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Rise of the period panties: Modibodi’s Kerry Cusack on the menstruation market

By Rachel Douglass


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Business |Interview

Modibodi's stand at Salon International de la Lingerie January 2024. Credits: WSN.

It’s an exciting time to be in the lingerie industry. Its growth is coupled with a buyer that has become more educated, self-assured and involved in the process, making concepts and brands a lot more in-tune with their mostly female audience. A culmination of this is the Period Pants industry, a one that has not only benefited from the widening awareness of women’s needs, but has contributed to just that, giving this demographic a better understanding of often more hygienic alternatives to deal with their monthly flow.

One brand that is truly leading the way here is Modibodi, the Australian period pants label that has already taken its home country by storm and is now hoping to capture a wider span of this increasingly lucrative market. The brand’s products are designed with sewn in gussets that vary both in size and absorbability, of which there are several variations, some holding up to 10 pads in one wear. Efforts to bring this offering to a broader audience had already been seen in the appointment of its latest executive director and CEO, Kerry Cusack, who took on the role from July 2023 and has since set about defining the brand’s presence on an international scale.

The upwards trajectory of the period pants market

“I walked into an environment with a team who are really passionate about these products,” Cusack told FashionUnited when asked about her experience at the brand so far. Prior to Modibodi, Cusack had previously served as chief commercial officer at Alquemie Group and had also been the head of international business at Retail Apparel Group, both primarily apparel-focused firms. Speaking on this career change, Cusack added: “[The Modibodi team] are so motivated to make women’s lives better. That’s a different world for me. You can bring fashion into the business, but actually working for a brand with a purpose is a whole other level.”

Kerry Cusack, Modibodi CEO and executive director. Credits: WSN.

Modibodi has already demonstrated a proven track record on its home turf, yet Cusack’s appointment came at a time when it had its sights set on a more global base. Its plans for the global market had been cemented via its acquisition by hygiene company Essity back in 2022, which snapped up Modibodi to strengthen its position in the fast growing market. “For the brand’s first nine years, it dominated because the market wasn’t so competitive. I’ve come in at a time when the category is now much more understood,” Cusack said, a fact that became evident in a series of international focus groups that informed part of the executive’s initial strategy.

“Working for a brand with a purpose is a whole other level.”

Kerry Cusack, CEO and executive director of Modibodi

Alongside some of her team, Cusack brought Modibodi to the Parisian trade show Salon International de la Lingerie (SIL) to continue this exploration of the European market, a core area for the brand in terms of expansion. It was therefore imperative to Cusack that evolution ran alongside the ever-changing consumer, who continues to anticipate widely differing qualities and a deeper focus on trends.

Modibodi lingerie collection, campaign imagery. Credits: Modibodi.

“Customers in the early days were early adopters and there was more emphasis on sustainability,” Cusack noted. “That was one of the main reasons why customers would come into the category. Our customers now, the younger girls, already know about it and they’re consciously making decisions. They don’t want to use disposable products or insert foreign objects into their bodies. One insight that is also important is the focus on trends. In the early days, available products were quite bulky. Our product team has done a good job of redefining that.”

Modibodi expands into lingerie category

An offset of this can already be seen in the Renaissance collection, a fashion-led line the brand exclusively unveiled during SIL. It marked the Modibodi’s first foray into the world of lingerie, responding to a heightened call for pieces that allowed the wearer to feel sexy no matter what time of the month it was. At the event, Charissa Lanham, Modibodi’s design and innovation lead, said on the line: “We've had a lot of feedback that even on your period you can feel sexy, so this is where this collection comes in. It's all the same classic technology. It's just trying to get a younger target market.”

Modibodi's Renaissance collection at SIL. Credits: WSN.

The colourful collection – notably made with exclusive lace from a sixth generation US manufacturer and incorporating recycled nylon fibres – is a world away from the brand’s ongoing collaboration with Puma, which is coming into its third year. And this again also differs vastly from Modibodi’s year-round core collection of skin coloured underwear styles, with the Puma range instead incorporating bright colours and print into a high-end range of entirely seam-free sports products.

