What is period underwear, how does it work and can you really use it instead of tampons and pads?

When we think of sustainability, menstrual products and underwear aren’t typically the first things that comes to mind. But Modibodi founder Kristy Chong is certainly changing that!

Kristy is on a mission to revolutionize feminine hygiene products and her brand Modibodi and their period and leak-proof underwear is certainly making waves in this area.

In this chat Kristy and I talk about sustainable periods and how an embarrassing mishap while running the Seattle marathon led to her creating what will clearly become one of Australia’s iconic brands.

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Would you mind sharing how unmentionable bladder leaks provided the inspiration for you to design and develop a range of a leak-proof underpants that grew into the Modibodi brand?

Kristy:

Yes, sure. So I was actually in training for a marathon. I was living in Seattle. And so, it was after the birth of my second child, I started to experience some light bladder leaks. It was really on one of those runs where I had the idea for Modibodi.

I had this issue, and well, my underwear was failing me, and it got me thinking about all the times, as a woman, that our underwear failed us, be it sweaty knickers on a hot summer’s day, periods arriving too early, period overflow, unwanted discharge or, as a breastfeeding mother, leaky boobs from breastfeeding.

And I suppose the truth, and what I came to realise, was that the solution being offered to women, and had been for many years, was inconvenient, irritating, eco-damaging disposable hygiene. And so I was living in a city that was surrounded by tech, being Seattle, and so I thought, “Gosh, there’s so many advances in tech happening in certain parts of life, why hasn’t it happened in the underwear world, and why has there been no advances in feminine hygiene for many, many years?” And so from that idea I set about on making my journey to develop the scientifically proven, patented technology behind our brand.

Laura:

Fabulous. And marathons? Not long after the birth of your second child? Well, I can’t really imagine doing that but I can definitely imagine having some of the result of that marathon on your underwear, I think many mothers have had that at some stage.

Kristy:

I think that a lot of women won’t even admit to the problem because it’s a non-issue when they sneeze or when they have a cough or when they’re doing exercise. So it’s almost a regular occurrence….

Laura:

Yeah, or when you laugh too much!

Kristy:

When you laugh too much, yes, exactly.

Prior to period underwear and leak-proof underwear, what options were out there for women experiencing like light bladder leakage, and how sustainable were these options?

Kristy:

Number one is disposable hygiene. Be it pads, tampons or panty-liners, in particular for light bladder leaks. They’re the most commonly used products to manage incontinence and periods, and they’re definitely not sustainable. In particular, one pad, it uses about four plastic bags and it takes about 500 to 800 years to break down. So that’s not great for our environment.

But it’s not just a landfill problem either, the amount of energy and water consumption that goes into a single-use product is not great. And our waterways are also being impacted because women are still flushing tampons down the toilet and in fact, about 0.5% of all plastic debris found in the ocean is tampon applicators. And then there’s the plastic used around the applicator. I’m sure plumbers would be glad to get rid of the tampon out there!

And then there’s other more sustainable options, like menstrual cups, which are great for those who use insertables, but 60% of women don’t use an insertable for managing periods, and so it’s still a great option but it’s not enough because it’s not catering to 60% of the menstruating population.

Laura

Gee, that high? 60%, wow. I guess teenagers are probably more in that bracket, and older women?

Kristy:

That’s right. So there has been a sustainable option for periods, not for incontinence, but yeah, it’s not like it does the whole job. So there was definitely a need to create something that would.

How do period pants / leak-proof underwear work?

Laura:

So how absorbent are period underwear, and how much of a flow do they hold? And how often would we need to change period pants, like if we’re out and about?

Kristy:

I think we’d put it this way, Modibodi period underwear are like super-comfy undies with the inbuilt protection of feminine hygiene. And then we have a range of absorbency. So you can wear them for eight to 12 hours a day, but it depends on your flow or leaks.

For 75% of our customers, they use them on their own, so they’re a total replacement for disposable hygiene. We have a light to moderate version that hold up to one tampon’s worth, up to a very heavy overnight version that can hold two to three tampon’s worth. It’s important to remember that the average woman only … this is for periods alone, not for bladder leaks, but she loses about 30 to 70 mLs of menstrual fluid during her period. So that’s between five to 10 mLs a day, so it’s not a lot, I think we just think it is.

