There’s nothing I love more than discovering a brand or product that speaks to and celebrates age-defying women. But you know what’s even better? When that brand is founded by age-defying women, which is exactly the case with ATTN: Grace. A sustainable, high-quality brand that addresses concerns about our changing bodies in a graceful and intelligent way? That’s my kind of company.
Because us women have to stick together, they even gave us a discount code. Enter WELLBEING-ITG at checkout and enjoy 10% off of your cart!
Name, Age, where do you live?
Mia Abbruzzese 54, Brookline, MA
Alexandra Fennell 44, Brookline, MA
Give us an overview of your career.
Mia: My career has been driven by innovation. In 2003 I launched a new children’s brand with Stride Rite, exclusively for Target. It was the first collaboration Target had ever done in the children’s space, and I realized that there was so much room for innovation in children’s fashion. So, I started my own brand, morgan & milo. We were the first to combine play (sneaker) bottoms with more formal-looking uppers, so kids could have one pair of shoes that could carry them from dressier occasions to the playground and everywhere in between. I sold morgan & milo last year to focus full-time on Attn: Grace.
Alex: I spent the first part of my career litigating complex patent cases, mostly here in the U.S. and a little bit internationally. It was unexpected in a lot of ways — I was an English major and didn’t exactly excel in math and science. But I loved getting to learn new technologies and new markets, and how fast the cases moved. I also drew a lot of my inspiration from the people I worked with, the teams I was a part of, and later in my career, getting to build and then lead those teams. [Note my transition to Attn: Grace is covered in another response below].
Tell us about what you are doing now.
We just launched Attn: Grace, the first sustainable wellness brand for women as we age. The personal care category for older women is anything but personal, and we’re here to change that. Our needs have changed, but our standards have not. In fact, for many of us, the bar has been raised. We deserve rewarding, sustainable, beautifully designed wellness solutions.
It’s been really heartening to see how enthusiastically women have responded to us, not just to our products, but also the brand and our mission. We’re supported by a community of women who are smart, discerning, and values-driven, and they are excited to see themselves reflected in a brand like us.
First, you two are married and have four kids. What’s it like working with your spouse? I imagine it can be challenging sometimes.
It’s definitely stressful at times, particularly since, like every other parent right now, we are inelegantly navigating the messy work-life circus that is living in a pandemic. But in terms of the day-to-day, it’s been the most fun either of us has ever had professionally. We love what we’re building, we love our small but mighty team, and we wake up pretty much every day really excited to dive into whatever it is we’re tackling that week. We also have very different skill sets, which has made it easy to divide and conquer different aspects of the business and has given us each a much greater appreciation for what the other is doing at any given moment. It’s also immensely helpful that by this point in our lives, we’re both really good at seeing the big picture and not sweating the small stuff.
Mia, you actually launched a children’s shoe brand in 2003. Now you’re working on a wellness brand for women over 40. That’s quite the range! How did you get from there to here?
It was really rather unexpected. But honestly, the idea for Attn: Grace came from working and personally living in a world tailored to the values and convenience that parents (historically led by moms) demand. Every month Alex and I had the rewarding experience of opening our home-delivered subscription of beautifully designed, sustainably-minded diapers and baby products. And at the same time, in stark contrast, there was my 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 I 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. We have to do better. Women don’t see themselves in the “aisle of death”, and I don’t blame them. We deserve better.
Alex, you were a partner at a law firm in Boston. What inspired you to reinvent yourself?
I loved my practice, but I’ve always known that I wanted the experience of a more diverse career path at some point too. I was also really ready to dedicate myself to something that had a more tangible impact on people’s day-to-day lives. When we first started exploring the idea behind Attn: Grace, I not only knew we were onto something that could be really beneficial to women, I knew if we did it right, we could have a huge impact on women’s health and wellness as we age more broadly. I believe in a world where women are seen and celebrated as we age, and this is a meaningful step in that direction.
What was it like pitching Attn: Grace? It’s practically a luxury for the older woman to have a brand targeting specifically her, let alone one a wellness one not predicated on looking younger! Were there women in the room when you were pitching?
Raising our first round of venture capital was definitely a wild ride, with lots of highs and lots of lows. Raising institutional capital was entirely new to both of us; we were pitching a concept built to serve a demographic the VC community wasn’t ready to focus on; and we were launching with a line of bladder leakage products, so admittedly not the sexiest market opportunity. All of this, coupled with the fact that we’re two female founders of “a certain age”, made for a long road. Honestly sometimes I look back and I’m shocked we didn’t call it quits.
