The pitch by the co-founders of safety bracelet company Flare sounds a little different than other startups.
“You can’t really talk about a product like Flare without talking about how awful it is that it needs to exist in the first place,” said co-founder Sara de Zarraga.
De Zarraga and her co-founder, Quinn Fitzgerald, both of whom identify as assault survivors, began Flare in response to a statistic: One in three women and one in four men have experienced sexual violence that involved physical contact during their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Boston-based company, founded by the Harvard Business School alumnae in 2016, sells jewelry connected via Bluetooth to an app. With the push of a button on the $129 bracelet, Flare can send you a prerecorded phone call, share your location with friends and family, or connect you with emergency services.
The pair wanted to design a discreet product for people to feel empowered in vulnerable situations — on a date, in a new neighborhood, walking to a car. “Feeling stuck in a situation that’s making your alarm bells go off is one of the worst feelings ever,” de Zarraga said. There was little on the market, de Zarraga said, besides “antiquated devices” like brass knuckles or pepper spray.
“Instead of holding back, not going to places, not feeling like we can be ourselves, or having to constantly look around our shoulder, we imagine a world where everyone has the full confidence and control and agency to choose how they want to live their lives,” Fitzgerald said.
De Zarraga and Fitzgerald did research while at Harvard, interviewing thousands of other survivors about their experiences and working with local organizations like the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center and RESPOND Inc. to conduct focus groups.
“We learned that each of us were going through these individual battles for our safety, and they didn’t know how to broach the subject with other people,” Fitzgerald said. “We realized that safety is a community-driven movement, and we could use technology to help people better connect to each other in these times of need, so that they weren’t alone.”
Flare launched the product in 2020, when de Zarraga said safety was “top of mind” for many people due to the pandemic. “With all of our regular routines disrupted, a lot of people had regular routines for their safeties,” she said. Some essential workers, for instance, had to go to work early in the morning without the usual number of bystanders milling around.
The founders designed three styles of bracelets — beaded, leather, and cuff — in a variety of colors and finishes, meant for people of all genders and ages. Bracelets are exclusively sold through Flare’s website and the company says each unit’s included battery — which is not rechargeable — lasts one to two years. In an attempt to offset the cost, Flare says they provide discounts to nonprofits and gift a bracelet to up to five people a month who can’t afford it.
But Fitzgerald said she doesn’t believe that Flare “solves safety,” which is why she and de Zarraga penned a letter to Congress in April urging them to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.
“To solve safety you need societal, institutional, cultural, legal, medical change,” Fitzgerald said. In short, as Flare puts it, their ultimate goal is to (literally) put themselves out of business.
Moving forward, the goal is to “make safety accessible to as many people as we can,” de Zarraga said. For example, Flare’s app is currently only available for iOS, but the company hopes to create a compatible option for Android users soon.
“We know safety is different for everyone,” de Zarraga said, “but we’re taking it one step at a time.”
Dana Gerber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org