Lanham said the ongoing collaboration with the sportswear giant – which will ultimately consist of 15 collections once concluded – had been a particularly interesting one for the Modibodi team, with Puma’s heightened expectations and rules defining the production process – from testing labels for chemicals to approving tech certifications for each product. It also served as a suitable backdrop for Modibodi to test acceptance in activewear, a relatively new venture for the brand, which has seen its gussets incorporated into related products.

“Not enough of the European market is purchasing underwear…”

Charissa Lanham, Modibodi’s design and innovation lead

“We think that the market’s not quite ready,” Lanham noted on this new venture. “Not enough of the European market is purchasing underwear, which is the gateway into all other products. We thought we’d just concentrate on [our Puma collaboration], really get this right, and then we can introduce activewear.” There are also teething difficulties for other categories internationally, with some countries still showing a subtle stigma towards such products.

Puma x Modibodi period underwear collaboration. Credits: Puma.

Untapped markets and international expectations

The UK, meanwhile, is a slightly more dynamic one for Modibodi, and remains relatively untapped in the realm of period underwear. The brand’s entry into the region is being overseen by international business consultant Stella Constantine, who said: “The UK is so untapped in terms of the high street and getting to the younger demographic at the moment. I think there is a huge opportunity for us to claim that space, especially because we’re heading in a trendier direction.”

The variation between markets has been a focal point for Cusack, particularly at a time when international economies are facing crises. Modibodi’s strength is a “reflection of the category itself”, Cusack noted, and when it came to international growth, such a move “happened organically” as customers began specifically approaching the brand. “We weren't necessarily promoting the product to them, but they were finding us. And so we identified the UK, France and Germany as key growth markets.”

Modibodi's swimwear line at SIL. Credits: WSN.

Market differences extend beyond stylistic preferences and current market status to also influence technical aspects. Compared to Australia, for example, the UK favours the brand’s higher absorbency pants, and has also shown an interest in swimwear – which has a different patented technology that locks in moisture – and teen products, like the boy shorts style that have longer gussets. As such, Modibodi’s team regularly analyses the different behaviours of their consumers to question how to make lives easier. This has further been reflected in a leotard and tights combo – both of which come with their own respective gusset and are currently in the product development phase ahead of a potential public release.

Modibodi dance tights and leotard. Credits: Modibodi.

There have also been challenges in the realm of VAT, a conversation that dominated the latter half of 2023 in the UK, as [calls for VAT-free period pants became all the more present]( https://fashionunited.uk/news/fashion/say-pants-to-the-tax-gains-momentum-as-more-retailers-back-campaign/2023082471212), with Modibodi and John Lewis among those backing campaigns. Australia, meanwhile, had already removed taxes on such products in 2019, echoing the country’s seemingly wider acceptance. Adding to this, design lead Lanham said: “Australia is entirely on board. We love our recycling, we love our sustainability. We’ve got a huge customer base in Australia. They’re really welcoming. There's been other brands in the market that have come along and it's really helped to push it into the mainstream.”

Read more: UK government puts end to ‘period pants tax’

Modibodi secures B Corp certification

Sustainability has been a natural part of Modibodi since its inception, according to Cusack. “The sustainability aspect is very big, especially in the demographic that we’re targeting. It may not necessarily be the first purchase driver, but as an underlying message it’s important. The fact that we have always been a sustainable brand from the beginning is a really strong part of our story.”

Modibodi teen boy shorts at SIL. Credits: WSN.

It is this mindset that has ultimately led Modibodi to become one of the few B Corp certified labels, a status that can only be granted following a rigorous assessment into a company’s performance, accountability and transparency on a variety of factors. When discussing the new announcement, Cusack said that acceleration in this area had been driven further by Essity. She added: “We monitor all of our factories, there are so many compliance rules and regulations under the Essity umbrella. They’re a massive company and they’re all about sustainability. It’s very much at the heart of the business.”

