5 Questions with THINX CEO Miki Agarwal

THINX is the brand making you think and talk differently about periods. And for many women, it’s changing behavior patterns that haven’t budged in ages. THINX offers stylish, reusable underwear that acts as full or backup protection during menstruation, but the brand is about much more than just its hygiene products.

Founder Miki Agrawal is an entrepreneur at heart who dabbled in investment banking, sports and film—and even opened a restaurant—before launching THINX. Now, Miki is committed to innovating for the things we don’t like to talk about at parties (her other companies include Icon (“pee-proof underwear”) and Tushy (a bidet spray).

As a social entrepreneur (the New York Times called her “The Bohemian Capitalist”), her goal is to help other startups, including writing a book and dispensing nuggets of wisdom learned along the way such as “When creating marketing/content, ask: Is it fridge-worthy?” Along the way, she aims to help those in need. For every pair of THINX undies sold, a pack of reusable menstrual pads aids young women in Africa via a partnership with AFRIpads.

Dedicating her social entrepreneurial efforts to breaking down barriers, with THINX (which she co-founded and launched in 2014 with twin sister Radha and their friend Antonia Dunbar), Agrawal (who prefers SHE-E-O to CEO) has developed a purpose-driven product and a brand platform: that the taboo around menstruation has got to go, which she certainly does with a recent New York subway ad campaign.

This week, a “Taboo Tour” in New York involves Lululemon, Sustain Condoms’ co-founder Meika Hollender and transgender model Sawyer DeVuyst, who has been featured in the brand’s advertising—because some transgender men get their periods too.

Her dedication to authentic storytelling, creating a conversation with open dialogue and helping liberate women (and men) resonates with consumers, judging by the response on social media, as does the brand’s Instagram tagline: “Period/Anxiety/Patriarchy-Proof Underwear.”

By combining an artful approach and an in your face mentality, as evidenced by the brand’s frank out-of-home campaign in New York, THINX offers an innovative product (that works) and a brazen attitude that women can adopt and share, characteristics that made the brand one of the just-announced first class of Interbrand Breakthrough Brands. She spoke with InterbrandHealth marketing director Nicole Diamant to share what “breakthrough” means to her brand—and we don’t mean accidents, of course!

Miki, congratulations on THINX being named an Interbrand Breakthrough Brand. Culturally, do you think we are poised at a unique moment in time for THINX to break through?

I think we are both a product of a cultural moment, and the catalyst for it. Certainly the world is more ready for THINX than it was even three or four years ago, but we’ve also done so much work to push the conversation forward and really get to the root of what makes menstruation such a taboo topic.

Also, having the “right” innovation that “actually works” is key in changing the conversation. If people are still leaking and staining and dealing with the messiness of periods, it’s less fun to talk about. Now that we have solved a big pain point, women are way more comfortable and confident talking about something that is no longer an issue.

Most people aren’t aware that in many parts of the world, women and girls miss school or work when they have their periods. How is this an issue you’re trying to address in your partnership with AFRIpads in Africa?

After we found out that millions of girls in the developing world were falling behind in school just because of their periods, we knew we could use our idea to support them somehow. So, we did a lot of research on a number of organizations to find the right partner, and fell in love with the AFRIpads model which really empowers local women and girls in a big way.

I visited Uganda last 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 truly sustainable careers.

You’ve talked in other interviews about the lack of innovation in this category. Why do you think this has been a stagnant area, especially as consumers have become more cognizant of healthy alternatives to traditional products?

Another difficult bit of our business is getting across that THINX is something that you use as you choose. Products before ours had 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 so many women do opt to use them as a replacement too (depending on how heavy their cycles are)— 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.#knowyourflow is one of our big hashtags for this reason.

THINX is not only a practical option for your period, but a sustainable one. Aside from saving you from harmful chemicals present in most tampons, we’re also saving you money in the long run. Women spend on average of $120 on tampons a year. Buying a 3-day cycle set of THINX is cost-effective in the long run, because a pair will last you a couple years if you take care of them properly!

Many girls learn about period care from their mothers—or at least adopt their mom’s method of protection when they are young. Do you see THINX as a product that current consumers will embrace and share with their daughters? Or do you plan to expand your line at some point to appeal to a younger market?

We’re actually seeing so many moms buying THINX for their daughters. It’s amazing that there will be an entire generation of young women who’ll grow up with destigmatized messaging around their periods and so many alternative options of dealing with it. We have a couple of styles currently that we recommend to preteens and teens, but we definitely hope to expand that soon!

Now that THINX is out there, what challenges are you facing? How do you plan to attract new audiences and keep consumers engaged?

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. We are also building our content vertical to be the authority on feminist news, pop culture and health.

It’s very important to us that we’re on the pulse of what is happening in the world and that we’re contributing relevant content as a brand. We’ve never shied away from controversy and we’re committed to shouting our inclusive, feminist messaging from the rooftops.

This article originally appeared on brandchannel.

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Senior Marketing Manager, InterbrandHealth