But at some point along the way, our thinking about the process shifted. Because for every “no” we got (of which there were plenty) there were vastly more introductions, offers to tap networks to help us push forward, hours of feedback on pitch decks and financial models, and an absolutely ridiculous amount of brainpower. All of this coupled with straight up human kindness. It was a hugely humbling, inspiring experience.
Our cap table has ultimately ended up being pretty gender diverse, but our earliest believers, many of our angel investors and our lead VC, Liz Whitman @ XFactor, are women.
Congratulations on officially launching! What an exciting time. Right now, a lot of your products focus on bladder leakage. Why did you decide to start there?
We’re starting with a line of body-and-earth-friendly products for the 1-in-3 women who experience bladder leakage. 92% of those women are using period products or no products at all because they are so turned off by what’s being offered. We are discreetly delivering liners, pads, and briefs to thousands of women who are thrilled that, thanks to Attn: Grace, there is a better way.
Because of our signature high performance design — using natural, 100% breathable materials, a gentle, plant-based topsheet, and active botanicals while being free from chlorine bleach, parabens, chemical fragrances, sulfates, latex, dies and petroleum-derived synthetics — we have become THE brand for women with sensitive skin. Period products do not provide sufficient moisture wicking absorbency to capture bladder leaks, and leading incontinence brands use harsh chemicals and materials — both really irritating options for your most sensitive skin.
You guys founded Attn: Grace as the first sustainable wellness brand created specifically for women as we age. Wellness is such a broad, and at times divisive, word. What’s your definition of ‘wellness’?
The way we define wellness at Attn: Grace is rooted in both a movement and a marketplace.
The movement 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, aiming to be inclusive and intersectional as we explore all sides of wellness in our community.
The other side of wellness for us is 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.
As for what’s up next, our community has a huge role in identifying what we tackle next via honest, on-going feedback and communication. This engagement and feedback loop is core to our empathetic “for women, by women” model, and we are committed to listening and responding to our community’s needs.
A lot of the times when I think of ‘sustainable’, the products I’m using are not single-use, like a liner would be. How do you create sustainable, single-use products?
Great question. There are reusable solutions that work really well for many women with very light leaks, but when it comes to women with moderate or heavy leaks, we’re limited to innovation within the non-wovens space. As we continue to move toward making disposable products that are fully compostable and/or recyclable, our current cutting edge CLN Design™ plus our best-in-class supply chain partners, exist to bridge the inevitable gap. We’ve designed our product line and our packaging to incorporate the most sustainable, renewable materials possible without compromising on product performance, and to eliminate harmful, unnecessary chemicals, replacing petroleum-based synthetics with 100% bio-based synthetics derived from sugarcane waste.
Tell us a little bit about the product development process. What are some aspects of your products that you definitely wanted in the design that you don’t see in other options?
We knew when we began building Attn: Grace that we wanted sustainable sourcing and design to be core to who we are and what we are bringing into the world. At every step in our supply chain, we’ve sought out best-in-class partners who are just as committed as we are to reducing our global footprint and minimizing waste. We’ve joined forces with industry and thought-leaders who are constantly innovating to create cleaner, greener solutions that enable us to care for ourselves while also caring for our planet. There’s no reason for people to continue to think performance and sustainable design are in any way mutually exclusive. It’s actually quite the contrary.
Culturally, aging is viewed as this sad thing. In reality, I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t feel bad or sad. I feel better than ever. What’s the key to changing the conversation about aging?
Oh, we are so with you on this one! Our 40’s (Alex) and 50’s (Mia) have been easily 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. 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 behind us.
What’s the best thing you’ve read lately? You Are Here, Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment, by Thich Naht Hahn
Do you have any family traditions? Once we week, we each write down what we’re most grateful for (or as our kids put it, “the best thing that happened this week was… “) along with the date so we can look back and remember.
Who would play you in the movie of your life? Anne Hathaway or Meg Ryan (minus the blond)
What’s the last thing you bought online? A pair of Caddis BIXBY Sun Readers in Turtle
What would you put on your menopause registry? Frank & Eileen’s Mary Dress in heritage jersey
If you could have one superpower what would it be? Time traveler
If you had a warning label what would it say? Three Drink Max.
What’s the best thing you’ve read lately? Harry Potter to the boys
Do you have any family traditions? Scandinavian Gnomes at Christmas
Who would play you in the movie of your life? Melissa McCarthy or Kate McKinnon
What’s the last thing you bought online? A Christmas vacation, which, by the looks of things, I’m now going to have to return…
What would you put on your menopause registry? Anything for memory. I use Elysium Health
If you could have one superpower what would it be? Mind reader
If you had a warning label what would it say? High maintenance disguised as low maintenance