“ We started Moons and Junes because we want women to feel seen, heard or comfortable, and because a ton of women also want that, not because feminism is now trendy. It’s an important political movement.”
Interview: Natalia Fiszka, Pictures: Kasia Kiliszek
Moons and Junes is a growing underwear brand from Copenhagen specialising in soft bras for all shapes and ages. Its founder, Agnete Bjerre-Madsen, told us about her journey to self-acceptance and how Moons and Junes developed.
Natalia Fiszka: Who stands behind Moons and Junes and where does the name originate from?
Agnete Bjerre-Madsen: There are many people who were involved in the development of Moons and Junes. I’m the founder but it wouldn’t be a success if I didn’t meet my partner and moral supporter Ewelina Sołowiej, extremely talented designers, models, photographers and all the other people who were kind enough to help me start and continue this project. And it was actually my friend’s father who came up with the name. We brainstormed for weeks but eventually it clicked; ‘Moons and Junes’. It’s a phrase from one of Joni Mitchell’s songs titled “Both Sides Now” from the sixties. Joni Mitchell is such an interesting and inspiring musician and artist. The song goes; Moons and Junes and ferries wheels I don’t think it has a literal meaning, but has a nice ring to it.
NF: But you must admit that not every woman who’s tired of her underwire starts an underwear brand.
ABM: (Laugh) Of course not. But when I started voicing my feelings about lingerie and the way it made me feel like a doll by distorting my look, I found that a lot of my friends felt the same way. So I started talking about my vision and was extremely lucky to meet many amazing people who played a key role in the development of Moons and Junes. That’s when I met an incredibly talented modeling constructor and designer who could turned my basic sketches into technical designs. Together, we hosted a ton of fittings and focus groups to ensure that the products we were building would fit women of diverse shapes and sizes. Once we had the designs perfected, we were fortunate to find an outstanding family-owned factory located in Istanbul that specialised in intimates.
NF: Sounds like a smooth process.
ABM: It actually was. I think I got the idea for Moons and Junes around summer 2015 and we launched the website in spring 2016.
NF: Moons and Junes is your first company and you started it at 22. I imagine you didn’t have the benefit of having a fortune on your bank account. How did you manage the financial part of this enterprise?
ABM: I was still receiving Danish student benefit at the time when we started so I was in the safe zone economically. Again, I was extremely fortunate that most of the people who got involved in Moons and Junes helped me for free because either they shared the brand’s values or they benefited otherwise from the project. The woman who was making bras wanted to try her skills in this field and she treated it as practice. Our acquaintance who shot the first campaign was craving to learn more about fashion photography. My friend set up the website. Finally, the first round of production was a quite expensive, but fortunately, I could cover this expense from my own savings. From there we took it very easy. We sold a little, and we made a little. I’m happy that it started so small. I managed to both study and run product tests without breaking my bank. I finished my bachelor last summer and met Ewelina, who does an amazing job for the brand, and both of us went full time in October 2017.
NF: Moons and Junes is still a growing company but it seems to be going in the right direction. What do you think made it a success?
ABM: While I’m quite happy with the trajectory of Moons and Junes so far, building a business with real value is a long and sometimes stressful process. I used to worry a lot about whether I was just pouring money down the drain. But this sceptical attitude was and is quite helpful because it ensures that we stay incredibly focused and disciplined. We make sure to develop strategies and quarterly goals and are meticulous about reaching them. I’m really grateful to be working on something with a strong mission, a strong why: to encourage women to feel comfortable in their own skin. It fuels us, especially when times are rough.
NF: Some people might say that it’s easy to talk about self-acceptance when you are a young beautiful girl. Do you feel that there is a lot of shaming from other women around being confident?
ABM: Firstly, yes it is easy for me to talk about self-acceptance. As a white, young, hetero, cis woman, I’m definitely privileged. I’ve had difficulties with accepting my own body, but society always accepted my appearance. And now to your Q, I think that society has made a lot of progress in the last decade. However, still lot needs to be done and I’m happy Moons and Junes is part of this process. Self-love is a broad topic though. Look, I have never had obvious self-acceptance problems, but that doesn’t mean that I never faced self doubt. I can say that I like myself now but I wasn’t always this way. I had to learn how to accept myself. I used to require mascara to feel comfortable. I don’t anymore but it was a gradual change. I had to start by removing focus from what my body looks like and focus instead on feeling good inside my body. I want to be as healthy as possible and as good as possible to myself. When I look in the mirror I want to think: “this is how I look” without pondering too much on that. I mean, it’s just a body and it does such an excellent job at doing just that. I also found strength in becoming vulnerable and talking honestly to people because it led me to realising that we’re all just human. I know it seems silly and like something obvious, but it’s a lesson that I think one has to learn through experience.
NF: No mascara led to a tagline “No underwire. No padding. No bullshit”. Did you receive a lot for criticism for the strong language?
ABM: No, actually not. The tagline came to us naturally. The whole mission behind the brand, the women on our team, and the campaigns we’ve run synch with it really well. We are bold and we love it. No bullshit. The message is simple: what you see is what you get. There were lots of people who thanked us for saying it out loud: We are tired of being uncomfortable in our own skin. Models from the Black campaign are rocking their looks. They own their bodies. I hope that some young girls will look at those pictures and say: “I can also be like that”.And one thing is how our tagline reflects our marketing; another it is reflected in our carefully constructed products. Moons and Junes want women to be healthy. There are many women who suffer from tender breasts and inflamed breast-tissue partly caused by underwire. I had a lump in my breast that I got removed a few years ago, which I got simply as a consequence of the underwire in my bras digging into my chest every day. I hate underwire, and I really wanted that to meet the customer straight away – hence the tagline.
