Inside a Walgreens in Pacific Heights, an upscale district of San Francisco, Sydney Larson strolled through the aisles. Her heels clicked on the floor as she circled the cosmetics aisle, looping past colorful tubes of lipstick and fridges filled with two-for-one Vitaminwater. She frowned. She took another loop and continued her hunt for incontinence pads — less kindly known as adult diapers. “This is odd,” she said. “Normally, they’re signposted.”
Larson eschewed the tampons and condoms, and stopped next to a sign for ointments and itch cream — finally she’d found them. She bent down to examine the bottom shelves, and shook her head. “That’s god-awful geriatric marketing,” she said, turning over the bulky boxes in her hands. “Women don’t want to buy that at the register or put it in their bathroom.”
One of the reasons adult incontinence products are so hard to find in the store is because they make the people who need them feel embarrassed and old, says Larson, the co-founder of the Bay Area startup Lily Bird, a subscription service for incontinence pads and underwear. That’s despite the fact that incontinence affects half of all women over 40 — which can be the result of childbirth, stress, and other health issues. Up to 11% of men over 40 deal with it, too. For obvious reasons, most people probably never talk about it.
“Only one in 10 people use any kind of product because of the humiliation of going to the store,” says Larson.
Larson began researching female incontinence in 2018. Her background was in renewable energy, and she was looking for something new to tackle. “I wanted to be solving real problems for real women, not creating life optimizations for the one percent,” she says.
After hearing friends and family members were struggling with incontinence, she had her next idea. In January 2019 she launched Lily Bird with co-founder Jason Holloway, a mobile gaming development entrepreneur. Unlike standard incontinence briefs, which look like oversized Huggies, Lily Bird briefs are low-rise with a subtle lace design. They’re far from glamorous, but comparatively speaking, they’re practically Chanel.