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Midd grad develops innovative pants to give women more freedom outdoors

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Posted on July 12, 2018 |
By Rachel Cohen



SheFly3544.jpg
SHEFLY CO-FOUNDER Georgia Grace Edwards poses on the Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska. The recent Middlebury College grad’s work on the glacier inspired her to start her business, which she runs out of the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies offices in Burlington and Middlebury. Below, Edwards shows off some of the outdoor pants for women that her company, SheFly, produces. The unique feature of the pants is that they allow a woman to relieve herself outside easily and discreetly. Courtesy photos

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of profiles of new businesses launching through the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies, a business incubator in Middlebury.

MIDDLEBURY — Two summers ago, when Georgia Grace Edwards worked 10-12 hours a day as a glacier guide on Juneau, Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier, she quickly noticed how the work was different for her than for her male co-workers.

Edwards’ main disadvantage as one of the only female guides? Using the bathroom.

To use the bathroom, Edwards had to trek across the glacier in her steel-toothed boots, avoiding crevasses, until she could find more privacy, which usually came in the form of a large piece of ice or a boulder. Then, she shed her three to four layers in sub-zero temperatures, “answered nature’s call,” and hiked back to work.

“It was a waste of time, a waste of energy, and it usually left me feeling cold for hours afterward, to the point where I started cutting my water consumption,” Edwards said. “After a few weeks, I thought, ‘There has to be a better way to do this.’”

That’s when Edwards developed her idea for SheFly, “a layerable line of outdoor pants for women that allow them to easily relieve themselves outside.”

But, it wasn’t until Edwards enrolled in the Middlebury College Entrepreneurs course, taught by David Bradbury of the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies (VCET) and Sam Roach-Gerber, in January 2018 that she was able to make SheFly a reality.

Over her winter break in 2017, Edwards taught herself how to sew, and came back to campus with several pairs of snow pants, outfitted with zippers that went all the way around, from front to back. She let her friends test out her new prototypes on the slopes of the Snow Bowl. One of Edwards’ first projects in Middlebury Entrepreneurs was to develop a survey to get customer feedback. After receiving more than 100 responses in less than 24 hours, Edwards found that 25 percent of young female adventurers on Middlebury’s campus had a bathroom accident outside in the past year.

“One in four grown women at Middlebury College peed their pants in the past year because they couldn’t get their clothing out of the way in time or they couldn’t get to a bathroom in time. It’s pretty crazy if you think about it,” Edwards said.

So, with the help of her co-founder, Bianca Gonzalez, and a team of a few more ambitious Middlebury students, Edwards set out to create more SheFlys. At first, she modified pants that her friends and family members owned to include wrap-around zippers. Now, she says, SheFly is trying to create pants of their own design, from start to finish.

MORE THAN A PAIR OF PANTS

Edwards wants readers to know that SheFly is a company that’s doing more than just making pants; it’s also embracing a movement.

“Pants were invented for men, and haven’t really been modified since then,” Edwards said.

Edwards recalled that a recent Ann Taylor campaign taught her that up until the 1940s, women could be jailed for wearing pants in public. It wasn’t until 1972 that schools and universities allowed women to wear pants and shorts.

“The problem is not our anatomy, it’s our clothing,” Edwards said.

She wants to bring the spirit of Ann Taylor’s empowering campaign, “Pants are Power,” to the outdoor clothing world.

“We are tired of the shrink-it and pink-it strategy in women’s outdoor clothing design,” SheFly’s website reads.

Through Middlebury Entrepreneurs and VCET, Edwards gained access to a couple of Female Entrepreneur events in Burlington, where she’s had the chance to meet other women who have founded start-ups.

“To see people like me pushing a product, especially a gender-specific product, has been immensely helpful. It serves as good motivation, even when I’ve gotten stuck along the way,” Edwards said.

Despite facing the challenges that come along with starting a business while being a full-time student, Edwards has received her fair share of accolades.

She won first place in Burlington’s “Soup” pitch competition held at the co-working space, Study Hall Collective, and won second place in Middlebury Entrepreneurs’ Final Pitch Competition.

WHAT’S NEXT

This summer, Edwards is working on SheFly from VCET’s Middlebury and Burlington offices.

In the near future, she hopes to patent her idea, to create a Kickstarter campaign to complete the research and development stage, and to pair with a manufacturer.

In the meantime, SheFly, which began making snow pants, but has expanded into hiking gear and long underwear, is busy fulfilling its first major order.

Middlebury Outdoor Programs’ Equipment Room, which provides outdoor gear for college students to rent free of charge, has ordered 10 pairs of SheFly’s “Long Janes” long underwear. The long underwear has “Split-P” technology — flaps that line up with the wrap-around zipper on the outside.

After a busy summer at SheFly, Edwards, who just graduated from Middlebury in May and earned a Fulbright scholarship for further study, will jet off to the Czech Republic where she will be an English teaching assistant at a business school. She is excited to learn about business in a foreign country, and to teach people the business skills that she’s learned through SheFly.

Edwards will continue to work on SheFly while she’s in the Czech Republic, and has big ideas for the brand’s future.

“Hopefully we can convince a bigger store one day that this is something that there is demand for, and that morally they should take on,” Edwards said.

You can check out SheFly at sheflyapparel.com, and on Facebook and Instagram. SheFly is looking for local seamstresses who have experience with zippers, as well as eager prototype-testers.

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