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Grace Is Shaking Up How Women Experience Aging

Much more importantly, though, Attn: Grace is disrupting how we as women experience aging. Our 40’s (Alex) and 50’s (Mia) have easily been the best years of our lives so far. Though the narrative is slowly changing, generally speaking, our culture does a great disservice to women as we age. In short, we are marginalized. […]

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Much more importantly, though, Attn: Grace is disrupting how we as women experience aging. Our 40’s (Alex) and 50’s (Mia) have easily been the best years of our lives so far. Though the narrative is slowly changing, generally speaking, our culture does a great disservice to women as we age. In short, we are marginalized. But as with any other marginalized, misunderstood group, the answer to cultural change lies in a combination of representation, inclusion, and empowerment.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexandra Fennell.

Alexandra Fennell is the co-founder and co-CEO of Attn: Grace, the first sustainable wellness brand created specifically for women as we age. With a B.A. in English from Washington & Lee University and a J.D. from Boston University School of Law, Alexandra has expertise building and leading large teams and litigating complex patent cases as a former partner at a large Boston law firm. She leads Attn: Grace’s growth strategy, marketing, communications, and culture. She currently resides in Boston, Massachusetts with her co-founder and wife, Mia Abbruzzese, and their four young children.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I grew up wanting to be a lawyer and spent the first part of my career litigating complex patent cases, mostly here in the U.S. and a little bit internationally. It was a lot of fun for a long time, but I always knew I wanted to have a second, very different chapter of my career at some point.

I took a step back from my practice a few years after becoming a partner to give myself a little room to breathe and think about what might be next. Shortly after that, Mia, who is my co-founder and also my wife, and I started exploring the original idea that would eventually become Attn: Grace. We have four young children and were used to living in a world tailored to the values and convenience that parents (historically led by moms) demand. Every month we had the rewarding experience of opening our home-delivered subscription of beautifully designed, sustainably-minded diapers and related products. And at the same time, in stark contrast, there was Mia’s mother — an incredibly refined, elegant 89-year-old, struggling to manage her bladder leakage with a mix of utilitarian products that in no way matched who she was or what she valued. It all felt really archaic and unevolved, and we both felt really strongly that there had to be a better way.

We started researching the space and even went to industry conferences. We were shocked to find out that, within the industry, the aisle where you buy incontinence products at your local drugstore is literally called the “aisle of death.” No wonder we weren’t seeing more thoughtful advancements in this space with such a dehumanizing attitude and approach. Women don’t see themselves in the “aisle of death”, and I don’t blame them. We deserve better.

It’s been a really powerful experience to dedicate myself to something that has a much more tangible impact on people’s day-to-day lives. We’re raising the bar in terms of how women care for themselves as we age. We believe in a world where aging is viewed as the privilege that it really is, and where women are seen and celebrated as we get older. This is a meaningful step in that direction.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Our work is “disruptive” in a few ways.

First there’s the more obvious sort of disruption that we’ve seen successful DTC brands (Harry’s, Warby Parker, Quip, This is L. and many others) create in markets historically dominated by a few very large companies. Right now, more than 70% of the adult incontinence space in the U.S. is controlled by P&G and Kimberly Clark, so there’s certainly an opportunity here to disrupt this consumer category as we’ve seen happen before.

Much more importantly, though, Attn: Grace is disrupting how we as women experience aging. Our 40’s (Alex) and 50’s (Mia) have easily been the best years of our lives so far. Though the narrative is slowly changing, generally speaking, our culture does a great disservice to women as we age. In short, we are marginalized. But as with any other marginalized, misunderstood group, the answer to cultural change lies in a combination of representation, inclusion, and empowerment.

As younger consumers, we all get used to brands taking us and our values seriously, everyone’s innovating and designing products that address our needs and building brands that align with our larger values. Then you hit a point, maybe it’s in your 40’s, maybe it’s in your 50’s, and it’s clear that most brands just aren’t focused on you in the same way anymore. There’s an incredible opportunity to learn about the different needs of older generations and to innovate and solve for those needs in really thoughtful, intentional and more sustainable ways.

We are the first sustainable wellness brand for women as they age, and our debut collection is built to specifically address bladder leakage — a condition experienced by 19 million American women. We aim to destigmatize and normalize the condition, helping women feel more comfortable communicating the existence of this in their lives and providing specifically designed solutions for it.

We’re creating a marketplace of personal care products that are body-and-earth friendly for women as we age. We’re not peddling pseudo-science; we just believe that what we put on or against our bodies should be nurturing and free of harsh chemicals. We’ve joined forces with best-in-class partners and industry thought-leaders who are constantly innovating to create cleaner, greener solutions that enable us to care for ourselves while also caring for our planet.

Women don’t fade into flat, two dimensional characters as we age. We’ve earned degrees, run businesses, raised families, reinvented our life’s purpose (at least once), and reinvested in ourselves and our communities. In our small but growing platform, we are shattering “silver” stereotypes, and highlighting women who are living up to the role of multidimensional protagonists in their own lives. We look forward to the day when our stories, and the stories of the diverse and vibrant community of women who surround us are seen and celebrated in a way that moves culture and inspires the next generation.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When we first started pitching Attn: Grace to angel investors and VC’s, I would write these comically long introduction emails. We’re talking multiple paragraphs. And of course we wouldn’t hear back. As a lawyer, I was so used to writing these long, meticulously crafted emails, which you do in part to build a record. In the real world, people don’t communicate like that. It’s much more direct, casual, and all about being efficient. This is hardly a new lesson, but knowing your audience and adapting your communication style to that audience is really important.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I’ve been lucky to have a number of really impactful mentors along the way. In all but one instance, they’ve been older than me, and in traditional terms, had much more experience than I did.

