From maternity leave to a multi-million dollar underwear company

From maternity leave to a multi-million dollar undie company
From maternity leave to a multi-million dollar undie company Photo: Supplied / Kristy Chong

While some of us consider getting dressed and out the door an achievement while on maternity leave, Kristy Chong used hers to start a multimillion-dollar underwear company.

The idea for Modibodi came to her in 2011 while she was training for a marathon – as you do – a few months after giving birth to her second child.

"I was running when I started to have a leak. I also had a lot of sweat going on, and I realised that my underwear was failing me," she told Essential Baby.

Kristy Chong
Kristy Chong 

"It wasn't happening all the time, but it was enough that it caught me out at supermarkets and other places. It's really embarrassing, and when you've got two kids you can't just dash off to the bathroom."

Kristy said that for some reason, her incontinence often reared its ugly head when she was about to get her period. She also had heavy periods as a teenager, so she knew how acutely embarrassing it is to have inadequate protection.

But rather than dwelling on how frustrated she was by her post-partum body, Kristy turned her mind to possible solutions.

"Why hadn't the world developed a pair of knickers that were high tech and absorbent, and better for the environment?"

It's not as though Kristy's problem was an uncommon one – although it is something few women openly discuss.

According to the Continence Foundation of Australia, one in three women who have a baby will wet themselves. And like many other women, Kristy suffered from incontinence even though she did her Kegels during pregnancy (and continues doing them to this day).

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"A lot of it is stress incontinence," she explains.

"It's the coughing, the sneezing, the laughing, the running. But it's not like it's happening all the time. So I wanted to develop a solution that is there when you need it, rather than something you have to put in and out three times a day and chuck in the bin."

Despite having no background in science or textiles and still being the primary carer of her two children, Kristy threw herself into developing a prototype of leak-proof underwear that replaced the need for a tampon or pad. She and her husband (who happens to be a scientist) invested their savings into researching the technology.

Photo: Modibodi is an Australian company making leak-proof underwear. Supplied
Photo: Modibodi is an Australian company making leak-proof underwear. Supplied 

Even though it took longer, Kristy was adamant that Modibodi underwear would be as sassy as it was functional and eco-friendly. It was a question of dignity, she said.

"Women often say things like, 'Thank you – I can go out to a party now because I don't have to wear a nappy or big liner.'"

A new business and another baby

Modibodi hit the shelves two years after that fateful leaky run.

Photo: Modibodi is an Australian company making leak-proof underwear. Supplied
Photo: Modibodi is an Australian company making leak-proof underwear. Supplied 

Kristy then had her third child a few months after the official launch. This meant that her business grew slowly for the first couple of years.

"Everything was done on a casual basis. When I let the kids have a bit of screen time, I'd be on the computer doing work. I was just so driven by this purpose, and I think once that's in you it's hard to stop."

Her challenge wasn't simply to promote a new brand, but an entirely new product category. Her goal was to educate women about a new way of managing periods and incontinence.

Sales of Modibodi began to skyrocket and to date, over a million pairs have been sold. New lines in swimwear, active wear maternity wear and a tween range have been released, and there is more on the horizon – though Kristy remains tight-lipped about the specifics for now.

She said that revenue is projected to hit the "double digit millions" this year, but is coy when I ask if it's made her a millionaire.

"Any money we have is all in the business, and I don't pay myself as a millionaire. The business is doing really well, but what's more important is that we're delivering this product into the hands of women and empowering them every day. I'm driven by that purpose rather than becoming a millionaire."

She is the first to admit that she saw a business opportunity in an area of women's health that had been neglected for too long.

"This whole area has been dominated by male-led inventions. Not much had been invented in the last 70 years – not until Modibodi and the menstrual cup came along. It has taken female entrepreneurs stepping up and not being afraid of running a big business."

No more me-time

Kristy has four children aged between 10 and just four months old. She said the toughest thing about being a working mum is having to give up me-time – but even so, she's okay with it.

"I'm either giving 100 per cent to my kids or 100 per cent to my business. Others might say 'Oh you need time to yourself to de-stress' but I'm comfortable with my choices. I choose my children, my business and my husband."

"I won't be found in a nail salon, and I'm hardly at the shops. I just got my hair done and I think it had been six months since the last time. Those things are not things I have time for."

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

#meandmysons love them soooooo much

A post shared by Kristy Chong (@kristylchong) on

Kristy continues to run her growing empire while tending to her baby girl, who she said is her worst sleeper to date ("It's been three months of sleeping on me and last night I was up every two hours.")

But she said that running a business can be a lot like caring for a newborn.

"Last year I was waking every two or three hours to work on the business, and I was pregnant. So I think your body starts to adjust to a lack of sleep. When I need to, I just take a nap, or go to bed earlier. But don't get me wrong – I'm still tired."

However, Kristy simply isn't the type of person to wait for a better time to turn her dreams into reality.

"When I have an idea, I put it into action. I don't just sit there and say, 'One day I'll do that.'"