THINX Co-Founder Miki Agrawal on Fu Yuanhui's 'taboo' talk in Rio and putting an end to period-shaming
Miki Agrawal is passionate about periods.
In fact, she's the co-founder of THINX -- a company, which among other things, develops underwear that absorbs menstrual blood without the additional use of tampons, pads or a cup.
So, when Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui made headlines for discussing her "time of the month" at the Rio Olympics, we knew she would be the best person to dissect the culture-shifting moment.
Here, the former semi-pro soccer player and serial entrepreneur discusses playing sports while on your period, disrupting the feminine hygiene market and removing the social stigma that surrounds menstruation.
This interview has been edited for length.
espnW: Bronze medalist Fu Yuanhui made headlines for telling the world she was on her period during the Olympic games. What were your initial thoughts and reactions?
Miki Agrawal: It was amazing. Her candor liberated so many women. In particular, those in Asian countries [where it's often] taboo to talk about periods. The fact that she was so open and without shame was empowering and absolutely worth being a headline.
espnW: As a former semi-professional athlete, has your period ever impacted your performance?
Agrawal: In my past life, I was a [competitive soccer player for the New York Magic], and all three of my ACL tears happened during menstruation. Your ligaments are far more brittle and malleable when you're on your period. However, there isn't much research on the connection between that "time of the month" and the common injury. But there should be. So, yes, my period has definitely impacted my performance.
espnW: What inspired you to create THINX?
Agrawal: I was frustrated with the offerings in the marketplace. Think about how many pairs of underwear you've ruined while on your period? And what about your sheets, clothes and everything else? [Women] are spending all this time cleaning up, or putting sweaters around our waists. We've had the same options for the for the last 50-plus years. The tampon was invented in 1931 by [Dr. Earle Haas], a man. The last real innovation was adding a strip underneath the pad to stop it from moving around, which [Stayfree] created in 1969. Now, the menstrual cup is here, but it hasn't been popularized globally. My overall goal and purpose is to make the experience of getting your period easier.
espnW: How does your patented underwear work?
Agrawal: It took three to four years to develop this product. This is the first real [menstruation] product for the mass market developed by women and for women. My partners and I wanted the consumer to feel like they were wearing regular underwear; not anything bulky and uncomfortable. When you bleed into [the underwear], its innermost layer wicks away moisture. So, you're not sitting in a pool of blood, but rather a regular pair of panties that remain dry. They are also antimicrobial and breathable. The whole system of layers really works like magic, but they look like regular underwear and are able to absorb about two tampon's worth of blood.
espnW: You've also created a sports variation, which specifically caters to active women. What are the key differences with this design?
Agrawal: They don't feature lace trim, and have comfort-fit leg with a cotton interior. When you're exercising, your body needs more room to breathe, and we understand that. Now, women can keep their heads in the game.
espnW: Please discuss "The Week," your micro-documentary that hopes to remove the stigma from menstruation. How'd you get notable women like Joy Bryant, Jackie Tohn, Sophia Bush and others to discuss their periods in such a public manner?
Agrawal: They are all very vocal feminists. If you enter a conversation with confidence, it basically gives others permission to do the same. If I'm coming to talk about that time of the month and I'm embarrassed about, then you'll react that way. If I speak to you in a confident manner, then you'll be confident as well. It has really helped women discuss menstruation publicly.
espnW: THINX has a donation for purchase (one-to-one) partnership with AFRIpads. Please discuss the program.
Agrawal: I travel often, and I've seen first-hand what women in developing countries go through while on their periods. Could you imagine bleeding on to your bed -- in a hut, with no feminine hygiene products around, and often times very little underwear? I can't.
So, I scoured planet earth to find the right partners and hopefully make a difference. Luckily, we found AFRIpads, which is based in Uganda, and they make washable and reusable cloth pads at a reasonable price. The product costs between $2 and $5 dollars for the whole year, and come in three or five pad kits. [The pads] dry quickly in the sun, are affordable, and help develop the local economy. We've helped AFRIpads grow from 25 to 175 employees. It's been amazing thing to witness.