Miki Agrawal on innovation, education, and sparking cultural change
Concept: Meet Miki Agrawal. She is the Co-Founder of THINX, the smart solution to wanting beautiful and effective period underwear, and ICON, underwear for mothers who experience light bladder leakage. When bought, the proceeds from THINX and ICON benefit AFRIpads in Uganda and the Fistula Foundation fights the fistula crisis in Africa and other developing countries. Agrawal is also the Founder of the WILD restaurants in New York that provide healthy alternatives to comfort food, and her side project, TUSHY: For People Who Poop, which tackles the global sanitation crisis that affects 40% of the world today. If her credentials haven't already blown your mind, she's also an author. Her book, Do Cool Sh*t, was not only an Amazon #1 best seller, but it will kick your ass into gear and get you on the fast track to building your dreams into reality. What does she do when she isn’t taking the world by storm you ask? Well, this She-EO’s talking to us of course.
Teri Bradford: The first time I saw you was on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, setting a record for punching a wookie.
Miki Agrawal: You remember that?
T: Yeah, of course.
M: Pretty funny right? That was me!
T: How did you get from there to THINX? What made you want to innovate menstrual products but also start a business?
M: Everything starts from necessity right? Necessity is the mother of invention. So I basically couldn’t find pizza that I could eat, that was both healthy and tasty; that both satiated my taste buds [and] was good for me. That had gluten free flours and hormone-free cheeses and local toppings and sugar-free sausage. I couldn’t find that anywhere so I started it myself in 2005, and same thing with THINX.
THINX was born out of necessity. I couldn’t find a pair of underwear that I actually wanted to wear. [Underwear] that didn’t feel like a diaper, that didn’t feel like a plastic-y bottom, or didn’t feel like a pad or didn’t feel gross, that just felt like a regular pair of underwear. [Something] that felt sexy, but also had technology built into it that would work for [me]. It just didn’t exist, and so I created that.
Same thing with TUSHY, you know? I just couldn’t believe [that], in this country, there has been [no innovation of toilet paper]. Everyone’s still using toilet paper since 1890. We haven’t changed the way we wipe ourselves since 1890; so no wonder it's causing 26 million combined cases of chronic urinary tract infections a year in [the United States] alone. And that’s a huge opportunity alone to look at bathroom categories and stuff like that. So that’s why I launched TUSHY, which is a bidet attachment that [fits onto] any toilet, turns any toilet into a bidet, [it turns out], it's flat, no plumbing or electrical. For $57.00 you can have a complete transformation in your hygiene.
T: Wow, you’re awesome!
M: Thank you!
T: So many people don’t understand a woman’s cycle and the processes that are involved with it. Even just from your social media presence and the blog posts that your company creates, so much buzz has started about menstrual cycles. We love it, and it’s gotten us talking amongst our groups of friends, which usually leads to us learning something new every time. Is education a big part of your mission?
M: Yeah, education is a big part of all of the businesses. Getting people to eat healthy comfort food and why. Understanding the food base and healthy food. That was a huge education, to get people to change their food habits. Educating people on how to period better, a lot of education involved in that. Same thing with using a bidet, a lot of education [with that]. Same thing with ICON which is the pee proof underwear, [educating on] light water leakage and urinary content. Whether it’s THINX, Tushy, or WILD and, by the way, it’s the four P’s: Pizza, Period, Pee, and Poop. That’s the four P’s of my life. All four categories require a lot of education.
But using innovation, using creativity, using beautiful aesthetics to the design, using accessible, relatable communication, all those things combined can create a transformation in culture. I truly believe that. And I think that’s been proven in all four companies. In the restaurant, people want to eat. We have a beautiful setting, the way we write is really relatable and accessible. People want to eat our pizza. Same with THINX, people [see] we’re a beautiful, innovative product that people want to wear. The way that we write, consider design at every touch point, is beautiful and considered. The way we write and talk about periods is super accessible [and] relatable; that has all the right ingredients to change culture as well. Same thing with ICON, same thing with Tushy.
