We Talked Periods With The SHE-EO Of THINX, Miki Agrawal

Rafaela Sanchez
Rafaela is one of 20 Something's newest fashion contributors She says she's from Fort Lauderdale, Florida but everyone knows she's really from a dumb suburb called Plantation. New York has "F****d the suburbs" out of her (as Of Montreal would put it) and she's now a proud and not-yet head-to-toe-tatted Brooklyn babe. As a fashion contributer, Rafaela hopes to draw from the music, people, cities, and wine that inspire her every day, and infuse her writing with her overall feelings on life and style: "I don't give a--" Favorite quote: "Thoughts. But also, feelings." -Father John Misty Alma Mater: University of Florida

Two weeks ago, I bled in my underwear so that you wouldn’t have to try it first. Today…right now…because of the way my new birth control is fucking with my regularity, I am bleeding in my underwear again, all so that you wouldn’t have to try it first.

So now that you know a little about where my menstrual cycle’s at, here are a few things I’ve recently learned that you probably don’t know. For example:

  • Did you know that a woman’s period is the monthly shedding of her uterus’ wall-lining when no egg is fertilized? Ok, maybe you do know this.
  • Did you know that most men can’t answer the above question? Yet the last three innovations in feminine hygiene in the 20th century (the tampon, the pad, and the menstrual cup) were all created by these people without uteruses?
  • Did you know that in Uganda 50 percent of young girls miss an entire week of school when they get their period?

So why aren’t we talking about any of this? Well, as SHE-EO and Co-Founder of THINX Miki Agrawal has taught us — we probably aren’t talking about the issue surrounding women and their periods because it’s “taboo.” 

Cool, and what does taboo mean? Taboo stems from the word tapua. Cool, but what does tapua mean? Tapua means MENSTRUATION. COOL.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Miki and THINX Brand Director Veronica del Rosario and had a serious conversation about a topic we approach all too seriously: our periods. From THINX, to Black Lives Matter, to embracing “feminism” — we three queens covered it all.

If you’re still grossed out by the fact that I bled in my underwear sans pads or tampons, then this article ends here for you. But it’s 2016, people. My uterus will continue to shed blood long after you learn to get over yourself. See below for three women talking womankind.

 

20something: Was there a ‘lightbulb’ moment? How did THINX happen?

Miki: The idea came in 2005. I was at a family barbecue…My twin sister and I were just defending our three-legged-race championship title… as one does…and in the middle of the race my sister started her period. We had to, like, sprint through the finish line.

We sprinted still tied to each other so my sister could change out of her bathing suit bottoms, and as she was changing out of her bathing suit is when the light bulb moment hit. Like, you know, the blood was coming out of the bathing suit, and it was just like ‘Oh my god! Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could create a pair of underwear that never leaked, that never stained, that absorbed blood, that…did the job?’

 

What exactly is the science behind this? What research and who did you consult with to answer your questions when creating THINX?

M: I think sort of the broader question was like…

I don’t think people were thinking about what girls really needed.

In 1931 the tampon was invented by men. Most feminine hygiene products were invented by men. They weren’t thinking about — what do we really need? And when we sit down and consider the things that we need, they reveal themselves, right?

So the first thing we needed to know was that the innermost layer had to make you feel dry. It also had to be antimicrobial because you don’t want germs. And then it also has to be absorbent. We said that it at least has to absorb two full tampons worth of blood, because we didn’t want someone to change halfway through the day. We want it to be convenient for the woman.

Veronica: But it can’t be thick!

M: But it can’t be thick!

20something: Right, it can’t be like a diaper!

M: Right, it can’t be like a diaper. It can’t be like a pad either. It had to feel like a regular pair of underwear. But it also had to be leak-proof. But it also had to be breathable.

V: But it also had to be cute.

20something: It had to be everything because all women are different.