When we were pitching for our pre-seed round, we were introduced to Rachel Liaw, who had previously launched the DTC baby diaper brand Parasol and was on to launching her second company as co-founder and CEO of Fuse Inventory. Rachel had raised multiple rounds of VC funding, and it’s worth noting, had done so with a female co-founder both at Parasol and Fuse. She shared her experience, perspective and strategic advice with us so generously, often via late night, last-minute calls and texts as we were slogging away at our raise. Fundraising, especially for the first time, is such an emotional rollercoaster and if you haven’t been through it before, it’s hard to really understand the dynamics founders, and particularly female founders, face. There were definitely moments where I think, short of having had someone like Rachel as a sounding board, we might well have given up. I like to say that Rachel was one of our secret weapons.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

I definitely view disruption as a positive thing by and large. There are so many industries that have been dominated by just a few very large corporations for decades. The executives at those companies are rarely as diverse as the customers they are serving, which creates opportunities to bring new perspectives to solving old problems.

The proliferation of new brands looking to change legacy industries shows just how much need and opportunity there is for innovation and change. There are of course exceptions to every rule, and I’m sure there are examples of people who have acted opportunistically in the name of “disruption” in hopes of making a quick profit. But in my experience, the vast majority of founders who are seeking to “disrupt” a given area of commerce are driven by a desire to bring improved products and experiences to the communities they are built to serve.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Well, there are several, but I’ll speak to one that is particularly near and dear to my heart: raising venture capital (or any capital, frankly) is infinitely harder for female founders than for their male counterparts. And it’s even harder when you’re building a business to solve an unsexy issue in women’s health that no one wants to talk about. So the result is not just that female founders receive vastly less funding than their male counterparts; it also means that new solutions for women’s health issues receive disproportionately less funding.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

“Don’t let the best be the enemy of the good.”

I remember a mentor of mine many years ago telling me this in the context of a brief I was painstakingly trying to finish. I didn’t have the perspective then to realize that the incremental changes I was making weren’t worth the time it was taking to make them. It’s an incredibly important lesson and I come back to it often these days. But it’s easier said than done sometimes, especially as an entrepreneur.

“Imagine what your male counterpart would say in a pitch and then be 10x more aggressive.” Anonymous.

I remember the first time someone said this to us; it made complete sense, but I wasn’t sure we could actually pull it off. I’m much more comfortable under promising and over delivering, so this wasn’t something that came naturally to me. But we kept hearing the same advice over and over, both from female founders and from female investors and ultimately it was invaluable. So while it might be a divergence from how you normally approach things, when you’re competing for the very small percentage of VC dollars that even go to female founders in the first place, it’s sound advice.

“I simply do not distinguish between work and play.” Mary Oliver

This is one of my favorites, especially now. We’re having so much un building Attn: Grace. I don’t mean to suggest that it’s not an incredible amount of work or that every day is easy. That’s definitely not the case. But even the challenging days are fun in their own right, and there are often times where family or other obligations are calling and it’s hard to step away from whatever it is that I’m working on at that moment. But of course that’s a pretty good problem to have!

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Well, I’m happy that we’ve only just begun with Attn: Grace! But as for what’s on the horizon, we’re excited to continue growing our community and our customer engagement and feedback loop as we expand our product line. We’re committed to listening and responding to our community’s needs with thoughtful, more sustainable, beautifully designed solutions.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

You Are Here, Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment by Thich Naht Hahn

I read this book written by the renowned Zen monk, author and meditation master early on in quarantine and I have come back to it again and again these last few months. It’s about being truly present, both for ourselves and for those we love. We’re all juggling so much — work, children, other family obligations — and right now the lines between all of these things are so very blurred. It’s easy to become overwhelmed and disconnected. Coming back to yourself, to your breath, and remembering, as Thich Naht Hahn describes, that “[y]ou are here, body and mind together. You are here, you are completely alive. That is a miracle.” The approach to mindfulness taught in “You Are Here” has been deeply powerful in my day-to-day. Learning to be able to ground myself in my breath and shift from panic, fear or overwhelm back to gratitude and even a little bit of wonder has been pretty transformative.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new center of gravity. Don’t fight them. Just find a new way to stand.”

― Oprah Winfrey

This is one of my favorite quotes to come back to from time to time. And it’s been particularly relevant as we’ve all adapted to life during Covid-19. These are scary, uncertain times, and it’s easy to lose your balance, so to speak. We’ve moved twice, lost my mother-in-law, launched a new business, and are raising four young children, all in the midst of a global pandemic. And to be clear, we’re among the very lucky ones. But it’s nonetheless been a very inelegant and at times incredibly stressful juggle. We’re all needing to find a new way to stand right now. Leaning into that process rather than fighting against it, and allowing my center of gravity to shift a little more inward during this time, has been really grounding.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Well, our kids would beg to differ with you on the first point! But setting that aside, our mission at Attn: Grace is rooted in both a movement and a marketplace. The movement we are creating is about destigmatizing aging for women, encouraging openness about women’s health, our changing needs, and the importance of embracing wellness and wellbeing as we age. We consciously dial up the “we” in wellness, to be inclusive and intersectional as we explore all sides of wellness in our community. Our movement is focused on a very particular demographic, but it has the potential to have an impact well beyond women of a certain age. Inclusivity and intersectionality have never been more important. They need to become the default — without exception. If we can raise the bar and set a new gold standard for our community, I’m hopeful that over time we will have a positive impact that expands beyond our core demographic.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can find us at attngrace.com and follow along at @attngrace on Instagram and Facebook.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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