'Pantys has transformed women’s relationship with menstruation'

Leaders League Brazil interviewed Emily Ewell, CEO of Pantys, an innovative Brazilian femtech that specializes in absorbent underwear. She tells us about the main characteristics of the Brazilian market, the main environmental and social impact of Pantys, and what we can expect from the brand in the next 12 months.

Posted mardi, juin 6 2023
'Pantys has transformed women’s relationship with menstruation'

Pantys was founded in 2017 with the goal of improving the quality of women’s lives during their period and reducing  the environmental impact of disposable pads. What were the main challenges in developing the brand? 

We were the first player in this segment in not just Brazil but Latin America, so there was a huge responsibility to create a very good product. We knew that, for example, if the technology, the comfort of the garment, and even the beauty of the product were not perfect, the brand could fail. If people tried it and didn’t like it, they probably wouldn’t take the risk of trying another brand. We spent a lot of time designing and developing the product and made more than 50 changes to it during that process. We focused a lot on performance and comfort, as well as style, which I think is necessary for finding the right balance and creating a product that women want to use but one which also meets their needs and expectations as regards functionality. Aside from the launch, I think the biggest challenge we face as a company is actually breaking the taboo around menstrual products in the market and inspiring people to make this lifestyle change, which is not the same as buying a new pair of shoes or a skirt, because it involves a change in habits and even a shift in psychology, stepping out of your comfort zone and trying a new type of product. We constantly receive feedback, and often the first purchase is by customers inspired by the environmental impact of the product, but they come back because of the comfort. We see that it is a product that delivers more comfort and quality of life. This brings about a transformation in a woman’s relationship with menstruation, making them less uncomfortable, helping them sleep better, be more productive. Over 70% of those taking part in our survey mentioned that, while wearing Pantys they forgot they were menstruating, feeling like it was a "normal" day, and for me, that is a dream impact on a person’s life, making them feel so empowered that they feel like it's just a normal day. In addition to that, we had many production challenges. We sold out our entire stock in the first three weeks of the brand’s launch, and we had a few months of pre-sales, followed by our first pop-up store in just four months, so we had to have a lot of courage to bring a lot of complexity to the business so quickly, with the goal of creating awareness among people and having a strong brand and category launch. 

You have over 20 years’ experience in the health and consumer sector, having previously worked at renowned international companies such as Novartis and Johnson & Johnson before founding Pantys. How have these past experiences helped you in the conception of Pantys and in your first experience as an entrepreneur? And what, if any, peculiarities have you noticed about the Brazilian market? 

I have worked for many years in the healthcare industry, both in the pharmaceutical sector and in consumer, medical devices, and even NGOs, where I had the opportunity to gain experience in impact-related areas in various markets, with a focus mainly on diabetes.

Brazil has many peculiarities, and the biggest one I see in the menstrual product market is that 90% of women use external pads, while in the United States and Europe it’s the opposite, they use internal tampons. It’s really a cultural preference, but when we launched Pantys, I also observed that the market is very open to innovations.

Moreover, Brazil is one of the few countries that has the entire production chain for various industries and an abundance of raw materials, including in production and content creation. So this was a huge advantage for Pantys during the launch, and I still say this today ─ Brazil has an incredibly creative economy and a lot of potential for innovation, not only in the domestic market but also globally, and especially in the sustainable sector.

In Brazil, I think there is a perception that sustainability is a luxury, that conscious products are more expensive, but we are working to break that perception because we want to democratize our product, so besides being sustainable, it’s very important for us to have accessible products.

When we launched Sempre Livre, for example, it was the cheapest absorbent underwear on the global market, so we had a strong focus on not only having premium products but also having affordable ones that also bring savings to the consumers in the long run, given their durability. Brazil is a country that is sensitive to prices, so it’s something we talk about more and more, the savings that a person will have in the acquisition of the product. 

Innovation and sustainability are part of Pantys’ DNA. Can you tell us a bit about the main impact  your company has generated in these areas?

I have a different view of the market, very much aligned with the vision of the B Corp system. I strongly believe that no company is 100% sustainable, no product is 100% sustainable. Sustainability is a commitment to be transparent and continuously improve as a company in all aspects to reduce environmental impact and increase social impact. The role of companies in society is not just to generate financial value, but to generate value in all senses ─ financial, social, for their team, health, community ─ this is also deeply embedded in the vision of the B Corp system.

When we launched, our focus was on reducing the waste generated by disposable feminine hygiene products, and to this day we have prevented more than 700 million disposable products from going to waste. But we also have, since the launch, new environmental objectives, and for example, we were the first company in the fashion sector to conduct a complete carbon emission mapping and launch the first carbon label in the Brazilian market.

 We do a lot of carbon offsetting ─ last year, we offset 250 tons of carbon ─ but we also have plans for emission reduction, which is what I consider most important.

Also last year, we switched all the energy in our Sorocaba facility to renewable energy, solar energy, and we also switched all our fabrics to degradable fabrics with the technology from Rhodia, a Brazilian technology. So we really have many projects focused on sustainability.

On the social side, our main focus is reducing menstrual poverty and improving access. Our product brings much more comfort and quality of life, sustainability, but also cost savings. I always say, if you give someone a disposable pad, you give them access for a month, but if you give them Pantys, you give them access for years. So that’s our big goal.

Last year, we donated over 300,000 Brazilian reais worth of underwear, so it was a huge effort on our part, considering the size of our company, to reach as many people as possible. Most of our projects are in villages in the Amazon rainforest, but we also work closely with various NGOs and institutions.

As founder and CEO, how do you see the legal aspect within your company? What do you look for in the operators of your internal legal team and partner law firms?

For entrepreneurs, anywhere in the world, having highly efficient legal teams is very important. The legal department can either block or enable all the innovation you want to pursue. We work with many different law firms, whether it’s in civil law, trademarks, patents, or others. We have partners who help us with everything we want to do.

For exampleJohnson & Johnson is one of our major partners, but also a direct competitor, so it was a long and difficult contract to negotiate.

As an entrepreneur, it is very important to have teams that you trust implicitly, who have a proactive approach to making things happen. They should have a keen eye for protecting the company, of course, but also for finding efficient ways to make things work, because that is the main challenge in the field of innovation.

Now that we are also in Europe, we have another team there, so the legal team is involved  every step of the way, and we always assemble teams that we trust implicitly.

What can we expect from Pantys in the next 12 months?

The role of Pantys is always to innovate and bring new products to the market. We have many innovations to launch this year. We are also a brand that is very focused on activism, so we have some projects focused on environmental, social, and public policy changes. We believe it is very important to have a brand voice in this regard and help our community evolve in the market.

As for specifics, I cannot disclose exact details of the product launches we have planned, but we will be introducing new categories of products in the areas of family care, as well as feminine care.