If you think launching a startup sounds tough, try launching a startup that’s talking about periods. Fortunately, THINX was up for the challenge, and created underwear with built-in technology just for that time of the month.
At a glance, the THINX undies look like any other lingerie: black and lacy, in what they call “the three most classic styles”— hiphugger, cheeky and thong, with an additional, even lacier “Luxe” option.
But the similarities stop there. The material of THINX underwear is anti-microbial and stain-resistant, moisture wicking, and can absorb up to six teaspoons of liquid.
For anyone who has had to toss a pair (or two) of panties or tie something around her waist to hide a stain, this is a welcome change.
“Our technology is completely new to market, and it’s patent-pending,” says marketing director Veronica del Rosario. “It’s really game-changing for women in terms of it being four layers of awesome.”
Like most great startups, there are a few interesting stories behind what inspired THINX. Co-founder Miki Agrawal recounts being at her annual family barbecue with her twin sister, Radha, defending their three-legged race championship, when her twin’s period started in the middle of the race.
The two had to run together to the bathroom, and while they were scrubbing the bathing suit shorts, they had an epiphany: “Wouldn’t it be cool if there was underwear that was stain-resistant, that actually worked for girls when they had their period?”
Years later, Agrawal was in South Africa for the 2010 World Cup, where she ran into a girl on the outskirts of Johannesburg. It was a weekday, and she asked the girl why she wasn’t in school. “It’s my week of shame,” the girl replied.
After doing some research, Agrawal says she found that more than 100 million girls in the developing world were missing a week of school because of their periods, and using things such as leaves, old rags, or plastic bags in the place of sanitary pads.
After talking to friend Antonia Dunbar about “doing well and doing good,” the Agrawal sisters and Dunbar started to work on THINX together, with a social mission in mind. Through a partnership with AFRIpads, the purchase of a pair of THINX also funds the production of seven washable pads for girls in Uganda. AFRIpads employs local women, meaning the purchases also create jobs.
“The idea was originally just underwear that thinks of you and thinks of women around the world,” Agrawal say. “Just thoughtful underwear.”
THINX also has a mission in mind for girls in the U.S., and it comes back to breaking the taboos around menstruation. The team is creating a manual for elementary school girls to learn about their bodies—“in a way that’s celebratory versus shameful,” Agrawal says.
“Girls are learning about their periods as 12-year-olds through a 1969 government health workers manual, which is terribly uncomfortable and not relevant today.”
Though talking about menses has its challenges—especially when trying to get stores and boutiques on board—other companies avoiding the subject actually works to THINX’s advantage.
“I think one thing that we’re all very excited about, and why we’re all here, is also the idea that we’re completely transforming a category,” Agrawal says. “The feminine hygiene category hasn’t been disrupted [for years]. It’s a huge opportunity.”
Some businesses are more concerned about selling sex than period-friendly undies, so THINX is carving out its own space.
“[We realized] that our voice, our story is the most important thing that matters to our company,” Agrawal says. “We’re going to continue to share that over and over again. It’s going to be one of the most important things we do.”
The give-back mission with AFRIpads helps shift the focus on what’s really important. “It deflects the attention off of us—having our period problems, having leaks, stains, issues that are kind of uncomfortable and embarrassing,” Agrawal says. “We’re talking about girls in the developing world… which makes it a much easier story to tell.”
“Ultimately, it’s a huge, important thing that every woman in the world faces all the time and no one’s talking about it or fixing it,” del Rosario says. “Our goal is to break that taboo, so that all women and girls around the world can handle their health properly.”