Read more: Modibodi launches world’s first biodegradable period proof underwear

This remains true even as the company faces setbacks within its distribution, as like many it experiences slight delays on stock deliveries due to conflict in the Red Sea. Yet, with warehouses based in Australia, the UK and the Netherlands, Modibodi still holds a lot of product, so such issues have not yet impacted the customer. Cusack commented: “We did air freight a bit of stock, which is normally outside of our process, but there are times when it’s going to happen. I’m confident that our customers won’t be compromised. It’s more the product development process, sending samples back and forth to factories, where things slow down. Rate and fuel costs have gone up, which does impact us too. We’ve tried to keep our pricing accessible. It’s towards the more premium end of things, but it is important to be able to rely on the products. It’s not something you want to compromise on.”

Speaking to your target group through products

Modibodi's First Period Kit. Credits: Modibodi.

This inclusion of consumer voices remains front of mind for all those at Modibodi, and are then mirrored in the brand’s product offering. An example of this is the First Period Kit, a pack that includes two pairs of Black Hipster Bikinis, a handheld mirror, a waterproof bag and a comic designed by illustrator Justyna Green which explores the first period of two teenage friends. Cusack said this relaunched product aims to broach the topic of first periods in a more light-hearted way, following the mission of destigmatising such conversations. She added: “It’s about turning it from a negative into a positive. I really want us as a brand to drive that sentiment. That’s been a big shift and you’ll see that coming through a little more.”

“It’s about turning [the topic of periods] from a negative into a positive.”

Kerry Cusack, CEO and executive director of Modibodi

Such a belief extends into brand collaborations and the way in which Modibodi communicates with its customer, the younger of whom – in the range of 8 to 12 – are highly influential in purchase decisions, despite it typically being their parents that have the purchasing power. These individuals are strongly influenced by peers, social media and trends, meaning there is a particular importance placed on showing up where it's relevant.

“Younger girls are already making the decision for themselves. They’re inspired by certain brands and influencers, and that’s a really important part of our strategy. We can’t just leave it up to them to discover the brand for themselves,” Cusack said, adding that the brand’s choice of store partners is also emphasised, with concept stores and young department stores only just slowly beginning to get in on the movement. In regards to the older generations, however, she noted: “We’re definitely focusing more on that sub-25 year old customer too. The older you get, the harder it is to convert, because you’ve formed habits.”

Modibodi teen boy shorts - campaign imagery. Credits: Modibodi.

With this group, communication has been a lot more of a natural evolution, largely through word-of-mouth, and has developed through the creation of a community that remains largely customer-led. This is evidenced in the Modibodi Facebook group – VIPP’s (Very Important Period People) – which boasts over 5,000 members, each of whom take to the platform to discuss various questions, concerns and insights into menstruation as a whole.

The future of period pants

It is this expanding awareness and comfortability that has been behind the growth of the period pants market as a whole. In fact, the growth of ‘period panties’ has only been confirmed by traced figures. For example, Future Markets Insights reported that from 2018 to 2022, the global Period Panties industry saw a CAGR of 12.7 percent. Meanwhile, Grand View Research forecasted that the market would register a CAGR of 17.4 percent from 2023 to 2030, up from its market size of 103.87 million dollars in 2022.

Modibodi is planning to remain at the centre of this evolution. This year, in particular, already looks like a busy one for the brand, with a Smiley link up on the horizon, an intentional choice to maintain relevance among the younger demographic, as well as three more Puma collaborations. On this, Cusack said: “[The Puma collaboration] gives us credibility in the sports and yoga categories. This will be underpinned by a proper launch into the UK, France and Germany.”

There are also plans to secure a wider reach among retail partners, spreading Modibodi’s wings beyond its primarily online-focused platform so that customers can come into direct contact with the products. It must be noted that such an experience is imperative, especially for those of us who are very much set in our ways. To be told that such a thin gusset can hold up to four tampons is something that will stick and will help women reconsider the relationship they have with Aunty Flo.

Modibodi Puma collaboration at SIL. Credits: WSN.
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