M: The most important thing, beyond the technology, was having to consider all the functionality — it had to be a product that people actually wanted to wear. That was the biggest challenge. Because you can make a diaper-like product in two seconds, but to really consider what women actually want to wear on a daily basis

Most people don’t spend almost four years, like, really considering what girls want.

What is some positive feedback from people who’ve stopped wearing tampons and pads and started wearing THINX? 

V: People have told us that since they started wearing THINX, they’ve been getting less cramps.

20something: Exactly! And that’s why I was so intrigued by it. When I first saw this I was like, ‘This is amazing! This was made for me!’

 

What was the main benefit of THINX?

V: We’ve talked about how the top benefit of the product for us is liberation. We don’t think about how anxious we are about our periods because we deal with it our whole lives, but then when it goes away we feel safe, and unworried.

M: The no longer needing to worry about the messiness!

And Miki and Veronica are right. Throughout the past week, I kind of forgot about my period, because I wasn’t continuously going back to the box of tampons in my bathroom. I kind of forget about it because it was so seamless, and all I had to do at night was to hand-wash my underwear — clean and done. It’s kind of nice to forget that you get your period sometimes!

Though the initial reaction some people may have to it speaks volumes of the way we’ve been treating our periods.

 

20something: So can you tell me a little bit more about the campaign?

M: Just to kind of lead into it…I think the first thing is that you have to have a team that is amazing, so that’s step one. And the only requirements I gave to the team were — it has to feel like an art gallery, it has to be showstopping, start a conversation, and it has to be artful.

V: Our term is ‘fridge-worthy,’ ya know? You don’t put many things on your fridge, so would you put an ad on your fridge?

It’s important to know that the reason we looked at it that way is because we’re coming from the internet — we’re an ecommerce company — on the internet everyone is able to immediately click. When you go out-of-home you have to be memorable enough to go get Googled later.

M: You have to spark a conversation! People have been talking so much about this campaign.

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20something: People turn their heads, you know? They rubberneck in Union Square when they see these ads. It’s simple enough where you don’t feel overwhelmed, but it’s intriguing enough where, like you said, you want to start a conversation.

V: But as far as there being similarities across all the campaigns, it is that, it has to be artful.

But for us it was always about making more than an underwear ad because we’re more than an underwear company.

We juxtaposed the underwear with grapefruits and eggs for the first campaign because we wanted something more and something interesting that represented menstruation at large and the menstrual experience at large.

M: The female body at large.

V: As opposed to…this is underwear…here are girls in underwear.

20something: Right, and they’re beautiful things as well, so it’s kind of likening, or just showing people that there are similarities — that we are beautiful things, here are beautiful things. They go together.

 

How big is your team right now? Is it men and women? 

M: 30…33?

V: And there are five men.

M: Of which two are straight.

 

How does that dynamic work? What’s it like being with predominantly women?

V: It’s a different work environment for sure. I think that the five men that we do have are all very effeminate and empathetic, you know? So they’re comfortable.

M: They’re in touch with their emotional side, and that’s important.

V: And as a predominantly female company, we’re not afraid of getting very emotional. Which makes for very inspired work, I think.

M. But it’s actually quite amazing — so we had this meeting where we had these two women come and talk about how the body works. And it was like a five-hour-long session on sex-ed, and the person who asked the most questions was Brendon, our developer — the straightest one of the whole team.

It was beautiful! It was beautiful hearing him ask all these questions. He’s super inquisitive, and I appreciated that a lot.

That speaks to the broader message of men sometimes being oblivious. THINX has a video on its site showing just that — interviewing men on the streets abut periods. I was blown away about how little men know.

Having men working for THINX that are so inquisitive is great because it should always be like that, from the start.

Both men and women should be educated about their respective counterparts.

But Veronica had a good point:

V: Once we’re taught not to talk about it, we’re taught not to ask about it.

