Rural Perthshire-based Molke manufactures and supplies positive pants
and confidence-boosting bras to women all over the world and of all ages
and body types, using ethically produced materials. Molke underwear is
designed to make women feel empowered, strong and free from the
constraints that come with the stereotypical and limiting underwear that
is available on the high street. Set up in 2017 by Kirsty Lunn and
Ros Marshall, Molke aims to make boobs happy the world over.
Kirsty started by making bras, initially for herself and then for friends as they saw and fell in love with the brightly coloured and fun designs.
A keen sewer with a strong creative flair, Kirsty had already been making bright and colourful reusable cloth nappies and clothes for her children and others, establishing Billy Bums in 2012.
Then someone suggested to her that she should try making a bra and, never one to shy away from a challenge, she did, putting a photograph up on social media. People started sharing and asking if they could order a bra for themselves.
Kirsty explains: “It was after the birth of my first child that I bought a sewing machine.
“I didn’t want to go back to my day job and I needed a creative outlet.
“We were using cloth nappies for my son and so I started to make my own, upcycling material lying around the house. I would sew at my kitchen table with the baby in a sling.
“And then after the birth of my second son I bought an overlocker sewing machine and started to make children’s clothes. My second son was actually born in what was my sewing room in my parents’ house in Scone.
“Working around the children has always been what drives me, that and a genuine passion for environmental and social justice.”
The enterprise journey
Kirsty has come a long way since those early days at her kitchen table.
She says: “Since then I have adapted the original design. I had all my friends round constantly so I could measure them and try different sizes on them.
“Molke bras are different because they are designed around actual women’s bodies rather than a mannequin or a dress form, which I think is why people love them so much.
“Within a month or two of setting up my first website I couldn’t keep up with demand for underwear. I approached Ros, who I knew through the Perth Nappy and Sling Network, asking if she could help me with the admin, and after a couple of months she dropped her part-time job to work with me.
“We contacted GrowBiz, the community-based enterprise support organisation, who gave us lots of advice and support, helping us become a limited company with Ros and I as directors.
“We got our first premises at Perth Airport in March 2017, employed our first two members of staff and started a crowdfunding campaign for £10,000 to help us fund materials and new machines for staff. To say we were totally overwhelmed with the response would be an understatement.
“Our official launch in July that year saw our website crash within a couple of hours due to demand and pretty much ever since then we have been trying to restock!”
From the outset, Molke customers, along with Kirsty and Ros’s family and friends, have been the bedrock of their support.
Kirsty says: “Our customers are incredibly loyal and many have been with us since that first crowdfunding campaign. Over 60 per cent of our 10,000 or so customers are repeat customers and our sales are all through word of mouth and recommendations.
“We have also had fantastic advice and support from GrowBiz in a whole range of areas, everything from intellectual property rights to manufacturing processes, from websites and business processes to finance and PR and marketing, it has been amazing.
“Our growing team is also wonderful. It is important to us that our staff are respected and recognised for their work and their commitment to Molke. We currently have an all-female workforce and focus on upskilling in-house where possible and were delighted to become a Living Wage employer in 2019.
“We are passionate about continuous improvement and have undertaken a project to improve our manufacturing capability and performance, supported by the Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Service (SMAS), have worked with Scottish Development International (SDI) on our internationalisation strategy, and have ongoing projects designed to improve our website, IT capability and quality management systems.
“We were also successful at the Scottish EDGE competition in 2019, securing substantial funding of £45,000 for the business.”
Looking to the future
The Molke ethos of a body positive business which aims to empower women by giving them confidence and comfort through their underwear has struck a chord with many people.
Kirsty and Ros are great believers in slow fashion and are keen to ensure that their business growth is also sustainable. In the two years that they have been trading as Molke their turnover has doubled each year, and in 2020/21 they expect to have a turnover of over £1 million. They are taking on more staff and have launched new product ranges including leggings and children’s underwear. There are new designs and swimwear also in the pipeline.
In order to accommodate the rapid growth of the company, Molke re-located in September 2018 to new, larger premises. This allowed more staff to be recruited and provided the space to expand the manufacturing, warehousing, office and distribution facilities. And there are plans for further expansion with a move into an even larger purpose-built building.
Kirsty says: “At the moment we are making over six hundred bras a week and we still can’t keep up with demand.
“That’s a lot of happy boobs!”