• Interviews

Kristy Chong’s quest to (sustainably) remove the shame around periods

The future of periods with sustainability at its core

Getting your period in 2020 hasn’t changed much in a generation. Many of us still surreptitiously make regular bathroom visits with our pads, tampons and more recently period cups hidden somewhere on our body, and although there are biodegradable, organic and reusable options available, the stigma associated with a monthly cycle still exists. The good news is the tides are turning, thanks largely to a new guard of sustainable and innovative brands harnessing new technology which is both helping normalise something that half of the population will experience in their lifetime, and making it a whole lot more comfortable at the same time.

When Kristy Chong started experiencing the occasional bladder leak whilst training for a marathon, it occurred to her she might not be alone, and in fact one in three women will experience bladder leakage at some point in their lives. She started researching and the concept of such an outdated, single-use and unsustainable period ware industry became the source of her frustration.

“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,’’ she says.

What Kristy imagined was creating an entirely new product category for women, and so Modibodi’s reusable period underwear was born. 

“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.”

What she should be equally proud of is how she is helping break down the stigma associated with monthly bleeding, especially when met with challenges like Facebook’s now overturned decision to ban Modibodi’s latest campaign video because of scenes that feature red fluid on bed sheets.

We spoke to Kristy on the eve of the campaign launch and covered everything from her memories of getting her first period to how period undies work and her hopes for a sustainable future.

Tell us about why you started Modibodi, is it true that you were running a marathon when you had your ‘aha’ moment?

Correct! I was a full-time mum of a two-year-old and five-month-old at the time, living in Seattle surrounded by tech start-ups. 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. 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. 

For anyone who isn’t familiar with period undies, how do they work?

They are an alternative to disposable options for managing periods and bladder leaks and in turn, reduce the amount of single-use plastics ending up in landfill. The most popular product, the period and pee friendly undies are super-slim, only 3mm thick and can hold up to 20ml or two tampons worth of liquid per wear! They are incredibly comfortable, functional and resilient. And the best part is you simply need to rinse and throw them in the wash!

Modibodi period undies

Modibodi period undies are an alternative to disposable options

What are some of the most common questions you get in regards to the underwear?

We’re not selling a new brand of lipstick or gym-wear, we have created a whole new product category – meaning we get a lot of questions. Some of the most common include ‘What is Modibodi?’, ‘Will I feel wet?’ and ‘How do I wash my Modibodi?’. 

We are huge advocates for sustainable period ware – was that (sustainability) a big part of your consideration in creating Modibodi? 

Sustainability is one of Modibodi’s core business philosophies. We believe that making a positive impact should be as easy as changing your undies. We’re proud to offer a reusable, sustainable option for the benefit of all bodies on this planet. 

Why is creating a sustainable product so important to you?

Many people are shocked to know that the average woman will use 11,000 disposable feminine hygiene products in her lifetime (to manage their period) and these convenient products come with an inconvenient environmental cost. They take 500 to 800 years to biodegrade, which means the very first tampon, liner, and pad ever created are still lingering in a landfill somewhere in the world. 

As of May 2020, our global base of 500,000 customers alone have prevented an estimated 2.5 million garbage bags of disposable hygiene waste from ending up in landfill or flushed into the ocean. 

I’m also passionate about educating the next generation about their options for managing their period at a grassroots level. This is the first step towards changing people’s mindsets about disposable sanitary items and ultimately encouraging them to make more sustainable choices. 

When just 100,000 teens use Modibodi alone from the start of their menstrual cycle, 1.1 billion disposable hygiene products are prevented from ending up in landfill or 1.5 million garbage bags of waste.

Modibodi period undies

Buying reusable period undies means you are preventing single-use period ware from entering landfill


What do you think the future of period apparel looks like? 

We hope the future looks greener and brings a sense of freedom surrounding the all too taboo topic of periods. Leak proof apparel has already come a long way and we are doing our part to ensure the innovation continues. In addition to leak-proof underwear for women, Modibodi also has a dedicated teen range, Modibodi RED and a range specifically designed for sweat and chafing for men, active running shorts, leak-proof swimwear and a recently launched detachable bikini! We also have exciting new prints and announcements coming up, so watch this space.

You commissioned a study recently that found that one third of girls felt uncomfortable talking about their period, what do you think the solution is? Did you feel awkward talking about it growing up? 

When I first got my period, I was 12. I wasn’t the first of my friends, so I knew it was coming. When I told my mum, she handed me a Tampax box and told me to read the instructions on how to use it. After several clumsy attempts, I got it. No further discussion occurred, and I remember thinking ‘I suppose that means I’m a woman now.’

I believe that all people should be open to discussing how issues such as periods, bladder leakage, discharge and sweat affect us day-to-day. 

You have four children, how old are they? And do they understand what you do?

My children are 12, 10 and 6 years old and my youngest is now 20 months old. They know I’m passionate about bringing this brand to people and providing them with a better solution for all their bodily leaks!

What are some of the biggest challenges of being an entrepreneur and having a family? How do you make it work for you?

The challenges are no different to what any parents go through – it’s managing work and being a parent. It’s being able to switch off and be present for your children when you have those demands of work always sitting there, especially when you’re growing a business and always pushing boundaries.

While it’s exhausting some days, I am lucky to be able to work in a flexible work environment. Plus, I know in my heart that I am building a great brand that is making a difference and at the end of the day, everything I do is to build a better future for my kids.

 

 

RELATED: Why we have so much to learn about sustainability from our First Nation’s People 

RELATED: Phoebe Tonkin on politics, feminism and everyday activism

 

Get your weekly G+S fix

Subscribe to our newsletter

More Interviews

Also on G+S