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20something: Conversations with my mom about this have been the most interesting part. Whether it’s a feminist issue, a racial issue or something — there’s always some friction when talking to older generations. But what I’ve found is, you can’t get mad at them for not knowing because she just doesn’t know.

It kind of comes from this naive place because sometimes it’s the first time they are hearing it. Have you been surprised by the lack of knowledge from other generations and the reaction coming from us?

V: Especially as we enter a space with trans-issues nowadays.

M: Literally yesterday, I was…somewhere…the point is the person was like, ‘Oh yeah, what’s the deal with the guy in your campaign? Do you make underwear for guys?’ And I was like, ‘Think harder…’ and they said, ‘Is it supposed to be some funny joke to make guys feel more included in the conversation?’ Like it didn’t even cross their mind that trans is a ‘thing.’

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20something: I think at first, people of our generation approach that with anger, which is natural because we’re passionate and we want to defend ourselves. Our reaction is to be angry.

V: But you know why? Because we’re used to having access to information. We have the understanding that if we don’t know something, we should go learn it.

M: People from the generation before us are like — if you don’t know, you just don’t know.

 

In a time when everyone needs to come together, we’re all secluding ourselves. If we all hide in corners, that affects everyone. What are the statistics and how can we make it not a taboo to take about it? 

V: The statistics have been the same for a long time. But now it’s being talked about, so people are asking, ‘How can we change this? How can we change this? How can we change this?”

Like—for how long was that the statistic, and people didn’t talk about it? So now people are in the streets!

Any taboo — periods, pee, or poop or whatever! — people don’t talk about how girls are not in school because of their periods, and here we are. We have shame and no solutions.

M: Here’s a stat:

96% of women experience shame at least once a day.

V: That’s probably why we’re apologizing for every single thing.

M: I love the idea of a guy apologizing. It’s always these spoofs of women saying sorry. I think for us, right now:

The number one thing is addressing and eliminating shame.

M: Being a woman, being female in general, as it relates to pregnancy, as it relates to periods, as it relates to sex, as it relates to shaving, as it relates to porn — all these things are just putting women in sort of this subservient role and you know it’s all for that ‘male gaze.’

And again, we’re not trying to do it in a suffragette way, we’re trying to do it using innovation, using aesthetic, using considered design, using content — things like that to really change the conversation.

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20something: Younger women will start rethinking the way they approach their periods. 

V: Yes! Our community girl — Jasmin — and I went to talk to the Girl Scouts… the Greenwich Village Girl Scouts… we show up to these beautiful townhouses, and we’re like, ‘What kind of Girl Scouts are these!’

And maybe one-third of them already had their periods, and the rest of them are there having this conversation with us. And once we left we sat with ourselves and said:

This is the first generation of girls that aren’t going to feel shameful about their periods.

Half of them had seen the subway ads and everything, so they know that this is something out there to be talked about. And that was really crazy for us. Just knowing that holy shit that this is a group of girls that are being positively impacted by us. It’s insane.

20something: And that’s where it starts. It’s one thing to keep this conversation going, but at the end of the day, it’s like—where is the root? Where does this conversation start?

V: When we started this campaign, the MTA asked us, ‘What if a 9-year-old boy sees these ads?’

Thinking about that question, and then putting it up against — there are these 10-to 12 year-old girls who have seen our ads and have been positively impacted by them — it’s like, so what!? It’s just normalized.

V: They make money off of us not knowing any better.

So most importantly, we want women to be able to make informed decisions about their menstrual products.

Nobody knows what they’re putting in their bodies, so we are just advocates for knowing what you’re putting in your body.

 

What would you say has been the most fun part about being a millennial entrepreneur, and what has been the hardest part? 

M: I enjoy the challenge of building a business, of changing the culture, of talking about things with people that they’re really uncomfortable talking about. I love the challenge of challenging myself to challenge others. This is really about pushing boundaries and pushing the envelope and there’s so much pride in that.