Basically the moisture hits the top layer, which is closest to your skin, and then it’s quickly absorbed through into the middle layer, and then, unlike any other brand on the market, with Modibodi you remain really dry, so it’s not like sitting in a wet bathing suit. I think that’s really important for people to understand, we create a technology that keeps you dry. The whole garment is odour and bacteria resistant, with a natural layer next to the body, and then a waterproof barrier prevents it going through to your clothes. And then the garments can just be … they fit and feel like regular underwear, but they wash just like regular pants as well, so you can soak them first if you choose to and then put them in the washing machine and hang to dry.

Laura:

They sound so easy! I’ve used them myself, and I kind of wish that I had them as a teenager. They’d be so handy in those early couple of years of your cycle when you’re just getting used to your flow and you don’t know whether your cycle is going to be 28 days or 40 days.

I went to an all-girls school, and there was always someone at school who had a bloodstain on their dress. It seemed there was always someone in the toilet with their dress, washing it in the sink and then drying it under the hand-dryer. Being an all-girls school, we all got it, but I think how good period underwear would have been then, because they would have captured everything. We wouldn’t have had those accidents and that would have made for an easier teenage transition to womanhood.

Kristy:

You’re right, Laura, and mums have caught on to Modibodi, and we’ve got more of a range that cater to that market now. They’re constantly telling us that their daughter feels quite empowered, and they’re happy for her not to go through that whole embarrassing moment of dropping her pad when she’s going to the toilet, or just dealing with those leaks and that issue. So yeah, they’ve also seen independence in their daughter, through wearing Modibodi period underwear, and confidence, so that’s really nice to get that feedback back from our customers.

Laura:

Yeah, that would make you feel really, really good.

Kristy:

It does, yeah.

How Has Your PR Background Helped You to Spread The Modibodi Message?

Laura:

So I’ve seen your background and you’ve got a formidable career right up to now, and I’m sure it will continue to keep going from strength to strength, but you’ve brought to your business a solid background in PR, having worked in that field for 11 years. So how has that helped you to get the message of sustainable … it’s not just underwear because I know you’ve now got a great swimwear range out there, and obviously you’ve touched on the bras as well which are great for lactating mothers, so how has you background really helped you to spread this message out there?

Kristy:

Yeah, that’s a really good question, and actually it was over 13 years experience, just to clarify.

Laura Trotta:

Wow, 13, in that case your website needs updating!

Kristy:

Yes, I think it does … well I suppose I learned that, from my background in PR, that with any new product you have to … well, when you’re creating a product you’ve gotta identify what problem you’re solving, and it’s the same when you’re communicating about that product. And so, for us, the problem was simple; one in three women had incontinence and every woman menstruates, and of those, one in two have heavy periods which lead to overflow. Yet there was a clear lack of comfortable and sustainable solutions. So we presented the problem and then the solution: we’re giving women comfort, sustainability, and more confidence. And a protection that is often 24/7, as well, so it’s not just a short term protection.

Kristy:

And then, I suppose I set about doing what I know best, it’s communicating to influencers and the media. Telling them this is a sizable problem and that there is a clever new solution that we’ve developed to fix it, and to have a positive impact on our environment. And I also have a positive impact on women.

Laura:

Yeah, and their body image too, definitely.

Kristy:

And their body, yes, yes, very important as well.

Laura:

I love that in your communications you’re using women of different shapes and sizes and races. It’s really good to see that you’ve got that inclusiveness as well that really appeals to us all.

Kristy:

Thank you. Yeah, I was told from the start that I probably shouldn’t do that, I should gloss over the issues and use these certain types of models and I just thought, “Nah, I can’t lie to our customers”. You sort of go against what’s on trend yet I think we’ve been congratulated for doing that. Because that’s the only way we can break down taboos and encourage women to have more positive role models and to feel more included, not excluded, from the marketing that they’re seeing.

What Have Been Your Biggest Challenges To Date In Growing Modibodi and How Have You Overcome Them?

