HOTmilk, a New Zealand-based manufacturer of maternity and nursing lingerie, made a name for itself when one of its ads got a restricted rating on YouTube, requiring viewers to confirm that they were at least 17 years old.It’s because its advertisements look more like a much-racier Victoria’s Secret campaign for expectant mothers.
Co-founder Lisa Ebbing came up with the idea for the company in 2005 when she was pregnant with her first child. She says this was before the “yummy mummy” phase, when the underwear options for expecting and nursing mothers were limited. She and her business partner Ange Crosbie decided to cater to mothers who still wanted to feel sexy.
Starting the company “basically took a lot of hard work and what we in New Zealand call Kiwi ingenuity, which is doing something with not much money and not much time,” Ebbing told us. “We pretty much had an idea, scraped up the money, and did it on a shoestring.” When asked to elaborate on what is defined as Kiwi ingenuity, Ebbing explained:
“We had to go out and buy all the components of a bra and make the first samples ourselves on our home sewing machine. I then became the model, my husband the photographer and graphic designer. We then bought a book on html and built ourselves our own website, and Ange, my business partner travelled the country selling product while juggling another job.”
In order to launch HOTmilk, Ebbing and Crosbie took out a business loan and it took four years for the company to become profitable as it was growing and expanding into new markets. “We’ve also seen sales plateau for the past two years due to the economic downturn, but we’re seeing sales increasing again this year,” she says.
HOTmilk is kind of a family business with husbands of both partners working for the company. The company, which started with three employees, now has 15. Roly Ebbing is heading up the new MILKMAN line, which consists of briefs and boxers for men.
“Originally we just wanted a gift with purchase item for HOTmilk which was MILKMAN, but it was so well liked, we had to do it as its own brand,” Ebbing explained, saying that MILKMAN has met expectations.
After being introduced in September of last year, MILKMAN line introduced additional products containing wishbone technology in December. “Wishbone technology is a fantastic innovation in crotch detailing,” she says.
Currently in its sixth year, HOTmilk’s annual revenue is $5 million. Its bras are priced at $50 per bra and are sold globally in 900 boutiques as compared to local 25 boutiques, which sold HOTmilk’s products its first year. HOTmilk is looking to partner with department stores, “but only a select few since we still want to work with boutiques,” says Ebbing, who describes her ideal partner as a company like Nordstrom.
Ebbing named Triumph International and Bravado Designs as competitors, and says HOTMilk expects to go public in about five years after it reaches its $20 million annual revenue goal.
“It wasn’t scandalous as all lingerie brands do sexy commercials and this wasn’t overtly sexual, it was simply that the model was pregnant and why should a pregnant woman be treated any differently, she’s fabulous at all stages of her life, and in my mind, a pregnant body is one to celebrate even more as it’s going through such an incredible journey.” – Lisa Ebbing
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