NF: You created a hashtag #bitsandboobs for women who want to share pictures of their breasts with you. It’s been a great success. Do you ever receive any emails from these women, do they share their stories with you?
ABM: Yes, all the time, and that’s the best. Many tell us about the reason why they took this step. I especially like emails from young girls that simply treat this experiment as an education about diversity among women and how they’re impressed by the natural female look. It seems to be a part of a self-development process for many of them. I can picture them thinking: “I took the picture of my nude breasts, I uploaded it, I sent it and now it’s out there in the virtual space for everyone to see.” That’s an extremely empowering feeling: being proud of how we look and how we don’t give a flying fuck about what others make of it. Some pictures are artistic, some are humorous, some are neutral. I love all of them. My breasts always took a great deal of my head-space. I literally used to dream about bigger, firmer breast. Today, I know that I don’t need then in order to love myself. We are supposed to meet some unnatural standards. Sometimes I almost think that we put these limitations on ourselves instead of just not being bothered by what others think. Who cares about my boobs? They are mine. I know it’s easier said than done but it is extremely liberating once you reach that point. I’ve seen a bunch of breasts by now and I must say that they’re all so different and beautiful. I don’t quite understand why would we like them to look all the same. Wouldn’t that be boring?
NF: What I really admire is the fact that you make effort to represent a variety of beauty canons with your brand. There are, for instance, a few older women in your campaigns. I wonder if it’s difficult to find more mature women for posing in underwear?
ABM: Representation is a priority. It’s not only 15-year olds who wear underwear and we want to articulate that. Unfortunately, finding older women to model is not the easiest task for us. One of the simple reasons being that I don’t have a lot of mature women in my network and I prefer having a relation to the women before working with them. It’s so important to us that the models want to be part of our journey and that they feel connected with the brand. This is also the reason why we let people come to us instead of fishing them out from agencies. Moons and Junes values authenticity and I’d feel disturbed to add someone as a token just for the sake of having a more diverse representation of women in our campaigns. It has to be real. We can never be inclusive enough and we can do a lot better. Luckily, the broader our network becomes, the more dope women we meet, which will allow us represent even more bodies. We don’t claim to be a brand for ALL body types, nor do we claim to be at the forefront of a revolution, we simply say that we have no criteria for our models – whoever feels comfortable in our styles is welcome.
NF: I understand that we can expect more of the older generation in your future campaign?
ABM: Hopefully! But only if they would like to, haha.
NF: Would you call Moons and Junes a feminist brand?
ABM: Yes. I wish for Moons and Junes to become a platform where women can share their voices and stories. The Black campaign was our first move in this direction, as each model shared a statement when we shared their pictures on social media. I applaud all of them, but don’t necessarily agree with all the statements they shared. But the point is; it’s not about agreeing or disagreeing, it’s about amplifying people’s voices. I have no clue what it’s like to be black, transgender etc, I can only share my own story, and they can share theirs. However, Moons and Junes is a business, not an NGO, and I don’t feel like we are nearly radical enough to label ourselves as activists. That being said, we are a business built on a strong mission. Sometimes, I’m concerned that Moons and Junes becomes associated with the trend of superficial pop-feminism like brands producing “girl power” marketing-stunt t-shirts etc. We started Moons and Junes because we want women to feel seen, heard or comfortable, and because a ton of women also want that, not because feminism is now trendy. It’s an important political movement. If you agree with our values, enjoy, if you don’t, simply unfollow us on social media. It’s as simple as that. It’s all about feeling good, acceptance and sharing, nothing more. I don’t want anybody to feel that they’re feminists because of wearing our underwear, they are feminists because of their beliefs and actions.
NF: You said that Moons and Junes are about authenticity. Does it mean that you do not retouch pictures from your campaigns.
ABM: Exactly that. I hate the idea that men and women feel constantly obliged to match socially constructed beauty ideals. We’re constantly bombarded with beauty related mandates that distract us from doing things that actually matter. I hope that Moons and Junes can provide women with their daily dose of realism by reminding us that a body is just a body, everyone has one; dark, fair, young, old, slim or not, cis or not. We just want people that feel beautiful in our products to be part of our campaigns.
NF: Are your photographers happy about it?
ABM: Yes, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to work together. I think that natural skin tones, blemishes, pimples, wrinkles, freckles, scars is what we are. I don’t want to lose it by over-editing. This is how humans look, deal with it.
NF: Moons and Junes is a big part of your life but you must be off sometimes, what do you do when you don’t work with boobs?
ABM: I travel a lot. Me and Ewelina go to fashion shows and visit the factory in Turkey. When I don’t travel for work, I do it for fun. Thanks to studying at an international school I have friends nearly anywhere I travel, which feels really cosy. Apart from travelling I put a lot of effort into taking care of my health. I eat well, work out, make sure to get my 9 hours every night and spend time with people I care about. I wouldn’t change it for anything. Balance between work and private life is very important to me, and something I’m still learning. I neither work on the weekends, nor in the evenings. I spend time with my family whenever I can as they’re very important to me. Me and my friends spend almost every evening on cooking together, eating and talking for hours.
Moons and Junes launched their newest campaign At Home in October 2018.