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Disposable products for light incontinence have seen significant growth globally, in value and volume terms, steadily increasing their share of retail disposable hygiene products sales in developed and developing markets. Product innovation and category normalisation are amongst the factors behind growth, and presentation and design have become increasingly important to increase product appeal.

Now, however, disposable incontinence has a potential challenge to reckon with – textile-based incontinence underwear by New Zealand’s ConfiTex. Emphasising strong, high-visual appeal, the new solution to light and moderate incontinence addresses common consumer points of embarrassment. Furthermore, while most disposable incontinence product campaigns focus heavily on feminine designs to appeal to women, the ConfiTex line also highlights its products for men. After all, women are not the only ones feeling embarrassment and discomfort associated with the use of incontinence underwear.

In an environment where disposable incontinence products have yet to reach the status of a normal lifestyle product and are still plagued by stigma, in part reinforced by the products’ appearance, the development in high-tech fabric and ability to design incontinence products with the visual appeal of regular and attractive underwear should be noted. Add to this the fact that ConfiTex products are washable and last as long as regular underwear, thereby adding cost-savings and environmental benefits to their visual appeal, and the manufacturers of disposable incontinence products might have a serious competitor to face in coming years.

“Manage incontinence with style and ease”

With the slogan “Manage Incontinence with Style and Ease”, the new ConfiTex line is aiming high when it comes to visual appeal, confidently and smartly addressing one of the key concerns of those who suffer from bladder problems. Designed to look like regular underwear, women’s panties feature a variety of styles and sizes, lace, and come in black, blue, beige and soon red colours. Men’s underwear is designed to look like regular trunks and come in black and grey. The line continues to evolve, as the company is reportedly working on more designs and colours.

Comtex

On the functional side, the products are said to offer a high level of absorbency, at a cup of liquid, and are aimed at those in need of a light to moderate level of protection. Unlike disposable products, ConfiTex underwear does not have pads, is washable and promises to last as long as regular underwear. Furthermore, the underwear is said to be fast-drying, breathable, chemical-free, and odour protective. The products feature high-tech textile and innovative fibre technology, such as bamboo fibre, which is claimed to last three times longer than cotton. The new line has its origins in the underwear developed for athletes.

Prices vary, depending on the type and design. Full briefs for women, with lace, for moderate absorbency retail for US$34.90. The same design for light absorbency retails for US$29.90. Hipster lace designs also retail for US$29.90 and US$34.90, for light and moderate absorbency respectively. Compare, for instance, to Depend Silhouette Active Fit moderate absorbency underwear retailing at US$11.97 for 10 units or Poise pads for moderate absorbency retailing for US$11.84 for 66 units at Walmart. While large pack sizes, with over 100 pads in a package, provide a more economical alternative, the costs still add up over time as disposable products by definition are one-time use products. By some estimates, annual costs associated with the management of urinary incontinence for a woman can be as high as US$900, which includes costs of the products purchased in retail. The new textile-based underwear not only comes in a more attractive design, with no pads to worry about, but is re-usable and can provide significant cost-savings to those who require protection on a regular basis.

ConfiTex reports a significant interest in the products from distributors and has started shipping products worldwide via its online shopping site. A limited selection of products is now also featured at retailers like Amazon. Furthermore, the company and its products have been profiled in media and are also now recommended by organisations like the Prostate Cancer Foundation of New Zealand.

R.I.P. disposable products?

Perhaps not just yet. To significantly impact disposable light to moderate incontinence products, the new sexy underwear will require more marketing and wider distribution in retail to increase consumer awareness and reach, beyond those who look and shop online. Additionally, the success of ConfiTex will be predicated on its ability to live up to expectations of high performance and successful handling of bladder leaks. Last but not least, there is still a vast consumer base of an ageing population, with more serious bladder problems, requiring heavier protection and expertise of more traditional incontinence ranges. Moderate/heavy incontinence products still account for a large share of global incontinence products’ volume sales and are projected to see a healthy positive growth ahead, supported by the burgeoning ageing population. ConfiTex marketing and presentations appear to target mainly younger generations.

Nonetheless, the launch by ConfiTex is certainly a move to be noted by the makers and marketers of disposable protection. They have invested heavily in product development that saw thinner and better designs for more visual appeal and comfort. Marketing has been heavily focused on overcoming stigma, embarrassment and discomfort associated with the use of incontinence protection, also engaging celebrities (eg Lisa Rinna from the “Days of Our Lives”). Packaging design and product store displays show strong attention to the feminine in light incontinence. However, disposable incontinence products still have a way to go when it comes to the visual appeal of products. Continuing on the path of innovation, while at the same time emphasising long-standing expertise and understanding of incontinence management, will be crucial in supporting demand and dealing with the potential strong competition emerging from product development in textiles.

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