Black women are known for being the ultimate problem-solvers. That could explain part of the reason why they are leading the charge in entrepreneurship. After one too many leak malfunctions with feminine hygiene products during “that time of the month,” Crystal Etienne, founder and CEO of PantyProp, decided that enough was enough and she began to design leak-proof undergarments. And over the last two and a half years, she has grown her company with her patented technology and collection of what she has coined as “health leisure” wear on her online store.
“When I came up with the idea, it was really out of frustration. I was lying on my bed watching Wendy Williams, and I was so frustrated with my sanitary pad sticking out. I thought, in this day and age, I couldn’t understand why it’s still like that. I am not the biggest innovation person, and I do everything so old school, but that moment I thought, ‘If I can send my sister an immediate message across the States, there’s no reason that my sanitary napkin should be sticking out!” says Etienne.
And from that moment, she was determined to find a solution to help women feel less uncomfortable and embarrassed during periods of menstruation and for those who struggle with incontinence. So, she began to do her research.
“When I first started, I went to the Garment District with an idea that I had and found someone that could create the pattern. And I sat there with him for two weeks straight going over the designs with him,” says Etienne.
Over the course of six months, she made countless cold calls to designers and would show up at factories that could help her bring her product to life. And she soon realized that she would have to shift the concept of her product to be more competitive and solve more problems.
“When we first launched, PantyProp products weren’t leak-proof. It was designed to keep a sanitary pad in place. So now everything is built around the gusset (the insert) that is in all of the products.” The gusset that Etienne is referring to is the technology that sets PantyProp apart. The built-in organic cotton gusset collects fluids and helps to prevent front, back, or side leaks and stains.
“Everyone thinks that garments are the products, but it’s really the gusset. And the patent for our gusset can be sold to other companies. I’ve always known that I wanted the gusset as a product to make life easy. So I started with underwear because it is was an easier way to start,” says Etienne.
But she says that the journey wasn’t easy. “I have learned a lot from growing a business. One day you can be on top and the next day you can feel like you haven’t accomplished anything. And I’ve come to realize that’s normal.” While her product is practical, she says that she had to get people to believe in the product and take it seriously.
With a growth mindset and a sensible product Etienne decided to expand her leak-proof collection, which is sold online, in March 2016 to include health leisure clothing like swimwear, lounge wear, and men’s underwear. And now, PantyProp sleepwear and swimwear is sold in Macy’s stores in Las Vegas.
The company also has a strong focus on providing essential products for teen girls. As a mother who has raised her daughter to be confident and self-aware, Etienne is passionate about helping other women foster that relationship with their daughters and provide that support to them during puberty.
“My main concern after learning more about my industry and business was young girls. Because they need alternatives to inserting foreign objects into their bodies, which causes a lot of problems. A lot of those insertable feminine products can cause infertility, uterine abrasions, and there are people with special needs who can’t even use those products.”
And that is why she sees PantyProp as an extension of a health company.
Culturally speaking, some mothers give very little direction about what young girls need to do to maintain their menstrual cycles and hygiene. And Etienne seeks to change that with PantyProp and the First Period Kit for teens that mothers can purchase and personalize for their daughters. The kit includes a plethora of items every girl should have as they maintain their hygiene.
As Etienne seeks to further grow and expand her business through fundraising, she has this advice to offer to others: “Just keep going even though it’s a big ego killer. You have to keep learning and focus on what you’re doing.”
And for those who will not be at the Entrepreneurs Summit to hear her speak about the ebbs and flows of growing a successful business, here are her three growth-hacking tips:
- Be your own customer. – You can’t know what they want unless you are your own customer.
- Be there when your customers need you. – When I first started, I would stay up all night focusing on customer service because I wanted to answer people’s questions right away. It’s frustrating when customers have to wait for a company to respond.
- Spend wisely. – When you make those first couple of sales, don’t blow your money.