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GEORGIA GRACE EDWARDS
When exploring the great outdoors, answering nature’s call is easy for men. Women, however, often face more difficulty relieving ourselves without a bathroom. In the summer of 2016, when Georgia Grace Edwards was working as one of the few women glacier guides on the Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska, this problem was not only inconvenient but dangerous to her well-being and health. Georgia Grace was spending 8-12 hours a day on ice, and when it came to using the bathroom on the glacier, she was experiencing much more difficulty than her male co-workers, whose flies allowed them to simply turn around to pee, while she was forced to trek across crevasses until she could find privacy, completely remove 3-4 layers in sub-zero temperatures, do her thing, put it all back on, and hike back.
But her struggles, together with her love of the outdoors, motivated her to find a solution to this common problem. In 2018, when she was just 23 years old, she co-founded SheFly together with Bianca Gonzalez and Charlotte Massey to create outdoor pants with a specialised fly that allows women to take bathroom breaks easily while outside.
I was fortunate to speak to Georgia Grace and learn more of her personal journey and experience co-founding her own company. Of the many pearls of wisdom her story holds, perhaps the most universally valuable: no change is too small to make a big difference.
Let's talk about bathrooms. Why should we all care about bathroom culture and the way we think about going to the bathroom?
The bathroom, beginning with its caricature woman-in-a-dress sign and ending with its supply of pink-taxed feminine products, is just another place where traditional gender norms and discrimination reign supreme. As humans, we eat and excrete – that’s just what we do – meaning using the bathroom is a basic human need. Yet along the way to fulfilling that need, there are so many barriers that we’ve become so accustomed to that we don’t even question them–one of those is in the design of bathrooms.
Women need to go more often when they're pregnant; women are eight times more likely to suffer urinary tract infections, which means they will be going more often; they are more likely to be accompanied by young children; and on any given day, a proportion of women will be menstruating. So how can it be fair that the same amount of floor space is given to men and women's facilities? We’re just used to experiencing this discomfort, and when we accept inequality at the most basic level, we allow it to permeate all the way up the food chain.
That being said, a lot of progress has been made, and SheFly is lucky to be able to enter the market at a time when tons of direct-to-consumer products (Thinx, Billie) are paving the way in trying to address and solve women’s discomfort, and to start more conversations about it along the way, so we don’t get complacent or quiet in our discomfort.
Pictured: Homepage of the Shefly website, and an advertisement from Billie courtesy of Ashley Armitage.
A lot of the companies you mentioned, along with SheFly, are all about women's empowerment. What does it mean to you to be "empowered"?
To me, empowerment is all about equality and accessibility. It means being afforded the same opportunities as men, without having to worry about barriers – whether those are physical or financial or cultural or social; whether they’re visible or not. It’s about recreating a circumstance that was previously denied – about reclaiming and redefining spaces we are in or want to be in. It’s about being in this thing called life and being stronger as a result of being in it together.
One of the rewards we featured as a part of our iFundWomen crowdfunding campaign last spring was a collaborative SheFly playlist. To create it, we asked women of all ages what songs made them feel most empowered. I think the wide variety of songs you’ll see there is pretty representative of the wide range of definitions you’ll get when you ask what it means to be “empowered.” To some, it’s about being bold and loud; to others, it’s about being vulnerable and genuine. But I think the common thread among all the songs in the playlist gets at the idea of being able to feel unapologetically yourself and capable in that identity, which in turn gives you the ability to give power to yourself, your ideas, and your actions. I don’t think being empowered means you’re unafraid; rather, I think it means you’re comfortable and capable and confident enough to keep going in spite of that fear.
What has been the most memorable response from users of SheFly?
We’ve received a few messages from people in the transgender community who appreciate the potential impact these pants could have in helping them comfortably transition, adapt to a new body, or feel more comfortable in the bodies they’re in. While we’ve focused a lot of our marketing on people who identify as women so far, the fact that these pants work for any anatomy (and any bathroom need – #1 or #2! ) means there’s potential to keep expanding the audiences we reach.
Pictured: The SheFly Bold Pee Hiking Pant. (get your pair here!)
Of your many work experiences before starting SheFly, which would you say was the most valuable to helping you start your own company?
