Most self-defense tools for women—from whistles to pepper spray to knives—are designed for women to confront a potential attacker. But there aren’t many products designed to help women get out of uncomfortable or unsafe situations before they escalate to that point.
Flare, a startup that launched last year, creates products tailored to women’s everyday experiences with harassment and abuse. The brand was founded by two sexual assault survivors who spent months speaking to thousands of other survivors about what tools they actually needed. Its $129 bracelets have a button that gives the wearer a range of options for getting out of difficult situations discreetly, and it’s one of the winners of the Fast Company’s Innovation by Design Awards.
Founders Quinn Fitzgerald and Sara de Zarraga met as students at Harvard Business School in 2015, and as they became friends, they discovered that they had each survived assault. They decided to build a business that helped protect women. While the market was full of self-defense tools, these products tended to be weapon-oriented and many were designed by men. “There are very few situations women find themselves in where a weapon would be useful,” says de Zarraga. “Most incidents of assault are not black and white, and they often involve someone you know. A weapon could do more harm than good.”
While they were still in grad school, they began working on the concept of Flare, tapping into the university community to hold focus groups with women, LGBTQ+ folks, and other minorities who are more likely to experience assault. They discovered that people wanted a product that would help them get out of uncomfortable everyday experiences: A creepy neighbor or coworker who lingers too long, a date who is just beginning to cross a line, a stranger staring at you on the bus. “These situations could easily veer into dangerous territory, but in the moment, it’s unclear whether you’re safe or not,” says Fitzgerald. “People wanted a tool that would empower them in these more nuanced scenarios.”
When they graduated, they began building the product, giving themselves a crash course in jewelry design. They created a line of eight bracelet styles that look, on the surface, like the trendy cuffs and beaded bracelets on the market. But theirs are embedded with technology and a subtle button on the inside. You begin by pairing the bracelet with your phone using Bluetooth and then customizing the bracelet’s settings. With one push, for instance, you can can trigger a pre-recorded call that allows you to say you you have to go because your boyfriend or parent is calling you. You can hold down the button to alert friends or family members of your GPS location. Alternatively, you can configure the bracelet to send an alert to a 911 dispatcher who will call you and send help to your location unless you cancel. The bracelet is powered by a battery that can last up to two years, so you don’t need to bother recharging it.
Flare debuted in early 2020, right as the pandemic was about to send the world into lockdown. Despite the fact that peoples’ lifestyles changed, the bracelets were popular from the start and sold out almost immediately. The brand has since restocked the bracelet twice, and sales continue to grow. Now, the founders are focused on building other tools to help keep people safe. “We don’t see ourselves as a jewelry company or even necessarily a product company,” says de Zarraga. “We create technology that allows people to feel more confident and safe as they go about their lives. But ultimately, we realize our product shouldn’t exist: We want to live in a world where people don’t experience violence and harassment as part of their everyday life. We hope that we’re just a stopgap solution until that time comes.”
See more from Fast Company’s 2021 Innovation by Design Awards. Our new book, Fast Company Innovation by Design: Creative Ideas That Transform the Way We Live and Work (Abrams, 2021), is on sale now.