By Shambhavi Saxena For Youth Ki Awaaz:
Uterus and vagina owning people, we know as well as you do that there’s half a pile of underwear in your cupboard that you reserve for the red ninja’s visit and a fast depleting supply of “good” underwear you can still wear out, because mass-market undies just aren’t cutting it, with their flimsy and hard to clean fabrics. What if there was a safe, smart and stylish alternative that you could buy with the knowledge that the company is making menstruation that much less daunting for you and also for women in Uganda. THINX underwear, created by Antonia Dunbar, Radha and Miki Agrawal, is aimed not just as buyers’ comfort, but also addressing a serious problem women in developing countries face today. Without proper resources to use during their period, missing one week of school for every month that a woman has her period puts her at a grave disadvantage. In Uganda, THINX and its partner AFRIpads are providing those resources not through hand-outs but by giving Ugandan women the tools to be self-sufficient.
Combining four technologies, THINX underwear provides the ‘perfect backup’ to couple with your tampons or menstrual-cups, keeping the stress of stains and leaks at bay. One of the styles can even hold up to 2 tampons’ liquid, so you don’t have to punctuate busy days with frequent trips to the washroom.
Shambhavi Saxena (SS): Why did you think of designing THINX underwear?
Veronica (V): Let’s just say we had our fair share of underwear mishaps; there’s stories about three legged races, swimsuits, business meetings, yoga classes…all of those experiences we’ve all had! It was more than clear that women everywhere needed something better; new and improved underwear seemed like a no-brainer. Then, the idea really got its legs when Miki travelled to South Africa in 2010 (yes, for the World Cup). Miki asked a 12 year old girl from a rural area, “Why aren’t you in school?” and the girl quietly responded, “It’s my week of shame.” 100 million girls around the world miss school just because they lack the sanitary supplies they need to manage their periods. They knew that they could somehow use the innovative idea of magic period underwear to support these girls. And BOOM. THINX was born!
SS: The product is pretty high tech. What was the 3 year long development process like for you?
Miki (M): The reason why it took 3.5 years to develop was the intense trial-and-error process. We had to work with 4 different technologies (anti-microbial, moisture-wicking, breathable leak-proof, absorbent) that had to all work together and also function properly during the care process. After a couple of years, we finally put together a pair of underwear that we thought would do the trick but then when we threw them in the dryer, one layer shrunk at a different level than another layer which made the garment buckle. We had start over with new fabrics entirely. And! It has to all work in the most sensitive area of a woman’s body.
SS: Has your product met with conservative reactions because of its focus on menstruation? How do you respond to the general attitude of silence or stigma attached to the female body?
V: Menstruation is a huge taboo; it’s our biggest challenge and our greatest one. At first, we thought we would pursue stores and boutiques to have them sell THINX, but we quickly realized that we are the only ones who can tell our story wholly and properly at this juncture (and that’s why we only sell direct from our site). People are also grossed out by blood, even their own, which makes it a hard concept to grasp. We’ve seen some adverse reactions to wearing bloody underwear all day, and the best thing we can do is just have an open dialogue about it, and explain what wearing our product really feels like (hint: it feels clean and dry). If our mission is to break the taboo, we’re doing it— we’ve never seen more women openly discuss their hygiene regimens than now, on our own social media accounts, articles, and advertisements.
Another difficult bit of our business is getting across that THINX is something that you use as you choose. Products before ours have very rigid and specific instructions that come with them, and ours is a much more flexible experience. THINX is most commonly used as backups to tampons and cups, but some women do opt to use them as a replacement on lighter days— and it’s not at all something that we can dictate, because we simply don’t know every woman’s cycle. Every single woman is different, and handles her period differently. What’s cool is, as soon as people actually get to use THINX and see how it works for them, most of the time, can’t imagine their periods without our underwear. That’s a good feeling.
SS: As a company you’re taking your social responsibility very seriously. Tell us about your partnership with AFRIpads?
V: Our giveback is an integral part of our business, and it’s been there since day one (even before that, really). The co-founders did a lot of research on a number of organizations to find the appropriate partner, and fell in love with AFRIpads’ model. It empowers local women and girls in a big way. Miki visited Uganda earlier this year and talked to some of those women who either sew, sell, or use the menstrual kits that we fund, and it’s no exaggeration when they tell us that their lives have changed. The rate of attendance in school just skyrockets when they have access to the materials they need, and the women that AFRIpads employs now have sustainable careers. The whole system is fantastic.
SS: Is it true you spent some time in India? What was your learning experience here? And what pressing concerns did you come across, with regard to feminine hygiene and opportunities for women?
M: My father is from India (mom is from Japan) – I’ve been to India 6 times and each trip is equally more eye-opening than the next. I was 11 years old when I first went to India and it was the first time I saw extreme poverty. I will never forget giving a meal to a 6-year old kid who was homeless and living alone in a train station with elephantitis on his feet. While he walked away dragging his feet, it was the first moment that I realized how LUCKY I was to be born where I was. I won the lottery of life. I had two loving parents, a roof over my head, a school to go to and opportunity to be whoever I wanted to be. When you think about this at age 11, a lot changes. With regards to feminine hygiene, it was never brought up when I was there, it just wasn’t something that people talked about. It was only after I went to South Africa did I start asking around, and it was clear that it was a massive problem in India too that held women back.
SS: Will the company play a role in safe sex and health education for the girls in developing countries it already has a presence in?
M: Our partner organization AFRIpads is doing a lot of health education work in Uganda and we plan to work with other similar organizations all over the world (India, Nepal, West Africa, South America etc) so YES, we do plan of really helping spread health education far and wide.
SS: Putting an inadequate product on the market and making it the only widely available option is a profiting technique. Is THINX aiming to or projected to challenge that system?
V: We absolutely don’t intend to sacrifice quality for profit. Our #1 priority has always been our product and technology, so we’re doing our best to make it the best it can be.
SS: Do THINX come in various colours, styles and sizes for every type of body?
V: When it comes to style, we’ve really put the majority of our focus on perfecting our technology rather than on putting out a ton of styles and colours. Right now, THINX comes in three styles and two colours––black and beige, from size XS – XXL. As soon as this summer, we’ll be expanding our size offering to go from XXS – 3XL, and we’ll be releasing two new styles, which we’re super excited about! Stay tuned!
SS: How can you buy THINX now? And will we find THINX in local supermarkets across the world soon?
V: THINX can only be purchased online via shethinx.com (unless you’re lucky and run into us at an event or something!). We ship internationally, too. Again, selling in stores in general is a long time down the road for us, and selling in stores internationally is even farther down. One day at a time!