Talking pants with entrepreneur Carol Smillie, creator of Pretty Clever Pants!

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Hot Flush met with Carol Smillie to talk hot pants, more specifically how she came to create her brand, Pretty Clever Pants. 

We made a cheeky reach out to Carol and were thrilled with her enthusiastic response. We spent a fabulous afternoon, talking and laughing (a lot!) as Carol shared her experience of setting up a new business, aged 50. Looking for a new direction, Carol went from ‘Changing Rooms’ to changing women’s experience of coping with embarrassing leaks caused by perimenopausal flooding and stress incontinence. Having been helped in her project by so many women herself, she’s passionate about helping other women so was delighted to talk about her tumultuous journey.

Carol set out with her then business partner, the tennis player Annabel Croft, to make pants with a secret waterproof panel, for teenage girls to wear when they were having their periods. The idea came to her when she discovered that her own daughters were reluctant to go on sleepovers during their periods, for fear of that age-old problem, leaking. Surprised that nothing had changed since she was their age, an idea took hold and her pants business, Diary Doll, was born. With no retailing, design or manufacturing experience and a little bit of beginner’s luck and tenacity, she sold her first run. 

However, it soon became apparent with market research confirming it, that the market for period products was in decline due to young women choosing to suppress their periods (now that’s a discussion for another day!). The retailer Boots, said female stress incontinence products were the fastest growing market. Rebranding, repackaging and restructuring followed, resulting in Carol’s own ‘Pretty Clever Pants’. 

Stress incontinence, one of the most taboo symptoms of menopause but one that Carol’s original concept tries to support, sympathetically and discretely. Any woman over 40 who’s coughed, sneezed or run for the bus will recognise that sinking, leaking feeling. Pelvic floor weakness can be caused by pregnancy and childbirth, constipation, perimenopause and menopause, as oestrogen retires, leaving chaos in its wake. 

There are many options for dealing with the underlying causes of stress incontinence but it takes time, so protective pants are a great idea in the meantime. Pretty Clever Pants are made of soft cotton, look like normal and stylish pants but have an extra-wide gusset to allow pad-wearing so that flapping pad wings aren’t on show. There’s a waterproof layer, made of thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) sandwiched between 2 layers of cotton to provide that all-important protective layer. For perimenopausal flooding, Carol says you’d probably need to wear pads on the heavier days but the pants will deal with the lighter days and with urinary leaks. They’re machine washable and can go in the tumble dryer. 

Feeling that she’d taken the business as far as she could without massive further investment, Carol sold the rights to Clever Pretty Pants to High St TV and she’s chuffed to see that the pants are now being trialled in 10 countries. As stress incontinence is a global women’s issue, this seems like a positive move for the brand.

Carol’s candid that her own experience of setting up a business is not the model that many should knowingly follow! With the benefit of hindsight, we asked her for her top-tips for women who want to set up their own business:

  • Do your market research, be sure others want to buy your product, service or follow your website. Don’t just ask your loyal friends and family, you need neutral feedback.
  • Find out if your idea or business is scalable or if somebody else is doing the same thing, and if so, ask yourself how you can do it differently?
  • Don’t expect overnight success. After the initial excitement of launching, expect a long slog with occasional sleepless nights.
  • Get out there and press the flesh, tap in to the female network, women like helping women.

Watch the whole vlog with Hot Flush Talking Pants With Carol Smillie.

Carol’s working on another project at the moment. We wish her all the luck in the world, with her infectious enthusiasm she’s sure to succeed!

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Watch our vlog with Woman’s Health Physiotherapist, Christien Bird, talking about how you can deal with the underlying causes of stress incontinence.