Kristy:

I think firstly I’d say 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. And so, as I said, I totally underestimated how much market education was to be applied first. So at the beginning we were out there pitching to retail to buy and I thought, “This is a great idea, everyone’s just gonna get it”. But I soon realised that they just didn’t. And we had to go direct to the customer and build this category awareness and education. And also, customers, I think, when you sell directly they’re more willing to try something new, of course, than a buyer for a big retailer who’s a lot more risk-averse. And we also give customers this 30-day free trial period and I think that helps increase their likelihood to purchase and try the product.

And we had spent the past four years investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in building that category awareness and now consumers get what we are about and I think people out there in Australia, that if you ask, probably out of a handful of women I would say half of them would understand and would have heard about period and leak-proof underwear. So I think we’ve done our job with building category awareness.

But that sort of leads on to our biggest challenge, and we’ve done the category awareness but now we have face, head off, the copycat period underwear brands that are being produced by big players who don’t bother to do the science, they choose cheaper and inferior materials and they don’t really care about the social impact side, rather they’re just trying to make money. When I started Modibodi I wanted to build, yes, a financially sustainable business, but one that, at it’s core, was social impact. And the thing for us is Aussies are sometimes driven by cheap, and replace if it doesn’t work, but when it comes to sustainable, reliable protection I don’t think cheap is always best.

So our focus is to get our customers to understand the science behind our products, the benefits of our technology, that are garments are ethically made, and that we’re truly committed to this positive social impact. Also providing an extensive range of products that, as you mentioned before, for women of all shapes and sizes. And then continuing to invest in scientifically proven innovations.

What I’m very, very proud of and will be announced soon is that we are a part of the Powerhouse Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences Collection. So we will stand alongside Hills Hoist Washing Lines, bicycle helmets and other amazing Aussie inventions, so that’s a legacy that I’m proud to leave.

Laura:

So was Modibodi a trailblazer in period-proof and leak-proof underpants worldwide? So not just in Australia?

Kristy:

Yes, we were. Interestingly, we launched and then a competitor US brand launched, probably within a month of us. But yeah, we were first to market, which I’m glad to say, but there’s gonna be competition and we’ll just have to stay ahead of the game and keep focusing on that quality and the science.

Laura:

I guess there’s always competition, especially where there’s such a strong need for period underwear.

Kristy:

I always look at it that we’ve got a product that works, it’s great, but our main competition, still, is disposable hygiene. They’re 90-something percent of the market.

Laura:

Wow, and just when you think of the volumes and the population, that’s just so many disposable tampons and pads going straight to landfill or getting flushed down the toilet, like you said, so it’s criminal.

Kristy:

Yes.

Laura:

Come on women, wake up!!

Kristy:

Millions.

Where to next for Modibodi Period Underwear and Kristy Chong?

Kristy:

Firstly we’re going to focus on market expansion for period underwear. We’ve launched in the UK and we’re soon to hit France and USA and Germany. And then to other smaller markets where we’ve got distributors onboard now. But we’ve expanded into maternity and swimwear and a preparation range of underpants for women, so watch this space.

And lastly, we’ll continue to make a difference to the large number of women in need, so a commitment to deliver more and more of our product into the hands of those women. We’ve always donated thousands of underpants to programmes for women in Africa, and also victims of domestic violence, refugee women and children. And that’s really important, so the more we grow, the more that that aspect and that side of our business will grow.

Laura:

That’s great, I love it, I love how you’re teaming together the social impact and the sustainability. For sure.

Kristy:

Thank you.

Laura:

That’s those two very strong values. So how can our listeners best support you and Modibodi going forward?

Kristy:

Sure, you can purchase the products directly from modibodi.com, and you can follow us on Instagram at Modibodi Australia, and on Facebook as well.

 

Final Thoughts on Period Underwear

I hope you found this article on period underwear insightful and great motivation for you to try out Modibodi period pants and leak-proof underwear for yourself. By switching from disposable feminine hygiene products and to reusables like Modibodi, you’ll be taking yet another step forward to making green mainstream.

Have you tried period pants / leak proof underwear? Share your experience below!

Laura

Laura

Laura Trotta is one of Australia’s leading home sustainability experts. Fusing her professional expertise as an environmental engineer with the down-to-earth pragmatism that comes from being a busy mum, Laura is an eco thought leader who’s not afraid to challenge the status quo.
Laura

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