Denise Piper
Friday 28 August 2015, 1:54PM

Confitex’s lingerie range is sheer, lacy, sexy and fashionable.

G-strings, sheer underwear, lace and sexy teddies: it's incontinence underwear but not as we know it. Emerging New Zealand company Confitex made history when it hit the runway as part of New Zealand Fashion Week yesterday (27 August). It was the world's first fashion show for incontinence lingerie, with the underwear making use of a patented fabric technology that is absorbent, breathable and washable. Incontinence has long been a taboo subject but it affects up to one million New Zealanders at some point, with 75% of sufferers being women.

Many women are so embarrassed, they do not tell their family or even their partners about their bladder leakage, Middlemore Hospital gynaecologist Lynsey Hayward told guests at Confitex's after-party function. "Women often come into my room and cry because they're humiliated. "In some cases it's so bad that they can't actually work," Dr Heyward says. Traditional incontinence products like pads and adult diapers are expensive, and can cause allergies and chafing, she says. "Some women have been lying on a bed of newspaper because they can't afford the pads anymore." Dr Heyward says her clients have been trialling the Confitex range and many are delighted with it - saying they feel confident and sexy again.

Nurse and personal trainer to women with incontinence problems, Vicki Zumbraegel, shared her own personal story of bladder leakage. It can be hard to be intimate when you have incontinence issues, Ms Zumbraegel admits. She calls the Confitex range a game-changer for women with incontinence, allowing them to feel protected and sexy.

Desirable fashion show attracts attention

The fashion show was purposely designed to be provocative, Confitex director Lisa Hinton admits. "We wanted to tell people that if you do have this issue, you can still feel as desirable as you once did." The runway show certainly was provocative with the first item, a skimpy black g-string, capturing a few gasps and "wows" from the audience. The first half of the show highlighted slinky evening underwear in dark tones, with plenty of lace and suspenders. The second half showcased more daytime wear in sheer tones of silver-grey and soft pink, some with autumnal patterns. Flowing scarves and overcoats helped enhance the sensual look.

The runway show featured Confitex's Hi-Life Collection, which will be available in 2016, designer Frantisek Riha-Scott says. A more day-to-day range is also available now. From sportswear to addressing a problem Mr Riha-Scott, who has his own fashion label Frantisek, met Confitex co-founder Mark Davey while ski coaching.

Their initial idea was to design underwear for endurance athletes - who might lose their race if they stop to go to the toilet, Mr Riha-Scott says. However, while they were working on the technology, family and friends started to open up about their personal bladder leakage issues, and the lack of good products for incontinence. Confitex is the first to use flexible textiles for incontinence, rather than plastic, Mr Riha-Scott says. "Everyone else uses plastic - that's why it's so utalitarian and medical looking," he says. Each under garment has at least three layers - one that quickly pulls the moisture away from the skin, one that is highly absorbent and a waterproof layer on the outside to prevent leakages, Mr Riha-Scott says.

Confitex designer

Confitex designer Frantisek Riha-Scot

Confitex has partnered with New Zealand medical technology company Pharmaco, which will distribute the underwear in Australasia. Pharmacies on both sides of the Tasman are likely to be the first retailers of the underwear, Pharmaco chief executive Chandra Selvadurai says.

Ninety-two-year-old inspires fashion show

Mr Riha-Scott says the Hi-Life Collection was inspired by a 92-year-old, who asked him to design an incontinence g-string. During consumer testing, she showed him the underwear she used to wear before she had incontinence - a collection of lovely, lace skimpy knickers, he says. "I thought, why not do a whole collection of underwear that looks like Victoria's Secret or Bendon?"

Game-changer for men too

While the runway show featured just a small sample of men's underwear, Confitex also does a men's range. Incontinence is a common issue for men who have had prostate cancer treatment, Prostate Cancer Foundation chief executive Graeme Woodside says. "This is a game-changer." Corrective surgery has a long waiting list and is not always successful, Mr Woodside says. "A lot of men just learn to live with incontinence." Patients have been delighted with the Confitex samples and like the fact the underwear is reusable, as many of the disposable incontinence pads are expensive, he says.

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