Putting an End to Sanitary Protection Accidents: An Interview with Miki Agrawal, CEO and Co-Founder of THINX
The feminine hygiene industry is often criticised for its slow pace of innovation and for treating menstruation as a taboo topic. Miki Agrawal’s goal is to change this with a line of reusable underwear for sanitary protection – THINX: Period Panties for Modern Women. The creation of THINX arose from a desire to create underwear that never leaked or stained, after years of frustration with, and mishaps from typical feminine hygiene products. The underwear can either be worn as a back-up in addition to other sanitary protection or completely on its own, depending on the user. A pair of THINX costs between USD24 and USD39, and comes in a range ofstyles and absorbencies. The most absorbent styles, a hiphugger and boyshort, can hold two tampons’ worth of liquid. Four layers of technology work to create underwear that is anti-microbial, moisture-wicking, absorbent, and leak-resistant. THINX creators have also recently launched a similar product for incontinence – Icon. The Icon underwear can hold between 25-50ml of urine. In addition to Icon, there are several other products in the pipeline, including a reusable tampon applicator and a line of 100% organic tampons.
Euromonitor had the chance to speak with Miki Agrawal, who co-founded THINX along with her twin sister, Radha Agrawal, and friend, Antonia Dunbar.
Can you clarify how the products are positioned – as a back-up or complete replacement to other sanitary protection?
We advertise with the language that it can be used as back-up or replacement. We always say #knowyourflow. If you are really light or on the pill and can wear just the underwear alone, then that is possible with THINX. But if you are someone with a heavier flow, we do mention that it should be worn with other forms of sanitary protection on your heavy days. We also have a line of organic cotton tampons and a reusable tampon applicator that have both launched as a waitlist. The organic cotton tampons are expected to be on the market in January 2017, and the reusable tampon applicator is scheduled for March 2017.
From first releasing THINX, how have the product offerings changed (ie number of style offerings, levels of absorbency, positioning)?
We started with three styles and now we offer six. In terms of maximum absorbency levels – that has not changed. Even one of our first styles, the hiphuggers, was able to absorb up to two regular tampons worth of blood. Now we offer an additional style in this same high-absorbency level. Looking forward, we are working on launching additional product lines such as leotards, body suits, and athletic wear.
Source: THINX website, https://www.shethinx.com/
How would you describe THINX’s typical consumer base?
Our customer list is between the ages of 24 and 45, so there really is a range. Teens may be users but it is the older women who can afford them.
Currently you offer international shipping – are you seeing a large demand for the products outside of the US? Which countries in particular?
International is not yet a big part of our customer base, but it is a solid number. A majority of our customers are in the US – almost 85%. Canada, UK, Brazil, and Australia would be the other main countries in terms of sales that follow after that.
Why did you decide on a “buy one, give one” type of business model, donating to AfriPads for every pair of THINX that’s sold?
It is not a buy-one, give-one model in the same sense as TOMS. We did not want to just give a free product. Instead, we wanted to empower a company on the ground that is making a difference. We partnered with AFRIpads in Uganda because we wanted to do something along the lines of anempowerment model rather than a welfare program. AFRIpads is a social enterprise that locally manufactures and supplies reusable sanitary pads for millions of women and girls worldwide. We chose this organisation in particular because we felt they were the best manufacturers of this sort ofreusable product.
What impact do you think this type of partnership has on attracting new customers?
We do not really promote it in that way so it is probably not a major factor. There may be some people who care about the donation but I do not think it is a huge factor in attracting new customers.
Regarding marketing strategy – there was a lot of press around your New York City subway ads after the controversy around approval of the ads. You have also had push back from San Francisco’s BART metro system. Do you think this has actually helped to get the word out about THINX? In addition to the subway ads, what other media are you using to promote the product? Do you run into similar difficulties regarding sensitivity to the content?
I think it certainly helped build our credibility. For other marketing, we use Facebook ads and other out of home ads. We also advertise on podcasts. We do have to make sure we stay within guidelines of the organisations we are advertising through.
Do you think your customers are purchasing THINX for incontinence use as well? What differentiates the Icon brand from the THINX brand?
The two products have completely different technologies and one is made to hold urine and the other is made to hold period blood, so I do not think there would be any overlap. We decided to create Icon because it is a USD7 billion category where we also saw a gaping hole in the market.
How do you see the future of reusable feminine care products overall?
I really think that there is a huge demand for reusable products. Right now, seven billion plastic tampon applicators end up in a landfill every year and that is not sustainable. We want to be able to provide sustainable options because the planet requires that, and cities require that. I think realising and understanding that will cause even more people to become interested in reusable products.