Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing Miki Agrawal, Co-Founder and CEO of one of my favorite products, THINX! THINX, a revolutionary period underwear company, is committed to breaking the taboo surrounding the infamous, yet completely normal phenomenon that is the menstrual cycle. I was thrilled to find out that THINX even has an entire line dedicated to trans-inclusivity, with the tagline "Underwear for People with Periods."
Learn about Miki Agrawal and the way her company is empowering women, changing the conversation about periods, and breaking the taboo in this exclusive Femme Founder Q&A.
Can you tell me a bit about your personal/professional background?
Miki Agrawal: I'm a half Indian/half Japanese French-Canadian. I grew up in Montreal and lived there until I moved to the States to go to Cornell, where I studied Communications and played D1 soccer, and then after graduating I worked in investment banking before becoming a semi-pro soccer player with the New York Magic and then pursuing a career in film production. Shortly after that, I launched my first business, WILD - a farm-to-table gluten-free pizza concept, which has been open for 11 years now. I've also written a book called DO COOL SH*T, and of course, started a lil' period underwear brand called THINX :-). Most recently, we also launched THINX's sister brand, Icon, which helps with light bladder leaks, and another company called TUSHY, which is a modern bidet attachment.
Did you think you would end up in the underwear business?
I didn't specifically know I was going to work in underwear, no, but if you look at my businesses, the two constants are: I get to address real taboos and give back in areas that I care about. We get to break these taboos with education, humor and inspiration. We get to educate people on what is going on around the world, even if they can't see it first hand - whether it be menstrual taboos that cause girls to drop out of school, the fistula crisis that is ruining women's lives (and can be fixed), or the sanitation crisis that affects 40% of the world. I feel good that we have helped 30,000 girls go back to school with THINX's partnership with AFRIpads to date and look forward to having even more impact in the years to come.
What was the inspiration behind THINX? Tell me about how you came up with the name "THINX"
80% of women in America expressed anxiety during their periods because they were afraid of leaking through their tampon/pad. We wanted to create a pair of underwear that actually supported women during the most normal time of the month.
I personally kept having monthly underwear mishaps where I would have to interrupt my days and run home and change my clothes and it got incredibly annoying. Finally, when my twin sister Radha and I were defending our 3-legged race championship title in our family barbecue called "Agra-palooza,” Radha got her period in the middle of the race. We had to rush to the bathroom to change out her bathing suit bottom still tied to each other! While washing out her bathing suit bottom, we had the idea!
As for the name, it's thoughtful underwear. It thinks about you. It thinks about girls around the world. But it's also technical, and the X makes it sound technical. And so it was a play on just, being a technical, thoughtful product.
How is THINX empowering women?
We are using innovation to change the culture, and the conversation, around menstruation here and in the developing world. Women find it uncomfortable to talk about it; it’s a huge taboo – and THINX is committed to breaking it. We want people to come in contact with our brand and immediately know that it's okay to be open and inquisitive, and to challenge the norms surrounding our periods. I think we’re really doing it, too; we’ve never seen more women openly discuss their hygiene regimens than now, on our own social media accounts, articles, and advertisements. It's really powerful, and so motivating to see.
How did you develop the partnership with AFRIpads?
Our giveback is an integral part of our business, and it’s been there since day one (even before that, really). I did a lot of research on a number of organizations to find the appropriate partner, and fell in love with AFRIpads’ model. It empowers local women and girls in a big way. I visited Uganda earlier this year and talked to some of those women who either sew, sell, or use the menstrual kits that we fund, and it’s no exaggeration when they tell us that their lives have changed. The rate of attendance in school just skyrockets when they have access to the materials they need, and the women that AFRIpads employs now have sustainable careers. The whole system is fantastic.
What are some ways we can start to break the taboo?
Buy some THINX, of course! Menstruation is a huge taboo; it’s our biggest challenge and our greatest one. At first, we thought we would pursue stores and boutiques to have them sell THINX, but we quickly realized that we are the only ones who can tell our story wholly and properly at this juncture (and that’s why we only sell direct from our site). People are also grossed out by blood, even their own, which makes it a hard concept to grasp. We’ve seen some adverse reactions to wearing bloody underwear all day, and the best thing we can do is just have an open dialogue about it, and explain what wearing our product really feels like (hint: it feels clean and dry). If our mission is to break the taboo, we’re doing it— we’ve never seen more women openly discuss their hygiene regimens than now, on our own social media accounts, articles, and advertisements.
Another difficult bit of our business is getting across that THINX is something that you use as you choose. Products before ours have very rigid and specific instructions that come with them, and ours is a much more flexible experience. THINX is most commonly used as backups to tampons and cups, but some women do opt to use them as a replacement on lighter days— and it's not at all something that we can dictate, because we simply don't know every woman’s cycle. Every single woman is different, and handles her period differently. What’s cool is, as soon as people actually get to use THINX and see how it works for them, most of the time, they can’t imagine their periods without our underwear. That’s a good feeling.
What is something you would say to femme entrepreneurs that are facing challenges starting their company?
My favorite piece of advice to is "iteration is perfection." I say it all the time. The minute you stand still is when you die. You iterate, you keep improving, you keep listening, you keep growing, you keep learning, you keep finding new things and you’re iterating all the time. Iteration is that motion, that iteration is perfection. That’s what’s perfect; it’s not about being perfect. You can never put out perfect work, but as long as you put out the best M.V.P. (minimal viable product) possible and then listen to feedback and constantly iterate, and never stay stagnant, that's how you'll authentically build your business. And, being authentic in general is huge-- just be you and let your freak flag fly as authentically as possible.