Period underwear goes mainstream

Rival period underwear brands Modibodi and Thinx are delivering a one-two punch to the multi-billion-dollar feminine hygiene industry with the opening of their respective pop-up stores in Melbourne and Sydney within days of each other. 

Thinx, a US-based brand that ships to Australia, recently collaborated with independent Melbourne retailer Third Drawer Down on a pop-up that ran from October 25-31. The pop-up now is heading to Sydney, where it will run from November 4-10.

Meanwhile, Modibodi, a NSW-based business, launched its first ever pop-up store at Chadstone shopping centre in Melbourne on Monday. The pop-up will run through November 3, before moving to Indooroopilly shopping centre in Brisbane on November 5 and finally landing at Macquarie shopping centre in Sydney, where it will run from November 11-17.

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While it’s hard to imagine the timing is pure coincidence, Thinx’s VP of PR and community CJ Frogozo pointed out that pop-up shops require a long lead-time and says Thinx didn’t know about Modibodi’s pop-up until last week. 

“That’s the only thing I can think of,” she told Inside Retail Weekly, calling it a coincidence. 

An emerging market

The two businesses are some of the biggest players in the global menstrual underwear market, an emerging category that uses high-tech moisture-wicking and odour-absorbing fabric and clever design to provide an alternative to traditional period products, such as tampons, pads and liners. 

Since Thinx burst onto the scene with its frank, feminist messaging in 2013, a slew of brands have followed suit, including Knix, Dear Kate, Ruby Love and Modibodi, which Australian entrepreneur Kristy Chong launched in 2014. Several brands have expanded beyond underwear into swimwear and activewear and now advertise their products for all kinds of leaks, not just periods. 

According to QY Research, the menstrual underwear market was worth US$79 million in 2018, and is expected to reach US$580 million by the end of 2025. This is still just a fraction of the global feminine hygiene market, which is expected to be worth US$52 billion by 2023, according to Research and Markets. 

Reaching new customers is a challenge for many period underwear brands, almost all of which operate online. Convincing customers to trust that their products work is even harder, which is why Thinx and Modibodi are investing more into physical retail.

“Speaking with a Thinx employee in a lot of ways is really critical to making that first choice to purchase the underwear,” Frogozo said.

The brand saw local sales spike after it opened its first pop-up store in Australia around this time last year; Australia is now the third biggest market for Thinx, after the US and Canada. 

Frogozo declined to provide local sales figures but said the company generated around US$50 million in revenue in FY19, up from just under US$40 million in FY18. 

In addition to pop-ups, Thinx has partnered with department stores and boutiques around the world to give customers the opportunity to touch its products before buying them. The brand is stocked in Nordstrom in the US, Selfridges in the UK and, as of two months ago, David Jones in Australia. 

“We’re in 17 of their top locations,” Frogozo said.

At the same time, Thinx is considering opening its own bricks-and-mortar stores. The brand last weekend launched a new concept in New York City called “The Rest Room”, and Frogozo says it’s a “test” to see if a permanent store can work. 

Just the beginning

This is just the beginning for Thinx, which completed its Series A funding round in September, raising US$25 million from consumer goods giant Kimberly-Clark. 

Frogozo says the capital will be used to “supercharge” Thinx’s growth by running top-of-the-funnel advertising campaigns like the TVC it launched in the US earlier this month. 

The commercial addresses the stigma around menstruation by imagining a world where everyone has a period. It made headlines after several broadcast networks refused to air the ad unless a scene showing a dangling tampon string was deleted. 

“There’s nothing inherently shameful about menstruation,” Maria Molland, Thinx CEO, wrote in a recent op-ed for Time

This is the disruptive belief that made Thinx such a revelation in the first place, and it’s proving to be a lucrative one for it and other period underwear brands. 

Chong recently sold a stake in Modibodi to private equity firm Quadrant Growth Fund for an undisclosed sum. The brand has said it will use the funds to grow its brands overseas, where it already has a strong foothold in the UK and France.

Period underwear, however, is still a long way off from being considered as mainstream as tampons and pads, which is the goal Thinx is ultimately working towards. The brand is currently developing a low-cost version of its underwear and aims to be on supermarket shelves, next to Libra and Kotex, by 2021.

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