"i bleed each month to help make humankind a possibility. my womb is home to the divine. a source of life for our species. whether i choose to create or not. but very few times it is seen that way."
- Rupi Kaur, period.
In the span of a year, New York went from being a place where its public transportation system blocked ads deemed offensive for containing the word "period" to becoming the first state in the nation to pass a legislative package that guarantees access to menstrual products in public schools, shelters, and corrections facilities. We shouldn't just think this is part of a natural arc of progress, though—we should instead be thanking the women entrepreneurs who have worked hard to make this type of change possible, and who have an engrained understanding of what their customer wants because they are also their own target audience.
Miki Agrawal, the co-founder and "she-E-O" of THINX, started developing her period-proof panties after finding herself constantly rushing home in the middle of work because she would forget to change her tampon. "Every month, I would ruin a pair of underwear, a pair of jeans, and my mattress would have a new stain. I thought enough was enough, and I realized there was literally nothing on the market that we wanted to wear," she says.
In the past, there have been attempts to make period-proof underwear, but Agrawal explains that they were unappealing to consumers because of their bulky, diaper-like appearance. Agrawal sought to create period-proof underwear that made her feel "beautiful, sexy, comfortable, and protected" while also locking in moisture to prevent leaking and stay dry while worn. After years of researching, she eventually found a technology company that created a prototype with the anti-microbial fabric needed for the underwear.
From developing to launching the final product, it took three and a half years for THINX to finally get on the market. The underwear holds an estimated two tampons worth of blood. Agrawal's strategy has been to change the culture around menstruation. To do this, she knew that THINX had to go beyond marketing and explore how they could alter behavior.
With a team of millennial women, Agrawal could constantly peer evaluate and engage in debates about what made the most sense. She uses a three-pronged tripod as the model for THINX to follow: innovation, accessibility/relatability, and aesthetic. The company also holds several events throughout the year which has fostered a community beyond the underwear, another crucial element for the brand as a whole.
"We are talking directly to our people, and there's no in between. We want to get to know them intimately, and we want them to feel held and understood because want to be held and understood," she says. "Our company is really about making periods easier to experience for humans and then through building this company and growing a team of badass feminists who I adore and learn from almost every day."
Agrawal adds, "We understand you, and we know exactly what you're going through because we're going through it too. We don't want to be advertised to; we hate that. We don't want to be talked to in a condescending way. We want to be talked to in a way that's fresh and inspiring and real. We want a product that works. We are in support of whatever you're feeling or going through, and we know it because we're experiencing it."
Lauren Schulte is the founder and CEO of FLEX, a line of disposable discs that are a new alternative to tampons with a claim to provide "mess-free sex." After suffering from chronic yeast infections at the end of her period for years, it wasn't until a nurse practitioner suggested using other products that she made a switch. "What I learned from her was that tampons, even organic ones, disrupt the pH of your vagina significantly because fundamentally the materials that they're made out of disrupt the very delicate balance and a lot of the immunity that your body works so hard to build up."
Schulte tried menstrual cups but found the process to be too messy for her. Due to her condition, she actually had to throw away the cup and get a new one every time to prevent the infections from continuing. "I was embarrassed to talk about my periods, really because I was embarrassed about this persistent problem—my vagina was out of commission for 50 percent of my life," she says.
From 2014 onward, studying what worked best for her vagina became an all-consuming part of Schulte's life. Since she was constantly testing every feminine hygiene product she could get her hands on, it only made sense to start developing a prototype for her own product. Schulte dove deep into research, held focus groups with women, tested the product, and eventually quit her full-time job once she designed a concept for FLEX. After raising money through the Y Combinator fellowship program in Los Angeles, she is now manufacturing her FDA-compliant product and shipping it out to customers all over the world.
"Our brand is really about accessibility and giving women more options. We have invested heavily in innovation because my hypothesis is that women have this terrible association with their periods," she says. "They hate their periods, and we are bleeding out of our bodies for 25 percent of our lives. I wanted to give women an option to have a product that allows them to go about their business without really thinking about the fact that they're on their period."