Ethical, honest, body positive. These are the three phrases to describe Perth based underwear brand Molke – they’re shaking up the way things are done in the underwear industry, and boldly carving their own path.
Speaking to co-founder Kirsty Lunn, she told me: “We carry out everything from our studio in Perth and source sustainably, from our labour to our fabrics. It's not just about making money for us. We care about creating change in the fashion industry.”
Given the detrimental impact that unsustainable practices have on both people and the planet, and the overlap between these, this is a refreshing focus.
Debuting in 2017, Molke is the brainchild of Kirsty Lunn and Ros Marshall. However, the company’s origins can be traced back to 2011 when now creative director Kirsty was searching for a new hobby after having her first baby. After buying a sewing machine and making cloth nappies for her son, one thing led to another and soon she had forged her own business, Billy Bums where she made her cloth nappies available to all interested parents.
Fast forward a number of years later, increased demand, and a partnership with her friend Ros and Molke was born! We were really excited to chat to Kirsty for this feature, and find out more about what goes on behind the scenes at Molke.
So Molke emerged from your initial business, Billy Bums where you focused on designing cloth nappies. How did you decide to expand to create underwear for women?
With Molke, we just wanted to create something different. I’m completely self-taught. We just felt that there was a lack of exciting things out there – comfy underwear generally tended to have boring designs. I started creating clothes for my kids and myself, and then my friend suggested that I create a bra. I thought it was a crazy idea but I gave it a go, and when I posted the bra on Facebook people went crazy over it!
I ended up getting a bunch of my friends round to model the underwear. The unique thing about it is that they are designed around real bodies – we don’t use computer programs or anything like that, we use real people. It’s went nuts from there. While we initially had a huge demand from those who are breastfeeding, we opened it out from there – we had a lot of e-mails from a whole variety of people, showing us the demand was there so it didn’t make sense to limit our scope! Our youngest customer is 10, while our oldest is 80!
Our youngest customer is 10, while our oldest is 80! It is great that you are able to fill that gap in the market by making underwear that is comfy without compromising on style – all too often there’s “sexy” underwear that’s perhaps not the comfiest, and “comfy” underwear on the other side of the spectrum that lacks creative and colourful designs.
Definitely. We’re seeing a trend in the underwear industry where there is starting to be a push away from push-up bras – and this is especially true for our clientele who maybe don’t have as much time to go out clubbing anymore! Creating underwear which is a better fit for bodies lends itself to being more flattering. And to our knowledge, there are no other companies in the world that carry such a wide range of sizes, which is something we take pride in.
Your wide range of sizes is definitely really impressive – body positivity is something that seems to be very central to Molke. It is great to see your commitment to using a wide diversity of models to show off your products. Why do you believe body positivity is important?
The average size of a woman in the U.K. is 14/16, yet almost everywhere you see size 6/8 models. There is obviously nothing wrong with being a size 6/8, and they are as “real” as any other body type – there’s no such thing as a “wrong” body size or shape. But the issue lies with there only being one body type shown repeatedly above all others.
A lot of models in underwear as well tend to be younger, and this doesn’t represent the majority of people out there. This is troubling particularly for something like underwear, because it’s then harder to gauge how underwear would look on your own body. So yes, we believe it is important to represent all types of bodies.
Our customers are our models, which is great because it gives a sense of ownership to them. It also offers us a valuable chance to get feedback on our products from the people who wear them. Some of our models are wheelchair users and it’s great to be able to cater for as many women as we can.
We also use models of all ages – for our next shoot, we hope to have a model in her 70’s coming up from Caithness! It’s a real shame there is not a lot of companies that verge toward “body perfect” instead of “body positive”, because they’re really missing out so many people.
Ethics are something central to Molke, as evidenced by this and your commitment to sustainability particularly. What kind of things so you do to engage in sustainable practices at every level?
I think that it’s really important to stand against fast fashion. Fast fashion is detrimental to the environment and produces cheaper quality clothes. There is no care to how they are produced, and the impact on both people and the environment.
At Molke we are really interested in promoting a second-hand and reusable ethos by donating our scrap fabric to organisations like Remake Scotland, where the fabric is repurposed to create a whole range of items. We use organic cotton and zero plastic at every level, for example, we use paper mailers and don’t use plastic tags on our products. Recently, we won an award from the Perth Chamber of Commons for our commitment to sustainability.
What is your creative process like? Do you feel like the style of art you developed during your Fine Art degree, shows through in your designs?
I’m still the one behind the creative elements in our team! It’s the most fun part for me and everything is created in the studio, its great fun. There has been a high demand for bras right now so I’ve been trying to keep up with that, but hopefully I’ll get a chance to create some new designs soon. We also work with some in-house local designers from nearby Perth and Dundee.
Our customers are our models, which is great as it gives a sense of ownership to them.During my degree I painted mostly, and although I’ve always been creative my interest in textiles and fabric design came after my degree. YouTube tutorials helped a lot in the early days as I got to grips with it, as did some Facebook groups I was a part of. I have always loved pop art, and bright and bold colours. I did my dissertation on Jean-Michel Basquiat who was renowned for his bold designs. So I suppose in that sense my artistic style is reflected in Molke – although we do need to accommodate a wide range of customers, so I do create more muted patterns too!
What has your experience as a business owner in Perth been like? Do you find it’s a generally supportive community?
It’s been fab. We like being rural up here in Scone – our studio has fab views! There’s also so many other indie businesses that are nearby so it’s a great supportive community. There’s always loads going on in Perth and there are many great schemes available to help up and coming businesses, such as Growbiz Perthshire, Elevator's Accelerator Programme, and Business Gateway Scotland.
What does the future look like for Molke: do you have any exciting plans for 2019 that you can reveal?
We have a few plans up our sleeve! We want to open into new areas of clothing while maintaining our same organic, ethical ethos. Swimwear is something that you can look forward to in 2019! We are looking forward to slowly growing and expanding to match the rising consumer demand that exists. We also want to generate more local employment opportunities, and to bring skills in sewing to the Scottish landscape – something that I think is really hard to find just now.
And most importantly….world domination! ;-)
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