In early 2017, period underwear company Thinx found itself in the press — a lot. And not for good reasons. At the time, employees called out a toxic work culture and made allegations of sexual harassment against former CEO Miki Agrawal. For a company that seemed to scream from the rooftops that it was built by women to support women and change the conversation around periods, something taboo yet central to women’s lives, the news came as quite a shock.
In the months and years following, Thinx has emerged from the chaos with a clear mission: to continue making products for people with periods and breaking taboos around the topic. But also, the brand is looking to grow up by expanding globally and shifting away from a DTC-only business into more wholesale partnerships. Currently, Thinx is sold in 60 locations globally. That’s mainly though premium retailers like Nordstrom, Selfridges and David Jones in Australia.
The start of these changes came four months post-Agrawal’s departure, in spring 2017, when Maria Molland took over as CEO.
Molland found that while the culture inside Thinx needed a lot of work, the company’s financials were strong. It was about a $26 million business at the time. She has ambitions to turn Thinx into a $500 million business within eight years. At the end of 2018, revenue to date was $50 million.
“The business is and was growing significantly, so as much as it seemed on the outside that it was falling apart on the inside, from a finance perspective it was really strong. The challenges were more around building up the culture,” said Molland.
When Molland joined the team, she was a few months shy of having her first child and felt passionately about overhauling the company’s non-existent maternity leave policy. Immediately she put in place basic policies around sexual harassment and benefits. Some employees at the time had no benefits at all.
That of course is not uncommon among startups. Many young brands in the DTC space start out with little to no benefits, adding those as the company grows and scales. From DTC sleepwear company Lunya to female-founded multi-brand retailer Bulletin, things like maternity leave and child care aid aren’t built into the company culture from the start.
“A lot of those types of considerations are things that aren’t necessarily built into the culture from the outset. For Bulletin, we didn’t have an immediate need for these things,” said Ali Kriegsman, co-founder and chief operating officer at Bulletin.
Once basic policies were in place, Molland got to work on parental leave.
At first, the company offered eight weeks paid leave, then moved to 12 weeks, with the last four weeks at half pay. As of this year, Thinx now offers moms and dads 16 weeks paid leave, with an option for a slow return to work in the following month. Employees can start back at one day a week, then two, then three over the course of a month to ease the transition back into work.
By building a work culture where new moms and dads can take the time they need to be with their families and find that balance, Thinx is hopeful employees will stay with the company longer and feel prepared to work hard when they return. Another way Molland is helping make that happen is through a child care stipend for employees. For any new parent, Thinx provide up to $850 per month to help cover the costs of child care in New York City.
“A lot of women drop out of the workforce after having kids. They think there’s no sense in paying for child care when they could potentially stay home and actually save money. So we’re trying to make that easier for them,” Molland said.
Finally, in the last year Thinx has started to shift away from DTC. Although that is still key to the business, Molland realized that she couldn’t hit her $500 million revenue goal by focusing solely on changing women’s period behaviors in the U.S. In January, Thinx started working with it’s first wholesale partner, Nordstrom.
Over the last few months, the company has been looking to hire more people with backgrounds in the wholesale market, “in particular, the mass retail market,” Molland said. The goal is to prepare the company to launch a lower-priced product that would be available in pharmacies and stores like Target.
“We have ambitions to be a $500 million business in eight years, in terms of [total] revenue. You can’t get to those numbers just in the U.S. That would just be a huge amount of behavior change, and the U.S., unfortunately, isn’t quite as sustainability-oriented as places like Australia and the U.K.,” she said. “We are now adding multiple buyers, as well as multiple warehouses around the world to accommodate the international piece of the business.”