In the 23 years I’ve been alive, I’ve been everything from a soccer referee, a bartender, an office assistant, a glacier guide, a human capital management analyst, an audio narrative journalism producer, and more recently, a start-up founder. I think some people might read my story and say that perhaps choosing a more linear path could have been beneficial, but I disagree. If anything, I wish I had more time to try more jobs in more sectors, because I’ve gained something valuable from each and every new experience.
Working in restaurants taught me how to put myself out there and talk to anyone, working for magazines and in education taught me the importance of narrative and storytelling in connecting with others, working for a bank and an economic consulting firm taught me about the importance of data in getting to the bottom of a problem or solution, and working outside taught me how to be self-reliant and perseverant, as well as how to stay calm and level-headed in stressful or risky situations. I don’t think there’s any one career that could have demonstrated all of those lessons and skills at once, and it’s the culmination of these experiences that has helped me in starting my own company.
What advice would you give to other young people and especially women who want to start their own company?
Before starting my own company, I thought the only way to do it was to follow what I call the “Steve Jobs Model” – give up my entire life, drop out of college, move home, build something out of my parents garage, and emerge one day with a solution that a venture capitalist would go for. Given the fact that only 1% of businesses will ever raise venture capitalist funding, and women-founded companies secure just 2% of that, it seemed like a long shot at best. But as it turns out, that’s not the case.
I started a company with the help of two co-founders, Bianca and Charlotte, while we were all full-time students. In the 1.5 years since we began, we’ve raised over $51,000 in crowdfunding and over $20,000 in investment, won several pitch competitions, gained patent-pending status, and started selling and shipping product, all while working remotely across three different time zones and holding part- and full-time jobs. Women are starting businesses 4.8 times faster than the national average, and many of them are doing it while multi-tasking.
Long story short: don’t be intimidated by the stories we as a society have traditionally told ourselves. Just because something has been done a certain way in the past, it doesn’t mean it can’t be done a different way in the future that is equally successful, rewarding, and impactful. My other pieces of advice to people who might want to start their own company one day is to 1) Keep track of your progress, no matter how small, because progress can feel really discouraging when it’s not tangible or measurable, and it’s great to remember where you started 2) To always keep a sense of humour, because you’ll need it...especially if you start a company where you regularly have to talk about pee, squatting stances, and other taboo topics.
And to end on a more personal note, of all the amazing places you've lived (to name just a few: United States, Cuba, Czech Republic, Alaska) with which do you feel the strongest connection? For which place are you most grateful?
The Vermont wilderness is probably the natural place to which I feel the strongest connection, because it is the place where I went the furthest out of my comfort zone and figured out who I was. Before Middlebury College (where I got my Bachelor's degree), I knew who I was only in the context of opposition to Appalachia, but not my identity outside of that. Nestled between the Green Mountains to the east and the Adirondacks to the west, I was exposed to so many new ideas and people, in addition to new activities, like primitive biathlons, rowing, ice climbing, Nordic skiing, and backpacking. It’s the independence and self-reliance I learned from outdoor activities with classmates in the Vermont wilderness that gave the confidence to do something like move to Alaska and become a glacier guide without any prior experience. I’ve never really understood what it means to be “homesick” – I’ve never longed for where I came from – but the nostalgia I feel for Vermont is the closest comparison I have.
And Alaska? Well, that’s place where, standing on the top of the Mendenhall Glacier with what felt like the whole world stretching in front of me in shades of blue, I simultaneously felt the smallest and the most inspired I have ever been. It’s the place where the idea for SheFly was born, and for that reason, feel the deepest gratitude.
Pictured: Georgia Grace in Alaska, where the idea for SheFly was born.
Georgia Grace came up with the idea for SheFly while she was a Glacier guide in Alaska
She lived in the Czech Republic for almost a year to teach English through a Fulbright Fellowship
She was nominated for Forbes 30 under 30
In the same way that a singular outdoor narrative – one that is primarily masculine, primarily white, and primarily able-bodied – emerged as a result of the people traditionally allowed in these spaces, a similarly singular narrative has also permeated entrepreneurship in the U.S., and it’s outdated.