People 14 October 2016
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.
6 Min Read
I live the pain and stress of being black in America every day: I am a black woman, the mother of a black son, sister to black men, and aunt to my black nephews. I remember what it was like as a young girl to be afraid to go to Howard Beach for fear of being chased out. I know what it's like to walk on Liberty Avenue and be called "nigger" and being so young that I didn't understand what the word meant, I had to ask my mother. I know too well that feeling in the pit of your stomach when a police car pulls up behind you and even though you know you haven't done anything wrong you fear that your life may be in danger from what should be a simple encounter. Like all African Americans, I am tired of this burden.
African Americans have a long history of having to fight for our humanity in America. We have had to fight for freedom, we have had to fight for equality, and we have had to fight for our lives. The fight continues to go on. I have often quoted that line from the character Sophia in Alice Walker's The Color Purple, "All my life I had to fight." When I say this to my white counterparts it can sometimes be uncomfortable because it's clear that they just don't get it. They view it as melodramatic. But it's not. It's part of the black experience, and it is the part of the black experience that black people don't want.
I have often quoted that line from the character Sophia in Alice Walker's The Color Purple, "All my life I had to fight."
While I was out yesterday, passing out PPE and talking to people, a woman asked me, "What is it going to take for this to change?" I told her that I think peaceful protesting is a good start. But it's just the start. We can't elect the same people for the past 20-30 years, some in the same positions, and then talk about how nothing has changed in the past 30 years.
This injustice, inequality, and inequity will not spontaneously disappear. It will take bold, outspoken, and fearless leadership to eradicate the systemic racism in our country. We must address the violence at the hands of a police force paid to serve and protect us. We must address the recurring experience of black people being passed over for a promotion and then being asked to train the white person who was hired. We must address the inequities in contract opportunities available to black businesses who are repeatedly deemed to lack the capacity. We must address the disparity in the quality of education provided to black students. We must address the right to a living wage, health care, and sick pay.
While we like to regard the system as broken, I've come to believe the system is working exactly as it was meant to for the people who are benefiting from it. We need a new system. One that works for all of us. I am running to become the mayor of New York City because I can't assume there's another person who has the courage to do the work that needs to be done to create a fair and just city.
We can't elect the same people for the past 20-30 years, some in the same positions, and then talk about how nothing has changed in the past 30 years.
There are some things we may not be able to change in people, but at this moment I think that whether you are black, white, purple, or yellow we all should be looking internally to see what is one thing that you can do to change this dynamic. Here's where we can start:
If we want change, we need a total reform of police departments throughout this country. That is going to require taking a hard look at our requirements to become a police officer, our disciplinary procedures when civilian complaints are filed, and a review of what and how we police. No one deserves to lose their life based upon the accusation of carrying counterfeit cash. We also need to hold police officers accountable for their actions. While it is their duty to protect and serve they should not be above the law. Even at this very moment, police officers are overstepping their boundaries.
If we want change, we have to build a sense of camaraderie between the police and community. A sense of working together and creating positive experiences. We have to be honest about the fact that we haven't allowed that to happen because we have utilized our police department as a revenue-generating entity. We are more concerned with cops writing tickets than protecting and serving. Even during these moments of protest we are witness to the differences made when the police supported the protesters and stood hand in hand with them or took a knee. It resulted in less violence and more peaceful protest. People felt heard; people felt respected; people felt like they mattered.
While we like to regard the system as broken, I've come to believe the system is working exactly as it was meant to for the people who are benefiting from it. We need a new system.
If we want change, we have to be willing to clean house. And that means that some of you are going to have to step up to the plate and take roles of leadership. In my city alone, there are 35 city council seats that are term-limited in 2021. There are some that aren't termed but maybe their term should be up. Step up to the plate and run. If nothing else it will let our elected officials see that they need to stop being comfortable and do more. We don't need you out in the street taking selfies or reporting the problems to us. We need solutions. We need you in a room implementing policies that will ensure that these things don't continue to happen.
If we want change, we need to support grassroots candidates that are not in corporate pockets, who are not taking PAC money, and who really want to make a difference to their community. We need candidates that know first-hand and can relate to the experiences that many of us are going through.
We are at a pivotal moment. It is inspiring to see people from all races and backgrounds in the streets protesting, standing up for justice, and wanting to see change. We must seize this moment, but we must also be mindful that change requires more.
People often ask me why I decided to run for office? I am running for me. I am running for the little girl that was called nigger on Liberty Avenue. For the woman who has been pulled over for no reason. For my nephew who was consistently stopped during the era of stop and frisk. I am running for your son, your brother, and your nephew. I am running so that the next generation will never have to say, "All my life I had to fight." Because although we won't stop until we see justice and changes that address inequality and inequity effectively, this fight is exhausting.