planet because they generated a maximum of waste every month but they had no choice.
When FEMPO was created in 2017, there were no such panties in France and in Europe. We started with 240 euros, a sewing machine and access to sewing tutorials on YouTube. The prototypes were co-created with the help of thousands of female testers in France who gave us feedback over the phone on the effectiveness of different combinations of fabrics.
We have established a unique and regular contact with our testers in France using telephone or face-to-face discussions to constantly improve the product and ultimately offer to our customers pants that exactly meet their needs. Several prototypes have emerged and the perfect panties were finally released in March 2018.
TCT: How would you describe your business?
F.: FEMPO is the contraction of the woman and the power but it also comes from FOMPO in Haitian, which designates a woman at the center of the community and it is this image that we have of women and that we want to transmit. The image of a woman who manages, who finds solutions, who searches for what she needs. Even if she doesn’t have all the cards in hand, she plays with what she has and she wins! Our culture is “focus on excellence”, all the members of our team are determined! We repeat to our team that they must feel free to make mistakes, the idea is to understand and improve, to compare to ourselves and not with others, our competitors in particular.
“We do not watch what others do, our only goal is to improve ourselves every day and according to what women users want and their expectations.“
We explain in detail all the components of FEMPO products because our approach is part of an informed consumption perspective for women in general. We are fervent believers in the power of individual action, our vision of feminism is anchored in a deeply action-oriented approach. We want to do rather than describe or stay in the observation. We believe that empowering women is about understanding their bodies.
TCT: Why are the FEMPO panties “THE PANTIES FROM SPACE”?
F.: FEMPO is a fabric panty, washable and ultra-thin which completely replaces your hygienic protections for 12 hours on average, but FEMPO is also a state of mind. It’s more than a product, it’s a real movement. We want to change the rules and change the game in the lives of women, every day. We want to give women the choice in their hygienic protection and that this moment of the cycle becomes a moment to take care of themselves.
TCT: Recurring but essential question! Could you tell us what this one is made of?
F.: The interior of the FEMPO panty is made up of 3 different fabrics:
– The lining is 100% cotton (in contact with the skin and mucous membranes) it is suction: it allows the blood not to stay in contact with the skin, which avoids any feeling of humidity.
– The absorbent part is made of bamboo which absorbs the flows. We chose bamboo for its hyper-absorbent, naturally antibacterial and anti-odor properties.
– The third fabric is waterproof and breathable. It retains blood and above all, it prevents leaks! It is made of polyester and PUL, no additional toxic treatment unlike other brands of menstrual pants!
The whole is wrapped in a beautiful Italian Lycra ™ exterior! Our textiles are OEKO-TEX® certified | STANDARD 100 (the same as for infants).
TCT: In addition to ethical manufacturing, your commitment lies in proposing a range of sizes for each woman. Are you facing design and manufacturing challenges?
F.: We embarked on this adventure with a size grid ranging from 34 to 48. Two years after our launch, we will finally launch sizes 50 and 52 at the request of our community. Since the outset of FEMPO, we want a product suitable for all women and for that, it took us months of work and research. We created a specific pattern, we selected suitable materials, and above all we organized a workshop-meeting with 10 women, 10 different morphologies. They tried our panties, wore them every day, gave us their feedbacks and that’s how we succeeded in offering crazy panties, really adapted to women and their bodies.
TCT: Where are FEMPO panties created?
F.: We have selected our production workshops in Portugal, Turkey and Tunisia and our raw materials come from France and Italy. What matters to us is having partners who support our project, who believe in us even if we are a young company, and who want to take up the challenge by our side! Know-how and working conditions are essential elements for us and define our choice of collaboration.
TCT: Angelina took a few courses on Live Mentor and was lucky to have your example as a case study. Do you have any tips to share on how you started your business?
F.: If we have any advice to give, it’s to stop making extended to do lists and not do half. With Fanny, we are followers of the “small steps” method. Every day, you do something, but for real! Every day, you take concrete actions that will really move your business forward.
“Another tip that we can give and that we apply from the start, always stay close to your community: it inspires you, gives you energy!”
TCT: You are very good at Google SEO. Do you think this is the key to your success today? Does the blog contribute to this success too?
F.: We were lucky to have a lot of press coverage from the start since the product is innovative! Some media like Madmoizelle spotted us very quickly and that helped us a lot in terms of community, visibility. We were also a finalist in Madame Figaro’s Business With Attitude competition in December 2018, it was a great springboard for the rest! The blog has never been part of our SEO strategy but we have always been willing to answer questions that the community asked us on our networks or through telephone interviews and therefore, we developed our blog 🙂
TCT: What advice would you give to someone who wants to start their own business?
F.: With Fanny, we have never compared ourselves to others, we go where we want to go. We made a product that met a real need among women. We continue to go hand in hand with our community and develop the products that girls want.
“For those who want to get started, follow the method of small steps as mentioned above (one day, one action) to reach the objectives set as quickly as possible. Get out of thinking and take action. Go to meet your customers, test the market and validate your product, your idea by the market.“
TCT: What do you think of the luck factor? (Myth or Reality) Is it essential to the success of a business?
F.: There is undoubtedly a little of both since one could say that it is a chance that we both met and that we had this desire to set up a common project. A project that resembles us. We had some cards in hand at first but after that it was up to us to play with.
“You make your own luck! Luck provokes, you have to go get it! Always be in action 🙂“
TCT: Finally, how do you think women can be accepted and respected as leaders today?
F.: We are not trying to be accepted. With Fanny, we have always made our way, without comparing ourselves to others. We do not want to go into a framework, we are rather in the search for individual autonomy!
“The woman who inspires us the most is Rihanna and her determination as a Business Woman. Nothing and no one can stop her!“
Interview by Angelina Medar