Why hasn’t underwear evolved? That’s what Kristy Chong, the founder of Modibodi asked herself when she came up with the plan to launch her personal hygiene apparel brand.
After further investigation, she launched Modibodi – a protective apparel brand for menstruation and incontinence leaks, sweat, odour and more, eliminating the need for costly and uncomfortable single-use hygiene products.
The product uses high quality, tech-savvy fabrics such as Bamboo, Merino Perform Wool, Microfibre and the latest in breathable, antimicrobial fibres with a super slim stain resistant lining for modern periods and leaks, and a moisture-wicking, odour-fighting lining for getting sweaty.
Kristy’s efforts and entrepreneurial spirit paid off. She was recently among three New South Wales-based businesses announced as national winners of the 2019 Telstra Australian Business Awards.
Homeless shelter and not-for-profit, Dignity, received the top title, 2019 Telstra Australian Business of the Year, after also winning the Social Change Maker Award. Since its inception in 2015, Dignity has been able to assist more than 70,000 vulnerable people in metropolitan and regional areas throughout the state, providing shelter, food, clothing, advocacy and education, and empowering people to regain control of their lives.
Personal safety monitoring and response company, Sonder, was announced winner of the 2019 Telstra Australian Emerging and Energised Award. The business uses cutting-edge technology to mobilise spare capacity among ex and off-duty emergency services personnel to make safety and support services accessible to everyone.
While Modibodi was announced both 2019 Telstra Australian Medium and Making Waves Award winner and 2019 Telstra People’s Choice Award Winner.
Here, inspirational mum and tech fashion business woman Kristy shared her story with The Carousel.
Tell us about your background – have you always been an entrepreneur?
Prior to starting Modibodi, I worked for 13 years in public relations for some well known multi nationals including McDonald’s and Edelman PR. I was on maternity leave with my second child when I had the idea for Modibodi.
I was never really sure of what I wanted to do, but I am naturally a problem solver and activator, and I always knew I wanted to start my own business. In fact, I nearly started a PR agency before the idea for Modibodi took over my life.
What was the reason behind setting up Modibodi?
I was a full-time mum of a two-year-old and five-month-old at the time, living in Seattle (USA) surrounded by tech start-ups.
I was out jogging, in fact, I was training for a marathon and had been experiencing occasional light bladder leaks. The available solutions were ugly, inconvenient, uncomfortable and a hazard to our environment – disposable hygiene. I just felt we deserved something better.
Once I realised how problematic the issue was, I also couldn’t understand why with all the advancements in technology, underwear and disposable hygiene had not evolved. I knew instantly that I was going to have to create a whole new product category for women. I am really proud that I took that idea and turned it into a product and now products that can more conveniently, comfortably and reliably manage menstrual flow, incontinence, sweat and even breast milk leaks, and reduce the amount of single-use products ending up in landfill and damaging our environment.
I spoke to chemical textile engineers, scientists, garment developers, and textile mills and then did the sourcing and scientific testing for over 18 months to develop our patented Modifier Technology. The technology is found in the gusset area (and bra area of our breastfeeding singlets) and works by wicking moisture away from the body through to an absorbent and odour eliminating middle layer, then a waterproof breathable, hi-tech barrier prevents leakage.
Tell us what sets you apart from anything else?
Five years ago, we accelerated the fusion of fashion and technology to create a product that would empower women to live their lives to the fullest. Within that time, we have worked with scientific researchers to not only develop garments women can wear, but ones they can trust to support them when they might not be feeling their most confident.
Australian-patented and scientifically tested, MODIBODI is the first Australian organisation to deliver high-tech protective leak-proof underwear, swimwear and apparel for periods and incontinence.
Modibodi’s philosophy is that all bodies should be embraced and celebrated. Our goal is to ensure every woman, no matter their shape, ethnicity, size or ability feel included, and so we have a wide range of sizes, our ad campaigns use diverse models, in fact, many are customers, and we don’t retouch or photoshop any model used in our ad campaigns.
What have been the obstacles you’ve overcome and lessons learned?
I underestimated how big a market challenge it was going to be. We were not just selling a new brand of lipstick or gym-wear, we had created a whole new product category. We couldn’t distribute through large retailers because they found the product too taboo, so we had to go direct to the customer and build this category awareness and education around our offering. We really learned about the value of word of mouth, and found that going directly to our customers with advertising on social media and influencer marketing with much more valuable that working with large chain retailers.
Another big, ongoing challenge (apart from becoming a textile expert with no experience) is around breaking the taboos around periods, sweat and incontinence. We wanted to positively empower women and men to speak openly about those issues. It can be challenging to talk about periods and incontinence issues in public because it does make many people feel uncomfortable.
Apart from this award, what is your proudest achievement?
Taking the business global is obviously a major highlight, but I’d have to say my four children are my biggest achievement. Everything I do, I do for them.
What would you like to share with other female entrepreneurs?
The best piece of advice I can give is firstly, to think big and act big from the start, and this should be reflected in your branding! And secondly, push the boundaries, you are likely to get rejected or fail at something maybe once or twice or possibly a lot more – take a day to recoup and then keep on trying!
Finally, what’s next?
We will continue to develop innovative new products to provide protective, hi-tech, fashionable apparel brand that offers all bodies convenient, comfortable and sustainable solutions for moisture concerns – be it menstruation, incontinence, perspiration, discharge or breast milk leaks.
Just last month, we’ve also launched MO by Modibodi, Australia’s first leak-proof apparel range for men. The initial concept for MO came about many years ago not long after launching Modibodi. I was contacted by men asking which style would work for their incontinence issues. To learn that men were also suffering, made me realise just how debilitating incontinence can be for many people. I researched the market and spoke to men with light incontinence and learnt that there really wasn’t a suitable protective solution that could bring some dignity into men’s lives, while providing comfort and a more sustainable solution. I knew we eventually would need to produce a Modibodi for men as well.
In early 2018 I made the decision to start the development of a men’s range of products. The development and production of MO has been almost two years in the making. We wanted to ensure that this product would answer the needs of men, so they have been thoroughly tested and are comparable in function, quality and comfort to our RED and Modibodi ranges.
We will also continue to increase our social impact through our own ‘Give a Pair’ program and working with a variety of organisations in Australia and across the globe to deliver women in need a sustainable, simple solution to manage menstruation and incontinence.
About Kristy Chong
I’m the CEO and creator of Modibodi. I’m a mum on a mission, a fash-tech entrepreneur and a social advocate for women’s health issues and rights. After the birth of my second child, my personal experience with “unmentionable” bladder leaks made me determined to start my own brand. One that would change our mindsets – and the planet! – by changing underwear for the better.