In 2011, Kristy Chong was on maternity leave after having her second child, when the idea for Modibodi came to her. She was training for a marathon; her period had not long returned, and she was experiencing some light bladder leakage.
“On one of those training runs I realised the options available to me and to many other women, were pretty uncomfortable, irritating and didn’t give me a lot of dignity,” Chong tells Shirley Chowdhary on the latest episode of The Leadership Lessons.
From that moment, the idea was clear: why hadn’t anyone developed something better to manage our periods and light incontinence?
“The developments in the period products space had been very limited,” Chong adds. “We know that the original tampons and pads were developed by men, and the way they were positioned was using blue liquid, it was very much medicalising the problem – because it was a “problem”.”
A decade on, Chong is the proud founder and CEO of the well-established Modibodi, the original leak-proof brand for period and incontinence underwear. Her products are also reusable, offering a simple and sustainable solution to disposable period products.
She’s also just picked up yet another award, recently named the Australian winner of the Bold by Veuve Clicquot award which celebrated Chong for the millions of products Modibodi has sold, as well as her work producing more sustainable products.
“When I created this brand, I wanted to give people a very simple solution,” Chong says. “Often the sustainability world is complex but with our undies you just need to wear them, rinse, wash, hang them to dry and repeat. It’s not that hard.”
In the early product development stages of Modibodi, Kristy says the response to her idea for leak and period-proof underwear was mostly positive. Generally, people were willing to jump on board with her innovative product ideas.
Any backlash against her disruption of the status quo came later – notably in 2020, when Facebook pulled a Modibodi advertising campaign that showed period blood. Red, blood-like liquid was shown on disposable pads, on sheets, and tricking down a woman’s leg in the shower. For people who menstruate, these scenes are nothing out of the ordinary.
For Facebook, it too “sensational” and “graphic”. Chong said the decision honestly shocked her, as she thought we’d reached a stage where conversations around period were beginning to normalise.
“All we are trying to do is normalise what 800 million people globally experience. It can be icky, that’s the reality we’re trying to show,” she said.
“This is what I say to people: most likely the person next to you is bleeding from their vagina. The reality is that’s going on. It’s part of my life, it’s not gross or shameful.”
Eventually, after whirlwind of support for the campaign, Facebook overturned its ban, and we moved one step closer to normalising periods.
Chong explains her mission is to bring authenticity, realness and rawness into the way we all think about normal bodily functions. It’s a philosophy she brings to the operational side of her company too, where she prioritises leading her team with empathy.
“As a leader in the new age, it’s about empathetic leadership. Trying to listen to your customers, your staff and empathise with we’re they’re at, instead of just pushing them do things and meet your agenda,” Chong said.
“Who I am at work is who I am at home. I’m a very conscious leader and it’s a style I try to encourage in my leadership team. We need to listen to everybody, ask for their opinions and draw them out.”
Kristy has extended this empathy to her staff by making menstrual, menopause and miscarriage leave available to her team, a policy she says ensures that these parts of life are normal discussions in her workplace.
“There are so many people who are experiencing physical and mental pain in relation to a very normal monthly problem being menstruation or menopause, and then miscarriage too,” she said.
For the staff who had taken up the leave, Kristy says they tend to come back with their loyalty to the company increased, and without the feeling of shame that is so often attached to these issues in other workplaces.
In the podcast, Kristy shares that since establishing Modibodi, she’s learnt that her best strengths are problem solving and activation. She’s always felt a need to prove herself to herself, and won’t settle for defeat.
“Coupled with the right idea, it just seems to have worked.”
Hear more from Kristy Chong in conversation with Shirley Chowdhary in The Leadership Lessons, a Women’s Agenda podcast made possible thanks to the support of Salesforce. You can listen here, or subscribe via iTunes or Spotify.