By Amy Greenhough
Thinx is ‘underwear for women with periods’. That is, comfortable, attractive, ‘period-proof’ underwear that feels great and protects against leaks and stains. Their creator, Miki Agrawal – CEO and founder of Thinx – is as straight-talking and effective as her brand. A tech-savvy ‘social entrepreneur’, she’s shaking up the world of feminine hygiene with these pants and their global impact. She knows what you’re thinking – ‘period proof? So I bleed into my underwear?!’ and her answer was to create easy, wearable pants that are antimicrobial, super absorbent and leak resistant, so that when you’re bleeding into your underwear you’re feeling good about it.
Inspiringly, Miki’s project with Thinx is not just to make periods easier to manage, but also to make them easier to talk about too. Empowering women to talk without shame about menstruation is a huge part of the brand’s identity, and her own.
From the approachability of their advertising, to the comfort factor of the product, to the no-holds-barred attitude to open conversation, Miki is a pioneering spirit who wants to give people solutions and help make the lives of women better. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the brand’s links with AFRIpads in Uganda. After discovering that 1 in 10 African girls miss school every month because they don’t have access to proper sanitary products – and keen to use the power of purchase for good – Thinx teamed up with AFRIpads, who make affordable, reusable pads for women and girls in the developing world. So every pair of Thinx you buy goes to funding AFRIpads.
A force to be reckoned with, Miki’s not just taking on the stigma of periods. I got to talk to her about periods, poo and pee and how we can change those awkward conversations for the better. What did I learn? It’s no mean feat breaking down taboos, but it might be easier with your period pants on.
“When our adverts got banned on the NY Subway it was actually fantastic because it just highlighted the ridiculousness of the taboo and gave us more publicity”
– Miki Agrawal
FOR I AM MARIE
It seems amazing to me that no one had made period pants like this before. Why do you think that is?
I think people have tried doing it before, I just don’t think that they’ve done it very well. In order to change culture you really need a three-pronged strategy. First, you need a product that is exemplary: it has to be beautifully designed, it has to be comfortable and it has to do the job. Then the brand identity and the design have to be fully considered across all touch points – from the website to the advertising to the packaging; every part of the design and aesthetic has to be considered. And finally, you need simple relatable communication. A lot of companies have tried and failed because they either met only one or two of those criteria and it wasn’t enough to change the culture and therefore make the product a success.
I get the sense that this is more than just a product to you; that you’re working to change the system itself?
Thinx isn’t about being clinical or medical or academic, it’s about being artful, creative and relatable. We write the way we text our girlfriends because we want to encourage the conversation; to enable women to start talking about their periods. When a product is interesting and artfully executed it opens up those conversations.
The advertising is such a breath of fresh air (Thinx advertising was initially banned by the MTA Subway in New York for featuring the word ‘period’) – how involved are you with the creation of that?
I was involved from start to finish. I have an amazing team of creatives and we did the whole campaign for $5000 in house. We didn’t use an agency. And when the adverts got banned it was actually fantastic because it just highlighted the ridiculousness of the taboo and gave us more publicity.
What has been the biggest challenge in bringing Thinx to the market?
It’s interesting because people often can’t handle the idea of ‘period-proof underwear’. They say to me, ‘wait, so I bleed into my underwear? That sounds really weird!’ So the hardest thing has been breaking through that initial ‘ick’ factor that people have. Just changing that perception and saying, ‘Look, I’m bleeding hardcore right now into my underwear and I’m dry and safe and I know my clothes aren’t being ruined!’
What do you think people are so freaked out by periods and how can we combat that?
We need to talk about them more; it’s that simple. And the way to get people to talk about periods is by making them feel happier and more comfortable while they are on their periods. We have a product that actually works, and I think that in itself creates more conversation because it helps to distance periods from the sense of shame and embarrassment that stops people talking about them.
What are your hopes for the future of Thinx?
I want them to be in every single women’s store; for it to be as normal to wear thinx as it is now to wear tampons.
How difficult was it to get the balance right with the comfort and the efficiency?
It took three and a half years to perfect the product but it was worth it because we really believe in what we’re selling. Thinx feel amazing on, they do the job and they look great, so we’ve achieved what we set out to.
Purchasing Thinx also supports your partner company AFRIpads – can you talk a bit about AFRIpads and the work they do?
AFRIpads are an organization based in Uganda making washable, reusable, cloth sanitary pads that are affordable and quick drying in the sun. They’re a local, for-profit company, which was important to us. Rather than giving pads away – which is not an empowerment model – we wanted to support a local company, employing local people, doing their part and making a difference by giving women the opportunity to buy the product at affordable prices.
When we first started talking to them they had 25 employees and now they have 165 so we’ve helped over 45,000 girls go back to school and we’ve also started our Thinx Global Girls Clubs LINK – safe spaces for girls to learn about their bodies, their periods and get products at subsidised costs.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on the 3 Ps – Period, Pee and Poop! For periods we’ve got Thinx. For Pee we have Icon – underwear for women with light bladder leakage. Icon is really an alternative to those horrible diaper-type products that are currently on offer – it’s underwear that looks like bikini cut or high-waisted briefs but protects against leaks. And finally there’s Tushy, which is a modern bidet attachment that clips on to your toilet and washes you clean. The way most first world people wipe their bottoms hasn’t changed since 1890, so there’s a huge opportunity to disrupt the way we clean ourselves and change it for the better.
What’s the best advice you’ve received?
Put one foot in front of the other. If there’s one thing that’s very clear it’s that no one really knows what they’re doing in the beginning and that’s ok. The word anxiety stems from the greek word anxietas, which means ‘not knowing’. The way to really solve that feeling of unknown is by taking action. So taking a positive action every day is really important.
What’s your favourite part of the work you do?
I love the challenge of breaking down taboos and changing culture, and using the innovation of the first world to do that. I also love that we’re helping so many people around the world. It’s an honour to do this work.
Images courtesy of THINX
April 28, 2016