How authenticity was the key to Modibodi’s $50m success
Kristy Chong may not have known much about the underwear market when she launched period-proof knickers brand Modibodi, but she knew one thing.
“As a woman, I was fed up. I was fed up with being shown only one type of ‘perfect’,” explains Chong, who’d grown tired of the way knickers were being marketed using impeccably Photoshopped models, and frustrated with the taboo around periods and light bladder leakage. “I wanted to change that for women of my age, but also for future generations. Because I was over it.”
It turns out that plenty of women felt the same way. Since launching in 2013, Modibodi has sold more than a million pairs of underwear, and although the company doesn’t release its financial results, it’s estimated that it nets around $50 million in sales annually.
During the coronavirus, Modibodi saw an unexpected publicity boost and a spike in sales when panic-buying caused a shortage of tampons and pads in some supermarkets.
But while Modibodi’s performance has been strong, what’s perhaps even more impressive is the fact that the company has created an entirely new (planet-friendly) product category – and disrupted the feminine hygiene industry in the process.
Chong came up with the idea behind Modibodi in 2011 after struggling with light bladder leakage following the birth of her second child. Two years later, after rigorous testing, Modibodi launched the world’s first pair of knickers created with built-in patented fibre technology that protects against periods, bladder leakage and sweat, and can be used in place of tampons during menstruation.
From the start, says Chong, authenticity has been key to the brand’s success. Modibodi’s campaign imagery features models in a range of body shapes, ages and ethnicities, and all the brand’s images are completely unretouched.
It’s an unvarnished aesthetic that’s increasingly finding favour with young Gen Z consumers, but Chong admits the approach earned pushback early on. “There were a lot of vomit emojis and ‘She’s so fat’ comments [on social media]. We don’t get that anymore, but at the start there was a bit of backlash. It was quite sad. But there was also overwhelming support, which made me think that the naysayers could just stay to the side, and that these were the people we were speaking to.”
Turning to micro-influencers
Chong – who has a background in public relations – also faced challenges getting mainstream media onside. “Some of the mainstream media didn’t really want to talk about the topic,” says Chong, who ended up turning to micro-influencers, who were happier to be open about issues such as periods and sweat.
Chong’s decision to speak openly about her own experiences with light bladder leakage also helped contribute to the brand’s reputation for authenticity and reliability. “I’ve been at the forefront and talked personally and openly about my experiences,” she says. “I think to do that as a founder, to not feel ashamed, and to get really personal has been very important.”
The importance of reviews
Chong also found success by investing a small marketing budget – $40 a day to begin with – into SEO, social media and digital channels. Still, she says, it was “one customer at a time. They’d have a good experience and tell friends or write a review. Reviews were key, and we got onto them very early. At the start we couldn’t get anyone to pose in their underwear, but as the reviews started and I spoke more openly about my experience and we got some influencer coverage, people started to want to speak about it.”
Seven years in, and Chong has just launched into the US. Reflecting on her success, she’s most proud of the practical help Modibodi has offered women and the part she’s played in ending body shame. “We’ve been right there on the precipice of that cultural change and I feel we’ve been an integral part of that [change] with some of the decisions around the brand – including not Photoshopping women and using diverse body shapes, ages and ethnicities in our campaigns. I’m so happy to be part of this, but what’s most important is that this change is bigger than me and it will live on.”
Naomi Chrisoulakis is a freelance writer who has worked for marie claire, Women’s Health and Stellar magazine
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