V: I think there’s something really wonderful about the fact that she’s a woman entrepreneur creating products for women. A lot of people assume, that because of Miki’s name — the way it’s spelled and whatever — that’s it’s misspelled, that it’s really supposed to say ‘Mike’ or something, so they say mister. And how great to be able to say, ‘Nope! I’m a woman. Women making things for women’… And it’s not makeup!

M: And all of our leadership is women. Truly women-led companies outperform male-led companies by like, 26 percent or something like that.

V: And counting!

M: And climbing! So I’d say,

the part that’s most enjoyable is really showing up on behalf of womankind, around something that’s said to be taboo and uncomfortable, and that part’s just really fun and amazing.

I would say the hard parts, are like, as you grow a business, ‘Mo money, mo problems,’ is very real. You have to be like, ‘Ok now I have 33 mouths to feed, and I have to make sure our operations are working, our creative is inline, our finances are inline, our marketing is inline . . . you know, our innovations are inline, our partnerships are inline. And at the end of the day, there’s nobody accountable for that but me.

Of course as you scale, you’re getting more scrutinized, and people are finding new ways to cut you down…but I come back stronger. All we can do is stand up straighter, stronger, and be proud of what we’re doing, and continue to put out amazing stuff with our incredible team. Right?

V: And doing it authentically too, you know? Being women making things for other women makes it super authentic. Because we’re making things that we’re curious about, too. We ask questions, because we want to know these things, so we think, ‘Other people probably want to know these things!’

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Yeah, the process always seems to be the best part about anything. Have this initial idea and basic questions, and then you think of five million more by going through the process of creating a product. 

V: Yeah! And we don’t have to go, like, get research on how women are feeling, because we are women, we all use this product, we’re always able to think of what’s next!

M: And I think also the ability to be emotional, and to have ups and downs… it’s very real when you’re growing a business. And I think a lot of men would probably just…they don’t express it!

V: For us, it’s ‘bring all of you. Let your Freak Flag fly.’ In order for all of us to do our best work, we need to bring our most authentic selves.

M: I think that gives permission to everybody to be truly who they are. You know, nobody’s perfect, let’s be real. But the more we get to be ‘all the things’ the more people feel close to you. And that’s how our whole team is.

I talk about the concept of feminism, and people have tried to pigeonhole me, and tried to tell me what feminism should be, and it’s like every single person on our team has a different definition for themselves. Which is great!

V: And the discovery stories as well! Because for a time so many people—often because of the type of content we’re putting out as well — people are realizing, ‘Oh, I am feminist!’

20something: And I can identity to that as well. I used to think of myself a certain way, and of course, this is part of the process of growing up, I guess, and I think like most women, I was scared of saying I was feminist, or scared of understanding what being a feminist was. And then you one day realize, ‘Oh…I guess I am one.’

V: And now where being a feminist is such a thing, women are afraid to admit they once weren’t feminists. But we’re not so self-righteous that we can’t admit that at one point I said, ‘I’d give up my voting rights to be a princess,’ because I didn’t understand.

20something: Because that would be anti-feminist!

We have to be able to admit where we didn’t understand, so that we can understand how to navigate others into understanding.

M: I didn’t necessarily identify myself as a feminist by the way it was defined by others, ya know? It was a little too intense, the way it was portrayed, the term. But as I’ve started building this company, which threw us into the feminist sphere, I started to really discover and uncover the plight of women, and how we exist — the shame — the everything! And you know, there’s a huge discrepancy, there’s a huge double standard here that’s not OK.

V: And then you think: empowering women, eliminating taboos — that sounds a lot like feminism!

M: But I’m doing it through action! I’m doing it through innovation. Like I said, we really love researching it and writing about it, but I’m a feminist by action and by coming up with ideas that are genuinely feminist.

V: And there’s a beautiful thing there too.

If innovation is born of necessity, and innovation, in our case, equates to necessity, then feminism is a necessity.

20something: I love that.

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