Kristy Chong saw a need to disrupt the women’s underwear market and create a new womenswear category when she experienced “unmentionable” leaks while training for her first marathon.
Running following the birth of her second child, she found herself questioning why underwear had continued to fail girls and women for so long – whether during their periods or post childbirth.
Why hadn’t underwear brands innovated to solve this problem? And why were the only options uncomfortable, costly and environmentally unsustainable disposable products?
Inspired by the then innovations in tech that were occurring back in 2011, she set about finding her own solution to a problem affecting a significant number of women. She started researching and then testing new textiles and fabrics from all over the world, before developing the patented technology behind the period and pee proof underwear brand ModiBodi in 2014.
When we speak, Kristy has just gone on maternity leave and is due with her fourth child, following a massive few months that have put the business on the global map.
In the past year, Chong’s team moved from her kitchen bench to an office with ten staff, and they are expecting to grow by to 25 by the end of 2019. They’ve launched a period-proof swimwear line aimed at girls (no more leaks from the pool to the changerooms), along with a new activewear line, and new launches in the UK and France.
Chong says her experience combining maternity leave with the business this time around will be different to how she previously managed following the birth of her third son. Back then, she was still testing the idea and preparing for launch mode. It was a hectic and exhausting schedule with plenty of unknowns regarding what would come of it all. This time she has a team available and is no longer involved in the day-to-day operations.
“It’s a good time to have another baby,” she tells me. “Having my third when I launched was really difficult.
Staying positive and optimistic is important, she says. “I have my hard days, but I try to just constantly think that things will work out. It will be tough, but you have to accept that you chose to do it and take responsibly for those choices.”
It also helps that Chong relishes a challenge – and has taken on plenty of them in the past few years. With a background in marketing and public relations, she had no experience starting a business before taking on the challenge to address women’s underwear and had to start from scratch on developing the technology that would enable women to have confidence in the brand.
“I borrowed a book from a library on how to start a business and I just started on the journey,” she says. “I’m a problem solver and an activator by nature, so I sought to resolve the problem.”
Taking a scientific approach, she consulted with chemical textile engineers and spent around $20,000 from concept to final prototype, before finding a manufacturer willing to do a run of 500 garments as a start. The business achieved $50,000 in sales in the first year, while Chong spent considerable time and energy pushing to educate the market to trust and have confidence in leak-proof underwear. Finally, she says, they’re seeing some significant momentum, with around 70 per cent of their customers being mothers and many now buying the products for their daughters.
So why hadn’t major underwear lines pursued significant innovation in this area before? Chong, who has worked in corporates previously, says it’s easy to see why these major businesses can get stuck and consequently how a startup steps up to fill a need.
“People are so busy on their current jobs, the mission is profit, and tech innovation isn’t always the priority. Often it’s about just re-skinning the same products. Also, men have often been responsible for developing products on the market.
“The time really is ripe for women like myself and others to change things, people who can take on the risk,” she says.