A first generation Indian-Japanese Canadian, Miki Agrawal moved to the United States when she enrolled in Cornell University. Being the child of immigrants, Agrawal was instilled with a strong level work ethic at a very young age. Growing up, Agrawal was kept so busy going to school seven days a week that she didn’t have time to get into any trouble. Agrawal’s “aha moment” happened on one of the most tragic days in history. The first and only time Agrawal slept through her alarm clock was on September 11, 2001, her second week on the job at a prestigious investment banking firm across from the World Trade Center.
After realizing how lucky she was to be alive, Agrawal decided to make the most of her time on earth and began crossing off all the things on her bucket list (like playing soccer professionally, making movies, and starting a business). Soon Agrawal teamed up with her twin sister Radha to create Thinx, period-friendly underwear that never leaks, never stains, and absorbs two tampons worth of blood. For every pair of underwear sold, Thinx funds a pack of reusable menstrual pads to girls in the developing world.
When Agrawal decided to put ads for her brand on New York City subways, the MTA refused to run the advertisement, Agrawal went to the press. “You can’t predict virility,” she says, but the MTA scandal went viral. She spent the next four days speaking to over 40 publications, and the entire situation put Thinx on the map. Now, she’s working on her second book and two new projects, both with their own respective missions to help women in the developing world.
“Wherever you go, wherever you work, even if it’s not exactly what you want to be doing, master a skill while you’re there.”
- Miki Agrawal
One thing is for sure, whatever Agrawal does, she does it with passion. And she has done a lot and proven to have an impressive track record in the disruptive path.
One day, while at her producing job, Agrawal found herself coming home with stomach aches. After some researching, she realized that all the processed food she was eating throughout the day, thanks to catered meals and her busy lifestyle, were causing her to get sick. This led to a natural progression to the third item on her bucket list: to finally see through her vision of starting a business.
"It takes ten years to be an overnight success"
With an initial idea to create a healthier version of America’s favorite comfort food: pizza, Agrawal began the start-up process.
Despite the fact that restaurants in New York have a huge failure rate, Agrawal understood that in order for there to be progress, she had to give herself time. “You take a positive action toward your business – even if it’s just 30 minutes – every day,” she says, adding that she treated starting a business no differently than how she treated training for a sport. "There’s no way around it. If you sacrifice your social life, so be it. It’s four months – whatever. It’s not a big deal.”
She kept working her producing job for a third of each month, while the other two thirds were spent working on her restaurant idea, Wild. She funded the enterprise through what she refers to as an “MB experience," short for a mutually beneficial experience. She hosted dinner fundraisers at beautiful apartments she would sublet for the weekend, where she would feature food made by her chef friends. In its 11th year, Agrawal says that the concept is only just now hitting its stride. "It takes ten years to be an overnight success,” she says. Clearly, being wildly successful looks easier than it is.Agrawal has a unique ability to turn her personal problems into brilliant business ventures that provide solutions for virtually everyone. That’s how Wild became Wild and how her next venture, Thinx, became Thinx.
At her family's 15-annual family barbecue, Agrapalooza, Agrawal and her twin sister were defending their 3-legged race champion title when one of them suddenly got her period in the middle of the event. That’s when they thought, wouldn’t it be amazing if there were underwear that never leaked, never stained, and absorbed blood? It also occurred to them that this idea should have already happened. “When a 9-year-old has more access to information on her phone than the President [of the United States] did less than ten years ago, how are women still dealing, managing, and coping with leaking and staining and feminine hygiene products that don’t work?" she asks.
Scarlett Etienne For Thinx Underwear
Thus, Thinx was born, and it became the first of a succession of businesses under the category of “conscious capitalism.” Essentially, conscious capitalists solve first world problems and use the money from those ventures to solve third world problems. “It’s really about elevating humanity while creating a business," she says.
During her launch process, Agrawal discovered that “feminine hygiene is a root cause of cyclical poverty in the developing world.” Hundreds of millions of girls stay home home school during their “week of shame,” some even dropping out for feminine hygiene-related issues. She took it upon herself to help these communities that have access to nothing.
Agrawal says it was the lessons she learned as a young adult that made her want to give back. ”My dad came to this country with $5 in his pocket from India; my mom came with 0 friends from Japan. And one generation put three children through Ivy League schools and built the American Dream for us," she says. "It’s on us now to take that to magnify that and amplify that and do as much good on the planet as we can because our parents made that sacrifice for us.”
From a simple internet search, she found a potential partnership organization in Uganda. It was called AFRIpads, and the company made washable, reusable cloth menstrual pads at an affordable price. The Agrawal twins spent the following three-and-a-half years working on the technology by cold-calling various textile technology companies, to make underwear leak and stain resistant. Once they had their ideal product, they started their Kickstarter campaign. In keeping with her philanthropic mission, for every pair of underwear sold, Thinx funds a pack of reusable menstrual pads to girls in the developing world. After a few rounds of fundraising, they had raised approximately $130K. The sisters started by fulfilling everything themselves, and they were eventually able to close a Series A round with manufacturing partners once they got all their “ducks in a row.” At this point, they also brought in an executive team to clean up and manage the operations and finances.
