We talked to Dr. Kati Ernst of ooia Period Panty on combining beautiful underwear with innovative functions and this is what she had to say.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Dr. Kati Ernst: Thanks for asking. We’re doing fine, and we are healthy. We are managing to keep up work and school life as the pandemic allows.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded ooia Period Panty.
Dr. Kati Ernst: We, the founders, Dr. Kati Ernst and Kristine Zeller, are experts in combining beautiful underwear with innovative functions. Since the ooia Period Panty is also superior to the previous Period Panty solutions in terms of functionality, the company aims to expand abroad.
As a pure vertical brand, we will take over the development, production, and distribution of the ooia Period Panty, which for the time being can only be purchased through its online store. The prototype was completed in June 2018, production of the first delivery began in October 2018, and commercial market entry started in July 2018 with social media activity on Instagram and Facebook. Since then, ooia has offered several styles of period underwear, as well as limited editions. In April 2020, the product range was expanded to include the ooia nursing bra. ooia is completely self-financed.
About Kati and Kristine
Dr. Kati Ernst: Dr. Kati Ernst previously worked for more than ten years at the international top management consultancy McKinsey & Co. focusing on Apparel, Fashion & Luxury. As an Engagement Manager, she has advised board members on innovation, new business/strategy, organization, and change. In 2016, I became a part of the Berlin McKinsey office’s management team as Manager of Professional Development. She received her doctorate at the University of Wuppertal and holds a degree in business administration from the Westphalian Wilhelms University of Münster. She spent her school and university years in England, the USA, Spain, Argentina, Canada, and Australia. Her husband is also an entrepreneur in sports, and they have three children together.
Kristine Zeller most recently managed several purchasing departments at Zalando, including the lingerie department. In total, she has more than 15 years of experience in stationary and online fashion retailing with a focus on women’s apparel, accessories, and underwear. Managing teams of up to 40 employees and was most recently responsible for more than EUR 300 million in sales. Before that, she studied textile business administration and graduated at the top of her class. Her husband is the managing director of a medium-sized company in the IT industry. They have two daughters.
How does ooia Period Panty innovate?
Dr. Kati Ernst: ooia period underwear looks like normal women’s underwear from the outside – but contains a magic membrane system in the crotch area, which absorbs fluid and prevents leakage while at the same time keeping the surface dry and bacteria-inhibiting. Thus they replace or supplement traditional feminine hygiene products such as tampons or sanitary towels. After wearing, ooia Period Pantys are washed and can be reused.
ooia expanded its range in April 2020 with the new product category ooia Moms. ooia launches Germanys’ first nursing bra that makes nursing pads superfluous and makes breastfeeding sustainable and comfortable.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Dr. Kati Ernst: We had to make sure that on the one hand, our production partners in Europa can work under safe circumstances. But on the other hand, demand is increasing, so the whole supply chain is a big challenge for the stock! Besides that, it is hard to keep the company culture and the team in a positive mood. The corona is affecting absolutely everyone, and onboarding new people is not easy. But we have a great team, and we are fine. We are trying a lot of things with our team to stay connected even virtually.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Dr. Kati Ernst: We had to close the office for several months, which is always frustrating and makes things a bit more complicated. Also, doing photoshoots got more complicated, as we needed to reduce the involved people to a minimum or even shoot outside.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Dr. Kati Ernst: It’s important to me that my co-founder Kristine and I talk a lot with each other and are open about situations that stress us or makes us anxious. We do sports or meditate and have meeting-free days, which is also helpful.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Dr. Kati Ernst: We are proud to be the brand that establishes period underwear in Germany. We’re happy about all the support by customers and media, and all kinds of institutions giving us awards. We see more and more competitors, but we believe in our brand, quality, expertise, and beautiful products.
Female Empowerment is our mission, so period underwear is just the beginning!