How I Made It

Thinx CEO Miki Agrawal: Don't let a taboo stop you

Thinx CEO Miki Agrawal: don't let a taboo get in your way
Thinx CEO Miki Agrawal: don't let a taboo get in your way

New Yorkers probably know Thinx from its minimalist subway ads, which promise period-proof underwear that doesn't feel like a diaper.

Thinx is incredibly upfront about its business. Specifically, the company says it is "committed to breaking the taboo surrounding menstruation."

"When you think about period accidents, every single woman has experienced this at some point in their life," said Miki Agrawal, co-founder and CEO of Thinx. She told CNBC that women don't talk about their periods because it's considered an embarrassing topic.

Thinx is all about breaking boundaries. A video on the company's website begins with Agrawal saying, "My favorite thing to talk about are the things you're not supposed to talk about."

Source: Thinx

Language is something Thinx is hyperconscious of because of the intimacy of the topic, she said. The company frequently refers to menstruation as the most "natural and normal" thing to happen to a woman. Despite Agrawal's own forthrightness, the company takes measured steps when pushing the envelope.

"Every touchpoint of our brand has to be considered because we are in a sensitive space. We are changing culture. We are breaking taboo and changing habits," she said.

"We make sure that every piece of our marketing and everything that we're saying and how we're saying it is artful, is creative, is unique, is thoughtful."

In spite of efforts to choose its words carefully, it was ultimately the imagery in Thinx subway advertising that drew criticism. Outfront Media, the company that handles the Metropolitan Transit Authority's advertising, said that its use of grapefruit and egg yolks were "inappropriate."

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Thinx alleged that Outfront also had a problem with using the word "period" and the amount of skin shown in its ads. In a statement Thursday, Outfront denied that it had objected to the word. Last fall, Outfront said it was simply trying to "assist advertisers in creating campaigns that are both effective and appropriate to the transit environment."

"We suggested changes that we felt were appropriate for the riding public and were hoping to work with the advertiser to refine the copy," Outfront said in its statement.

Agrawal and Thinx won out in the end. The ads were approved, and the company saw a boost from the social media outrage and press coverage. But the 37-year-old CEO said clever advertising isn't enough to sustain a business.

"I think culture shifting happens when you have not only great, accessible conversation, great design, great marketing, great all the things, but a product that actually works," she said.

Thinx declined to provide specific sales figures, but the company has spurred a flurry of enthusiastic product reviews from a number of media outlets. The company has also bagged celebrity endorsements, which Agrawal said it has not paid for.

Mindy Kaling tweet

Sophia Bush tweet

Agrawal said that part of the success of Thinx is the fact that there's been little to no innovation in menstrual products. She said she's astonished that in "a $15 billion category, there's only been three major innovations in the entire 20th century: tampons, pads and menstrual cups."

"Really there was a huge opportunity to disrupt a category that sorely needed disrupting and at the same time break the taboo," she said.