Entrepreneur

Are ladies’ underpants the next billion-dollar startup?

KSThinxThumbnailTechnology is going places it has never gone before. Specifically, women’s underpants.

Thinx is a startup reinventing women’s underwear. Undergarments are not a topic commonly discussed on VentureBeat or in the technology community at large, but as female readers out there know, there is plenty of room for improvement. The women behind Thinx are applying unique technology, entrepreneurial chops, and an innovative business model to build a better brief.

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“Over the last 2,000 years, talking about periods has been a taboo subject, but accidents happen all the time,” said cofounder Miki Agrawal. “No matter who or where you are, this is a real problem. If you are a woman in the middle of doing a surgery, like my sister; or on the stock trading floor, like I used to be; or a girl in a developing country who can’t go to school while she has her period, this needs to be figured out. We are making a product that thinks about women around the world.”

Everyone wears underwear

The inspiration to start Thinx came during a trip Agrawal took to Africa and India with her twin sister Radha and their close friend Antonia Saint Dunbar. They learned that pads and tampons are often difficult to find and dispose of in developing countries and that tens of millions of women have to miss work or school during their ‘week of shame.’ It was a persistent problem around the world, and yet remarkably little innovation has happened in the space. schoolgirls_Gulu3

The trio spent the next three years creating the ultimate pair of women’s underwear. Thinx garments are leak and stain-resistant, anti-microbial, moisture-wicking, made with durable, high-quality materials, and attractive to boot. The patent-pending “Quad-Dry BreatheTech” is a support matrix that consists of three layers dedicated to moisture-wicking, absorption, and leak-proofing.

For every pair of Thinx it sells, the company will fund seven pairs of washable, reusable pads for women in Africa.

Waste not, want not

In addition to helping girls stay in school and work at jobs, Thinx also seeks to reduce environmental waste. Agrawal said that women use an average of 17,000 tampons and pads in their lifetime, which is wasteful both in terms of production and disposal.

But Thinx says it’s not just doing good for the world. The company says it has significant value for women in the U.S.

“We want to be the best-in-class and make sure our product is beautiful, comfortable, and won’t have to be thrown away,” she said. “Our product protects you so you never have to worry about it again. We set the bar really high, and it took a lot of determination to get to this point.”Picture 9

It also took some luck and serendipity. While on a plane ride to a yoga retreat, Saint Dunbar fortuitously met a textile manufacture who was excited about the project. Then during a Summit Series cruise, Agrawal met Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, who expressed interest in her other business, a healthy pizza restaurant in New York City, which he wanted to bring to Las Vegas. Miki took the opportunity to tell him about Thinx, and Hsieh said he would get his merchandising team on board.

The success of shapewear company Spanx proved that women’s underwear is a viable business opportunity. Spanx founder Sara Blakely was constantly turned down when she first pitched her idea and is now a billionaire. The idea might seem crazy, but in many ways, it is the most natural thing in the world. Women want underwear that works with their bodies and they are willing to pay for it. However, Agrawal wonders whether people are ready to talk about periods so openly. Will stores want to carry this product on their shelves? Are women willing to give up the traditional underwear-pad-tampon trifecta? How do you market a product addressing an “icky” problem? Building a business off such a sensitive subject is risky on all fronts.

Thinx is in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign, with a goal of $50,000 to get the manufacturing and distribution up and running. The first line comes in four styles: “hip hugger,” “cheeky,” “shape wear,” and a limited-edition pair designed by NAVEN. They come in black and nude and will retail for $26, $34, $68, and $89, respectively. Quad Photo Capture


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