Three women sitting on the floor, wearing t-shirts and loungewear, laughing at looking at each other

Some of the clothes Louise makes (Picture: Fifty One Apparel)

Years ago, I was listening to the radio in the car.

I heard a segment on Woman’s Hour with a man discussing his wife’s struggle with menopause. They were sleeping in separate beds as she was so hot and uncomfortable.

He was recognising her suffering, and seemed determined to find answers that would help her. But had found nothing.

I could hear in his voice how desperate he was to find a solution to ease her hot flushes. 

It made me think of my own struggles with this symptom – how they felt all-consuming and debilitating.

And that’s when it hit me: I had to help. 

So, in 2018 and approaching my fifties, I started a business – creating clothing designed specifically for women suffering through menopause.

My background is in textiles, and I’d already been running my own textile agency for the past decade.

At the time, I’d just finished a meeting with a menswear company and had this specialised fabric in the back of my car. It’d originally been designed for NASA, and was temperature regulating. The fabric interpreted the body’s heat, stored it and then released it back when the body started to cool.

It occurred to me how useful this may be to women experiencing hot flushes – myself being one of them. 

I hadn’t suffered as badly as some of my friends – but, for some women I knew, it felt like they were burning up.

I thought that the idea of menopause-friendly fashion would definitely exist, but was shocked to discover that it didn’t. 

There was nothing I could find on the market made to regulate the body’s temperature. To help women.

Founder Louise sitting at a table, holding material, wearing a black polo neck and looking to camera. She has medium length brown hair with a fringe.

Louise with her fabric and designs (Picture: Fifty One Apparel)

All too often we assume women will keep calm and carry on – suffering in silence. I’ve sat through meetings when I felt my whole body must be bright red because of how hot I felt.

I had another friend tell me she once hid her face in her handbag during a meeting, surrounded by men, as she was so embarrassed by her hot flush.

As women, we learn from a young age to just keep going and not complain – whether we’re experiencing period pain, morning sickness and, in many cases, menopausal symptoms.

But why shouldn’t a woman’s comfort be a requirement for her day to day life? If men suffered hot flushes, would this type of clothing have been made available to people sooner? Probably!

Perhaps consumers simply didn’t think there was a need to invest in clothing that made menopausal women more comfortable.

In actual fact, menopausal women are the fastest-growing demographic in today’s workforce – so we simply cannot be ignored any longer.

After hearing that radio segment, I put the feelers out to women I knew that were the same age as me and used them as focus groups. I asked them their thoughts on this type of clothing, how much they’d be willing to spend and whether they thought it was a good idea. 

The feedback I received was so positive that I took the leap.

I enlisted the help of a freelance designer, and worked with them on four initial styles – a lounge pant, a vest and two basic t-shirts. We produced an initial batch of them all in white, grey and black and, through word of mouth, I started hosting parties at women’s homes to sell them.

The feedback was incredible.

This planning stage took around 18 months, but once we felt we had a good, solid product, we launched a website and went live. That was over five years ago now and it’s just gone from strength to strength.

I love the clothing, it’s so versatile. You can wear it under your work clothes, or around the home and the nightwear helps me sleep so much better.

Michelle Heaton modelling for Fifty One Apparel - she's sitting on the floor cross legged, wearing navy blue long sleeve top and joggers, looking away from camera and smiling. There is a yellow pillow behind her

Michelle Heaton is one of our celebrity fans (Picture: Fifty One Apparel)

Actually, some of the most incredible feedback from women I’ve had is about how they’re finally able to sleep again.

Michelle Heaton is one of our celebrity fans, and has also modelled for us. She went through early menopause at the age of 35 after undergoing a hysterectomy, and has been such a champion of our work.

It’s great to see celebrities like Davina McCall and Lisa Snowdon speaking so openly about the menopause and perimenopause, too.

For so long, menopause hasn’t been discussed in the mainstream, for fear of women feeling old and being seen as ‘past it’ by society. 

Let’s face it, women have long been valued in society for their looks or youth – and we used to make women feel as though menopause was a sign they had passed their sell-by-date. Often, we still do.

But women have so much more to offer. 

Not only are we seeing women in menopause as a growing number in the workforce, but women in their fifties are starting to carve out a new direction for themselves – rather than hide away, invisible and ashamed.

I feel that menopause should be included in the school’s curriculum so it’s discussed as a health issue from a young age. Really, we just need to normalise it so women can speak up when they need support and not ever feel they have to suffer in silence.

Hopefully we can quash this stigma for good. 

As told to Kat Romero

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