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Has the femtech industry in India really matured in the past decade? It is time that the industry goes beyond just packaging and labelling and begins to create truly women-centric products

By Vikas Bagaria

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All these years, healthcare products and solutions were designed and marketed without giving due importance to the differentiated care that men and women need. While beauty products soon became popular among women, their hygiene was an issue that remained shrouded in the shadows. Issues such as female reproductive health and menstruation have been hushed up until recently. However, with the rise of the health and hygiene conscious millennial woman, these problems have finally come under the spotlight. And the world has finally understood that femtech is not just about making a pink version of a gadget. It is time that the industry goes beyond just packaging and labelling and begins to create truly women-centric products.

Femtech, a relatively new industry, in its true essence aims to effectively address some of the age-old problems women have been facing and is projected to be the next big thing in the women's health and hygiene market. This industry promotes the use of digital health applications such as hygiene products, diagnostics, reproductive health monitoring systems, etc., to better enable women to take control of their health by improving accessibility and monitoring.

Working with the challenges

Femtech is a difficult space to operate in considering the sheer dynamics and the proportion of challenges present. For one, awareness creation among women, especially in the rural segment is the biggest challenge. In this context, HerPwr in collaboration with WaterAid was our effort at building clean washrooms in rural India. From every Pee Safe Toiler Seat Sanitizer Spray sold, INR 10 was contributed to WaterAid to provide rural areas with washroom hygiene, which is a basic human right. While the educated class is easier to influence, pitching technology and change to the larger population is the real gamechanger. New-age feminine hygiene players have set out to break the taboo around topics such as menstruation, fertility and reproductive health by encouraging more women to come out and talk openly about their problems. The idea is to clear out myths, assumptions and doubts that have been surrounding these problems for centuries. Widespread social campaigning and media coverage have played an important role in raising the level of awareness among the urban and semi-urban population about the importance of good sanitation and hygiene, menstrual and reproductive health and mental wellness. As a result, the femtech industry has grown by leaps and bounds in the past five years or so with the female hygiene market going beyond just sanitary napkins. This market is currently estimated to be worth $310 million in India.

Owing to the powerful presence of a few market players, products such as toilet seat sanitizers, panty-liners, hygiene wash, maternity pads and menstrual cups have entered the Indian domain. While the mainstream sanitary napkins continue to dominate more than 80 per cent of the market share, other alternative products such as biodegradable napkins, organic cotton-based pads and tampons are capturing their place on the supermarket shelf.

Growth of femtech: India and the world

The global feminine hygiene space is expanding at CAGR 6.8 per cent and is estimated to reach $52 billion by 2023. Despite some great momentum in the recent years, similar dynamics is yet to be witnessed in the Indian niche. Even though there is immense potential, the Indian femtech industry is still at a nascent stage and investor confidence in this segment is considerably low. Women-centric startups raised 12 times more funds than the femtech startups in India. More than 83 per cent of funds invested in the sector was pumped into the female healthcare startups operating in the space. While the industry overall has been restricted to urban populations, some brands have been able to break through the stigma to reach out to larger audiences through innovative campaigning and compelling marketing strategies. Also, new brands are emerging, bringing a fresh focus to this segment. These companies are effectively using technology platforms and strong influencer marketing to take their awareness campaigns beyond the metropolitan boundaries into tier II and III cities. The focus is on shattering myths and misconceptions and promoting a switch over to innovative products that promise quality.

However, despite all the awareness building and cause marketing efforts taken by the femtech industry so far, it is yet to reach its full potential. The reasons for this sluggish acceptance include reluctance to adopt a new product, lack of awareness, high cost and resistance to change. Surveys show that while 78 per cent of urban women used sanitary menstrual hygiene products, only 48 per cent of rural women used proper sanitary products during menstruation. Government policy and regulation is another factor that affects how these products are priced. In the startup-friendly economy, if more centralized policies are created to iron out tough wrinkles the ease of doing business in the country can improve dramatically. By this both budding enterprises and consumers will gain immensely. This will also attract more foreign investment opportunities in the segment.

Looking ahead

Transforming the female hygiene scenario from a product-centric market to a customer-centric one holds the key to bringing 100 per cent inclusion. Brands that aim to run the last mile know that gaining mass acceptance is possible only with greater accessibility and affordability. Educating women holds the key to making deeper inroads. While strong campaigns such as the #DoItTheNaturalWay and #OwnTheRed may have done well in the urban environment, femtech players need to do things differently to capture the attention of rural audiences and break the cycle. While technologies are evolving rapidly and finding widespread acceptance from the global audience, Indian millennials too are not far behind in embracing cutting-edge solutions. Some of the technologies that are revolutionising women's health include period tracking apps, ovulation calendars, pregnancy prevention apps, pregnancy planners, menopausal healthcare apps and community building platforms.

However, for the Indian femtech industry traversing a dual-path would be ideal. While it is important to keep pace with the world in terms of technological advancement in this space, it is also time to shift focus from the digital savvy consumer to the common population which includes uneducated women in order to take these products to every doorstep. Though the current market is still in its infancy, increasing awareness about the availability of these technology options and their applicability and encouraging their adoption can take the Indian femtech industry to the next level.

Vikas Bagaria

Founder of Pee Safe

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