Under the Thinx umbrella, there are two other projects: Icon and Tushy, and both are equally disruptive. Icon, which is essentially urine-proof underwear, helps fund fistula operations for those who can't afford it through the purchase price. Tushy, on the other hand, turns every toilet into a bidet for under 100 dollars. Tushy is collaborating with charity:water “to help people defecate with dignity.” The common thread in all these businesses, Agrawal laughs, is that she has no idea what she’s doing in any one of them. And yet, she wrote a business and lifestyle book called Do Cool Sh*t that teaches anyone how to go from Step 0 to Step 1 in business and life. "At the end of each chapter, there are tangible, granular takeaways to go from Step 0 to Step 1″. Seems like she knows what she's doing after all.
In 2016, I finally found my voice. I always thought I had one, especially as a business owner and mother of two vocal toddlers, but I had been wrong.
For more than 30 years, I had been struggling with the fear of being my true self and speaking my truth. Then the repressed memories of my childhood sexual abuse unraveled before me while raising my 3-year-old daughter, and my life has not been the same since.
Believe it or not, I am happy about that.
The journey for a survivor like me to feel even slightly comfortable sharing these words, without fear of being shamed or looked down upon, is a long and often lonely one. For all of the people out there in the shadows who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I dedicate this to you. You might never come out to talk about it and that's okay, but I am going to do so here and I hope that in doing so, I will open people's eyes to the long-term effects of abuse. As a survivor who is now fully conscious of her abuse, I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, quite frankly, it may never go away.
It took me some time to accept that and I refuse to let it stop me from thriving in life; therefore, I strive to manage it (as do many others with PTSD) through various strategies I've learned and continue to learn through personal and group therapy. Over the years, various things have triggered my repressed memories and emotions of my abuse--from going to birthday parties and attending preschool tours to the Kavanaugh hearing and most recently, the"Leaving Neverland" documentary (I did not watch the latter, but read commentary about it).
These triggers often cause panic attacks. I was angry when I read Barbara Streisand's comments about the men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them, as detailed in the documentary. She was quoted as saying, "They both married and they both have children, so it didn't kill them." She later apologized for her comments. I was frustrated when one of the senators questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (during the Kavanaugh hearing) responded snidely that Dr. Ford was still able to get her Ph.D. after her alleged assault--as if to imply she must be lying because she gained success in life.We survivors are screaming to the world, "You just don't get it!" So let me explain: It takes a great amount of resilience and fortitude to walk out into society every day knowing that at any moment an image, a sound, a color, a smell, or a child crying could ignite fear in us that brings us back to that moment of abuse, causing a chemical reaction that results in a panic attack.
So yes, despite enduring and repressing those awful moments in my early life during which I didn't understand what was happening to me or why, decades later I did get married; I did become a parent; I did start a business that I continue to run today; and I am still learning to navigate this "new normal." These milestones do not erase the trauma that I experienced. Society needs to open their eyes and realize that any triumph after something as ghastly as childhood abuse should be celebrated, not looked upon as evidence that perhaps the trauma "never happened" or "wasn't that bad. "When a survivor is speaking out about what happened to them, they are asking the world to join them on their journey to heal. We need love, we need to feel safe and we need society to learn the signs of abuse and how to prevent it so that we can protect the 1 out of 10 children who are being abused by the age of 18. When I state this statistic at events or in large groups, I often have at least one person come up to me after and confide that they too are a survivor and have kept it a secret. My vehicle for speaking out was through the novella The Survivors Club, which is the inspiration behind a TV pilot that my co-creator and I are pitching as a supernatural, mind-bending TV series. Acknowledging my abuse has empowered me to speak up on behalf of innocent children who do not have a voice and the adult survivors who are silent.
Remembering has helped me further understand my young adult challenges,past risky relationships, anger issues, buried fears, and my anxieties. I am determined to thrive and not hide behind these negative things as they have molded me into the strong person I am today.Here is my advice to those who wonder how to best support survivors of sexual abuse:Ask how we need support: Many survivors have a tough exterior, which means the people around them assume they never need help--we tend to be the caregivers for our friends and families. Learning to be vulnerable was new for me, so I realized I needed a check-off list of what loved ones should ask me afterI had a panic attack.
The list had questions like: "Do you need a hug," "How are you feeling," "Do you need time alone."Be patient with our PTSD". Family and close ones tend to ask when will the PTSD go away. It isn't a cold or a disease that requires a finite amount of drugs or treatment. There's no pill to make it miraculously disappear, but therapy helps manage it and some therapies have been known to help it go away. Mental Health America has a wealth of information on PTSD that can help you and survivors understand it better. Have compassion: When I was with friends at a preschool tour to learn more about its summer camp, I almost fainted because I couldn't stop worrying about my kids being around new teenagers and staff that might watch them go the bathroom or put on their bathing suit. After the tour, my friends said,"Nubia, you don't have to put your kids in this camp. They will be happy doing other things this summer."
In that moment, I realized how lucky I was to have friends who understood what I was going through and supported me. They showed me love and compassion, which made me feel safe and not judged.