Confitex – An unlikely story of success

Confitex Underwear is a somewhat unlikely story of growth and success.  

When alpine ski-racer Dr. Mark Davey decided to join up with his ski buddy and fashion designer Frantisek Riha-Scott from the Czech Republic to develop a line of high-performance sports under garments, they never suspected the sophisticated fabric technology they were working on would lead them to where they are today – a booming business in incontinence underwear.

Mark says that after hearing personal stories from family and friends about the embarrassment and inconvenience of LBL (or light bladder leakage), they took on the challenge to create a range of highly-functional, beautifully designed, washable underwear for people with bladder control problems – estimated to be 1 in 3 women and 1 in 10 men - around 520 million people worldwide.

Getting started – a funding challenge

“We started off in 2013 with around $100,000 of our own money, including funds from friends, family and outside investors. But we pretty much boot-strapped it the whole way,” says Mark. 

“That initial money went into research and development, and proof of concept, but it was a challenge getting commitment from other investors. Partly we think it was some of the taboo around the subject – if we don’t talk about it, it doesn’t exist. But like depression, it’s more widely accepted now and people are talking about it more openly.”

Growing Confitex – in New Zealand and offshore

Davey says the pair initially thought about licensing their textile technology and invention, but it was a completely new product category for which there didn’t seem to be a natural partner.  Offshore distribution networks were also considered, but it is the direct model (both to business and consumer) that has worked for Confitex like a charm. 

Since appearing on the runway at New Zealand Fashion Week in 2015, Confitex's business has grown exponentially, particularly in off-shore markets. For example, the United Kingdom now accounts for more than 30% of the company's total revenue.

Our competitive advantage is that we’re nimble. We move at a different pace to the competition

“It’s all been a bit of a whirlwind, really. Up until last year there were only four of us in the office and we’ve just kept pushing and growing but it hasn’t been easy” says Mark. "Our main rivals are multinational companies and our competitive advantage is that we're nimble. We move at a different pace to the competition and we offer the market something very different.”

Mark says that growing the business has entailed a “…bunch of hurdles which we’ve had to leap over one at a time.”

“We realised early on that we didn’t have a manual to follow because we are an emerging category – there was no precedent. All of it has been on-the-job learning and lots and lots of research. We’re really pioneering a new product and a new way of thinking about this category.”

“I think you have to be a certain kind of individual to follow the dream, even on the hard days, and pursue it no matter what.”

Finding the right people for a growing business

Mark says that growing the team from four to ten in a matter of months has added ‘texture’ to the business.  

“Transitioning from small founder model to a full team of people in multiple locations, and making sure you have the right people in the right places doing the right things at the right time, is an exciting challenge but a key part of making sure our strong early momentum is continued.”

Making sure you have the right people, in the right places, doing the right things is an exciting challenge

“Having a great team of people behind you who believe in the mission and enjoy growing something together is a huge part of building a successful business. There’s a real dynamism and energy that comes from this driven team of young people who are coming in to work every day to change people’s lives for the better. It’s infectious,” says Mark.

Confitex are planning for growth

Confitex is focusing on four key markets to help solve a global problem and restore the confidence, freedom and lifestyle of hundreds of millions of LBL sufferers. 

But the business is not just about making people’s lives better. The global incontinence market is valued at over $12 billion USD and growing at seven per cent per annum, and Mark wants Confitex to be a $100m company in five years. 

“In New Zealand, I think we need to embrace start-up companies and celebrate them the way we do our sporting successes.  New Zealand would be richer as a culture and as an economy if we placed more focus on what amazing things our start-ups and SMEs are doing on the world stage. They’re punching well above their weight.”

We need to embrace start-up companies… They’re punching well above their weight.

“We also need to get better at having access to capital both in the initial stages and go-to-market phases. If you’re taking a New Zealand company global, you need a real capital injection and I don’t think the support is always there. As Kiwis we’re great at innovation but poor at commercializing, and one of reasons for this is that the funding is not always there to take our products to the world.”

“The whole thing has been a huge learning curve for us – both exciting and challenging in so many ways. Disrupting the market and normalising the incontinence problem by creating a fashionable, functional solution makes us both thought-leaders and market-leaders, which we are pretty proud of,” says Mark.

Suncorp New Zealand would like to thank Confitex for sharing their story.

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