T: THINX is a safe space for a lot of people. We see through social media and the gender inclusive advertising that you all are acknowledging various identities. Why is it important that we have these conversations be built around inclusiveness?
M: It’s the concept of intersectional feminism right? Until everybody is free, nobody’s free, right? Whether it’s a woman, whether it’s a person of color, whether it’s someone who’s transgender, it doesn’t matter. If everyone does not feel fully liberated, fully free, then nobody is free. And so it’s on us to really have these conversations, to break these taboos, changing conversations. It’s really all interconnected.
T: Has there been any backlash from people who want to stay stagnant and don’t want to change the conversation?
M: Oh yeah. Some people are like "Ew, I don’t want to bleed in my underwear, that sounds gross.” and basically we say, "alright well you know try at least one" and they try one and they say holy shit and they go from being our biggest naysayers to being our biggest advocates. And well, you know, people hate change. We’re creatures of habit, right? And so, unless enough people are talking about it, unless people are asking themselves, “ Why are periods shameful? Why are periods uncomfortable to talk about when they create human life? They perpetuate the human species. Like, why is it considered shameful?"
If you actually pull back the curtain, you realize: wow, a lot of it has to do with the patriarchy that we live in. A lot of it’s in religious scriptures, superstitions that were put upon us by men and it’s really not having a conversation between men and women. It’s not glorifying men, it’s not glorying anybody. [We should be having conversations] and asking ourselves why these conversations are as is. Let’s change the status quo, the status quo is not right, you know?
T: Any advice for people who can’t start a company, but want to do something smaller?
M: Yeah, just have open dialogue with your friends. Start these conversations rather than talking shit about other people or about stuff that really does not matter in the world, what I call “low vibrational” stuff. A lot of people get together and [complain] about shit in their lives. You know what I’m saying? Rather than doing that, have conversations that are of this stuff. Have intentional dinners; have intentional lead ups; have discussions with friends. You don’t have to start a company to do that. Changing culture, breaking taboo, starts with just having the conversation.
T: Clue the period tracking app did a street survey that showed 64% of the people they interviewed in New York City and London didn’t know what Ovulation was. Even a woman holding her baby didn’t know the answer. Is this part of the culture you want to change?
M: Yeah, ignorance is a huge problem. People just don’t think it’s a problem until they’ve experienced it themselves. It’s so funny because you look at a kind of interesting example: I had a really interesting conversation with a staunch Trump supporter the other day. It was a very civil conversation. Like, I don’t support Trump at all and there are problems with all politicians, but you know one of the things that he said was,
“Every man for himself. I grew up poor and with not much money and I was able to, on my own, pick myself up by my own bootstraps and gave myself the opportunities that I have right now."
And I’m like, yeah because you're like 6ft 5 white guy with blue eyes and blonde hair. You know what I mean? You were already born to the white privilege. You don’t even realize that. You have such a myopic viewpoint that you might think that you grew up ‘poor’ but your poverty is a different level than somebody else’s. He was like,
“People who talk about racism, people who talk about gender inequality, inherently are racist themselves. The fact that you’re talking about affirmative action means you’re racist. I believe that every human man, woman, person should be able to fight for themselves and you know, get what they want on their own and build that life for themselves, every man for themselves."
And it’s just like, well you don’t think that someone who grew up in the projects with a single parent whose mother’s a drug dealer or whose father, whatever, you don’t think that person started ten steps behind someone who didn’t have that experience? Like, no! There’s a difference. People have their own perspectives. People think they know what they’re talking about, but most people don’t. and so, until you have exposed yourself to really the plight of women or the plight of people of color, then you just don’t understand.
Big thanks to Ms. Agrawal for chatting with us!
Want more of Miki and her companies? Check this out:
THINX: Our fave company just dipped into NYFW last week with their INTERSECTION show that was unlike any fashion show we've ever heard of. There were performances and monologues from people of color, a trans man, various bodies sizes, and Miki herself. Read more details about THINX's amazing, inspiring, and totally inclusive fashion show here via Nylon.