Menopause. It is a natural process that hits around 50% of the population sooner or later. However, we do not really talk about it. Perimenopausal people stay silent. They suffer alone. They do not share their experiences. They do not prepare themselves, nor the next generation for this slightly uncomfortable time. Despite being a common phenomenon, menopause still remains a taboo.
During STHLM Tech Fest, McKinsey Digital presented us with a challenge on the topic of menopause and the social stigmas around it. We took up the gauntlet and presented a line of timeless jewellery to help people going through perimenopause deal with hot flushes using active cooling technology.
The challenge was presented by McKinsey Digital as follows:
“Today, 850 thousand women in Sweden are going through menopause. Most women start having changes in their period around age 40-45, and other symptoms—from loss of energy to hot flashes to anxiety—may last for a few years to over a decade. The impact on women’s lives is significant: in the UK, for example, 45% of women say their symptoms have negatively impacted their work, 23% feel more socially isolated, and 42% just don’t feel as sexy anymore.
For many women, it can take a while to even realize what they’re experiencing, causing
confusion and stress.
Despite it being a natural process, menopause remains a taboo subject in much of the world. Conversations around the topic may not portray the variety of menopause experiences, including early onset, medically-induced, as a side effect of treatment for other conditions, or for people who identify as male or non-gender binary. And support is limited, whether for managing symptoms, creating menopause-friendly workplaces, accessing reliable information, or having frank discussions with friends, family, and colleagues.
Develop an innovative product, service or campaign that tackles challenges and social stigmas around menopause and supports women before, during, or after. Your solution should tangibly improve the lives of women and is a step-change from what’s been done until now.”
Exploring the problem space
To analyse problems in menopause and potential solutions, we employed the techniques of brain writing and brainstorming in combination with quick and dirty research. First, we did a quick search about menopause
After gaining these insights, we all wrote down our ideas. Then we presented them to each other without any critique. If anyone had additional ideas during the discussion round, they were encouraged to write them down and add them to the discussion afterwards.
Some non-filtered ideas that we had during the brainstorming were:
- Menopos(itive) – changing the language
- Menopause simulator – experience menopause firsthand
- Stories from menopause – an informative book
- Sex toys for menopausal people
- Conversation evenings and menopause meetups
- My Sweet 60 Party
- Letter from the queen congratulating the receiver on reaching the age of wisdom
- Perimenopausal yoga retreats
- Positive quote bracelet, cup, mirror
- Menopause helpline – talk to someone who understands
To get information about our target group and perimenopausal people’s experience in general, we dove into Reddit, more specifically, the r/Menopause section.
We started out by asking kind Redditors to elaborate on some of the positive aspects of (peri)menopause. As it appears, there are not many of those. Although the following lists show more positive aspects than negative ones, most of the replies had a negative undertone.
- No periods (including cramps, planning, PMS, surprise bleeding, period shits, migraines)
- Saving on period products
- No chance of falling pregnant
- Don’t care what others think of me
- Refreshing lack of visibility
- Ability to put my wants and needs first
- No more food binging
- Pretty underwear
- Hair stays clean longer
- Less body hair growth
- Feeling invisible
- Irregular periods
- Hot flushes
- Mood swings
- Hair gets oily faster
- More body hair growth
From this, we gathered that shifting the perspective of perimenopausal people might be harder than we initially thought, and decided to focus on alleviating the symptoms instead. One of the most commonly mentioned symptoms were hot flushes – a sudden change in temperature perception, making the person feel hot and causing sweating. This is what we chose to base our following work on.
Behold! a solution!
Originally, we thought of making the person feel better about themselves during a hot flush with a piece of interactive jewellery that reacts to the change in body temperature and lights up during a hot flush. Our hypothesis was that this twinkling attention-grabbing piece would earn the wearer compliments and trigger conversation on the topic of menopause in general, reducing the social stigma around the topic.
The result of a rapid midnight prototyping can be seen in the following animation.
We feared that people do not want extra addition during this uncomfortable hot flush. Indeed, a follow-up post revealed that while our target group found the jewellery idea pretty, they did not care much for the compliments and found little value in interactive jewellery. Instead, they wanted something that would serve a practical purpose and cool them down during a hot flush.
We played around with the idea of incorporating cooling effects into fashionable jewellery using small ventilators. There are some solutions available, but they look extremely unaesthetic. After some consulting with an external tech-savvy consultant Kasper Thomas de Kruiff, we discovered thermoelectric cooling technology and Peltier elements that are basically tiny silicone-covered metal modules that use electricity to cool down one side of the metal board.
Therefore, we designed a line of cooling jewellery. The cooling elements are strategically placed in locations where blood vessels are close to the skin surface, for example, wrists, neck, or chest. By cooling down the skin in those strategic areas, the feeling of coldness spreads throughout the whole body, soothing and calming down the wearer. A competitor EmbrLabs is already using the same technology, however, their solution lacks the aesthetic element.
Although we let Reddit help us with deciding on the design, we ended up wearing a variety of different styles during the final presentation.
The jewellery line promises a 10-fold margin which is promising for any investor. Due to using the more sustainable stainless steel instead of silver and relatively cheap Peltier elements, the production costs can be kept low. However, we did not initially take into account the overhead production costs and whether button batteries will be enough to power the thermoelectric cooling elements on a desired level. These are the areas that need follow-up research before it can be said with certainty that this business idea is fully feasible. However, when there is a will, there is a way, and surely the power issues can be solved one way or another.
I wish to thank the team with whom we tackled this challenge in the short time of one day, McKinsey Digital for providing us with the challenge, STHLM Tech Fest organisers for creating the hackathon, and r/Menopause for such quick replies and relevant insights to our market research posts.
Eva Maria Veitmaa
STHLM Tech Fest Hackathon, September 2019