"As menopause receives more attention, more sophisticated products will enter the market space."
London-based industrial designer Peter Astbury tackles menopause with style and Grace.
Last summer, fashion and culture website Man Repeller coined a new term, “menocore,” identifying it as the new normcore and (approvingly) describing this beige, flowy look as the “aesthetic of a middle-aged woman on a low-key beach vacation.” Yet, despite the rise of the older style muse and the recent “mainstreamification” of menopause, few lifestyle products have considered the unique needs of the menopausal demographic, whose members are undergoing the hormonal shift from which menocore derives its name.
Enter Peter Astbury, London-based industrial designer and the visionary behind Grace—a sleek, innovative wristband created to counter the effects of menopausal hot flashes with smart, cooling technology. With Grace, Astbury joins the movement seeking to break the taboo around menopause, and he hopes to use his discreet, intelligent wearable to help women regain control and confidence, at home and in the workplace.
The James Dyson Award runner up recently graduated with first-class honors in industrial design and technology from Loughborough University in the UK. We spoke to him about smashing stigmas, bettering lives through effective design, and potentially facilitating the world’s largest study of menopause.
As a young, male industrial designer, what inspired you to create a product that addresses menopausal women?
Introducing a product into the world and seeing it make a genuine difference to people has been a dream of mine since starting university in 2013. While I was trying to find areas of focus for my final year at Loughborough University, I had a conversation with my manager. We discussed areas of design which had not received much attention and menopause was one of them.
Considering it as a year-long design project was a daunting prospect at first, as I knew nothing about it. However, the more I researched, the more I couldn’t believe that an effective, non-invasive solution had still not been created. The magnitude of the issue, as well as my determination to improve people’s lives, inspired me to address menopause from a design perspective.
The menopause market is saturated with kitschy wearables and novelty pieces, like fan necklaces and cooling pearls. Why have there been so few products to approach menopause with style?
It’s possible that companies have been able to get away with selling these products for so long due to the sheer desperation women are feeling. The relative lack of funding and investment into physical solutions for menopause will also have played its part in slowing development of better products.
Overall, companies seem to misunderstand these women’s wants, needs and aspirations when it comes to wearables. JWT Intelligence really hit the nail on the head here—the Elastic Generation are not the uncool or behind-the-times women that businesses have assumed they are for so many years. Having said that, I think this lack of thoughtfulness is steadily improving. As menopause receives more attention, more sophisticated products will enter the market space, effectively meeting user needs and appealing on an aesthetic level. There simply won’t be the market for garish products that there appears to be right now.
Grace is a sleek and beautiful piece of jewelry that wouldn’t immediately be recognized as a product designed to alleviate menopause symptoms. How do its elegance and discreetness work to undo cultural taboos?
Thank you! For a long time now, menopause has been something that isn’t spoken about openly. Now the hashtag #breakthetabootrends on Twitter on World Menopause Day [18 October]. Times are clearly changing. A product that is designed to be hidden feels like a step backwards, encouraging women to keep their menopausal symptoms hidden. On the other hand, a badge with a big M printed on it—an idea which received attention in the United Kingdom recently—may feel like too much of a label.
Grace was designed to be worn openly, as a fashion accessory, while still maintaining an element of disguise. We’re looking into many different materials, colors and finishes so that it can suit a wide range of personal tastes and situations. The hope is that Grace will gently help us move in a positive direction, away from situations where women have been shamed for menopause
You’ve said that Grace helps not just with the physical symptoms of menopause, but also with the emotional side effects. Can you explain how Grace helps women regain their control and confidence?
Women commonly describe the fear they have that a hot flash will hit them at a really inconvenient time—in an important meeting, or on crowded public transport, for example. Simply knowing that you have the means to counter a hot flash if it happens can do a lot to restore the control that you want to feel over your body. This feeling of control and confidence is especially important at night.
At Loughborough University, we have a Clinical Sleep Research Unit. Once I had an initial concept for Grace, I approached the team there, to get their take on whether using Grace could help women get a better night’s sleep. Their opinion was strongly in favor, telling me how important it is to have a calm mind at night. Because Grace could counter the physical effects of night sweats, the user may also get to sleep faster, safe in the knowledge they won’t be waking up due to hot flashes.
What was the most surprising finding you encountered while developing this product?
The most surprising thing for me personally has been hearing first-hand accounts of women struggling every day with menopause. I’m used to seeing facts and figures but, since Grace was unveiled to the public, it’s been the individual stories of women all over the world who have been in contact that’s left the biggest impression on me. Their desperation to be involved as research participants so they can use Grace as soon as possible has really made me feel their urgency and has motivated me even more.
What do you hope to achieve with the data collected through Grace’s technology?
My hope is that data generated by Grace can be used on multiple levels—firstly, to benefit the individual. A smartphone app is being developed to help users understand patterns and trends associated with their hot flashes in greater detail.The ability to send this data to their medical professional or specialist would make it easier for those professionals to give more tailored advice, following many stories of frustrating appointments I have heard.
It was apparent from the start, with university-level access to academic papers online, that very little large-scale research has been done on menopause. People who wear Grace on a daily basis could anonymously help facilitate the largest study on menopause so far. Using the vast pool of data collected, we could shed light on patterns and global trends of hot flashes in relation to age, nationality, lifestyle and more.
What’s next for Grace? Will it be available for purchase in the near future?
I am actively looking for investment and funding to help take Grace to the next level with increasingly advanced prototypes and rounds of testing. I hope that in the near future Grace will be widely available, supporting women who are experiencing hot flashes.