Women’s equality has been a struggle for as long as we can remember. Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. There has been positive progress over the last decades, with more girls are going to school, fewer girls are forced into early marriage, more women are serving in parliament and positions of leadership, and laws are being reformed to advance gender equality. However, there are still areas where women have been forgotten or very little thought off, and one of those area is, protection gear for women for impact sports and professional fields. I remember when I started motorcycling in late 2016, I went into one of the leading motorcycling stores in Brisbane to purchase some pants, jacket, helmet, and other bits and pieces, and being confronted with very little gear to choose from. You were able to see rows and rows of male gear, but very little female designed gear.
Most of my gear came from the male section, as the female stock they had, just didn’t cut it. I understand, female bodies come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and you can’t cater for all of them, however you would think motorcycle stores get at least a few different shapes of gear as female motorcycling increase roughly by 10% each year. However, what amazed me even more, I didn’t think much of this problem I was faced with, and I guess it’s because we are faced with issues like this all our lives so we are so used to it now. Fast forward to 2019, I had the same experience just worse when I decided to go off road to play hard in the dirt and sand. This time when looking for dirt-bike gear I couldn’t find anything. Everything was made for a men’s body shape, and pretty much came in black, grey or blue colour.
Now I don’t know about you, but you just can’t stick a female body shape into a male garment and think it will fit. I do have to say that manufactures recognize women a little bit, as you can now find protection gear in pink, however they take a male garment and change the colour to pink without altering it to suit a female shape, and to be honest what’s the point in that? I am sure girls don’t care as much about the colour; they care more about the right fit. So off I went and bought myself a set of motocross pants and jersey with some specialized chest and body armour. Each time I wore my gear I felt uncomfortable; I tugged and pushed my armour around or pulled on the garments as they just didn’t fit right. The pants came with some stretch material in the front crutch area, which is designed to have a set of testicles in there, or no extra coverage on the bum e.g., higher waste. So, I constantly was worried that I was showing a plumber’s crack when leaning forward. Now don’t get me wrong, riding dirt or sand requires you to have a set of balls, however I am not talking about those physical balls. So, the front was too loose, the back was too short and my hip…well let’s not start with that one LOL. When it comes to the chest armour, I always felt like I had a straitjacket on. My boobs got squashed between a flat, heavy, ridged front and back plate, half my boobs were bulging out on the side and I looked like I had some sort of cancer growing on the side of my chest, and I constantly had to adjust myself in order to feel some sort of comfort, and most of all I looked like a bloke. Now do get me wrong, any armour is better than nothing, as the danger of breast injuries is just too high when an impact occurs. However, we women have no other choice then to wear something that isn’t made for us. Unfortunately, some women even choose not to wear any protective gear as the discomfort is just too great, so they rather take the risk of injuries or even death.
Breast cancer research can’t say that breast injuries are the cause of breast cancer, due to the time between injuries and cancer diagnosis, however it has been said that it can not be eliminated. Each year roughly around 20,000 women get breast implants. Can you imagine what happened to breast implants when experiencing an impact injury? We are not only talking about potential sternum and rib breakage and organ displacement but complications such as rupture and deflation, additional surgeries with or without removal of the device, breast pain, change in nipple and breast sensation, connective tissue disease and the list is endless. So, it is even more important for those women to wear chest armour that is designed and fitted to the female form, to minimize the impact on their health.
In October 2019, I participated in an all-female charity ride through the Simpson Desert in order to raise funds for Dolly’s Dream an anti-bullying charity. During this ride, I watched 11 women ranging from 5ft tall to 6’1, and all different shapes, all doing the same things as me; pushing and pulling at their protective gear because it didn’t fit right and was uncomfortable, and that was my light bulb moment. During this ride whilst trying to stay alive, I decided to create protective armour that was designed to fit the female form. As I was sick and tired of not feeling safe and comfortable, and thought of how many women are impacted with the same issue.
Over the next 12 month I entered into this huge rabbit hole to discover everything about breast tissue injuries, cancer causes, sternum and rib breakage and its impact, sports injuries in general, female participation in sports, and what was wrong with garments that are available to the public. After many sleepless nights and with the help of over 5000 women around the world (through a few online surveys) I came up with an armour design that ticked all my boxes. The armour had to be boob shaped, light weight, incredibly impact absorbent, soft and with the ability with body heat to softens further becoming even more comfortable for the wearer, and last but not least European impact tested and certified, which gave me the ability to sell globally. In Australia the impact compliance is very low to none existence. The next task was to find someone that was able to create this amazing piece. Over the next few months, I contacted manufacturers around the world, however I had one rejection after another. All were telling me that my list of requirements was an impossible task to do. Now call me a stubborn German, but I knew they were wrong. Just because they had no idea on how to make it, doesn’t mean it was not possible to do. After more research I found a company in Germany (45min from my hometown) that said, they had no idea how to do it, as no one ever made anything like this, however they will find a way to do it, and with that I knew I had the right company for this project. Over the next few months, I was busy in creating everything around the armour. I enrolled into a 6 months fashion program to learn the basic fashion foundations of designing garments, learning how to sew, working on creating my websites, establishing my companies, learning about compliances, participating in workshops and events to learn even more about business and working with the team in Germany on our armour around the clock.
12 months and 4 days later I shared a tear as I held my very first Xena chest armour in my hand, a very special and proud moment indeed, which I will never forget. We called it Xena, after the princess worrier as she is tough, strong and beautiful whilst maintaining a feminine form. Our Xena is able to be used with different garment depending on what sport or professional field you do, as all our garments have pockets on the inside for the armour to slide in and out of when you need it the most. There have been many ups and downs in the Fempro Armour 2-year journey. Often, I was pushed right to the limit as most of the time I felt I had no idea on what to do or cashflow was an issue. There wasn’t an option for someone to do it for me, so it was up to me to figure it out, on how to overcome all those obstacles, and trust me there were lots. The hardest part I guess was doing all this, whilst working on my day job. All of this required funding, so every dollar I earned and all my savings went into Fempro Armour so I could pay another bill without even knowing if my product would be a success. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy doing what I do, because I know I am good at it, however I hated it at the same time because I knew it took me away from what I really love doing; helping women to be safer in this world.
Another obstacle for me was the unknown of how our armour would be perceived within the public. If you chose to wear armour particular when riding on sand or dirt, you wore a flat piece, but now you had something that actually showed your boobs off. As a 6-foot-tall woman with short hair and wearing male gear, I often was mistaken for a bloke which really pissed me off at times. If I got a dollar for each time I heard “oh there is a girl in there” I would be a millionaire by now. I knew right from the start that my product is amazing as I love wearing my armour and it’s not because we have some amazing colours, but I actually look like a girl and I am protected the best I can be, however the challenge that came with something new to the market was to educate women about the importance of protection. We all hear about protecting the back and depending on the sport you do the shoulder and elbows as well, but no one ever talks about the front. Did you know, that if paramedic have to open you up on the side of the road due to chest injuries, your life expectancy drops down to 5%, it’s a scary thought indeed. In February 2021, Fempro Armour was launched and many women already are wearing our gear. All the hard work and the many tears I have shed are being paid off when I see a message in the morning from a customer telling me how the armour saved their life whilst having a motorcycling accident. It’s extremely hard to put this feeling into any kind of words. This just makes me even more determine to make this a success as more women deserve and need to feel safe whilst participating in their chosen sport or professional field. Love Steph xx