Thinx, the period underwear company, has done some growing up over the last year. Talk to Maria Molland, who was installed as CEO last summer, and she’ll tell you the less-than-ideal circumstances she inherited are well behind Thinx. “This is the story of a very interesting product—and a great brand and team—that went through a little bump in the road,” Molland says. “Now I don’t even think about that bump anymore.”
She’s referring, of course, to the reports of poor benefits, pay, and work culture that resulted in cofounder and former CEO Miki Agrawal leaving the company last year. Though Molland admits she was initially wary of taking on the role, she also points out that press coverage was misleading. “When I walked into this business, it was not as much of a mess as the media portrayed,” she says. “The team was extremely strong, even well before I got here.” Still, Molland’s first order of business was to right certain wrongs: She expanded parental leave to 12 paid weeks, raised salaries, increased health insurance subsidies, and brought on an HR chief (though it looks like Thinx is on the hunt for one again).
Now, Thinx is about to launch a line of period-proof underwear exclusively for teens—the first broader expansion of the brand’s lineup since Molland came on board. (Knixwear, another period underwear company, also started selling period panties for teens last year.) The teen line, Thinx (Btwn), will come in new sizes and colors, with all three underwear styles available for $23 each. “This group of girls doesn’t have a lot of innovative solutions—they’ve been using pads, which really haven’t been innovated on in decades,” Molland says. “We believe that our product is a really good solution because it’s comfortable, it eases anxiety, and it’s very akin to products that they’re already using.”
Though Molland says Thinx (Btwn) was driven by customer demand, it’s also a logical next step for the brand. Thinx’s core product largely caters to millennial women, and sister brand Icon is for older women with incontinence; with Thinx (Btwn), the company is closing the loop, so to speak. “We’re looking at our overall brand architecture and all the brands that fall under Thinx, Inc as a company and creating a stronger connection between them,” Molland says. “The goal is that we’re always creating products that are all about empowering women—right from the time they get their first period, i.e. Thinx (Btwn), to the core line, Thinx, to post-baby as well as later life, with Icon.”
Thinx even made its first foray into sexual wellness this summer, with a $369 limited edition blanket for leakproof period sex. But it was intended as a conversation piece rather than a true product expansion, according to Molland—though she notes that it was in high demand and sold out quickly. “We wanted this to be something that people felt like they could talk about,” she says. “We’ve made the strategic decision for now not to make anymore because I really want to focus on developing the core line in a deeper way.”
Enter Thinx (Btwn). Molland says about 75% of the potential user base for the line will come from its existing customers or mothers who introduce their daughters to period panties. But the company will still court younger audiences, investing in video content on social channels like YouTube and recruiting influencers to reach young girls where they are. As part of its give-back component, Thinx has also put together a curriculum on first periods and reproductive health, which Molland says will go toward educating both girls and boys. (Molland teased a revamp of Thinx’s give-back program, which she characterizes as a larger grassroots advocacy effort around period poverty, to be unveiled later this year.)
Thinx’s move into teen retail is part and parcel of the company’s second phase, with Molland at the helm. “A lot of the things that I put in place are more just about how you scale,” she says. The global market for female hygiene is slated to cross $42 billion by 2022, and the majority of that will come from outside the U.S. According to Molland, about a third of Thinx’s sales in any given month are from international buyers. “We’re operating in a relatively small, fast-growing segment,” she says. “That means we have to create a global brand if we want to be a $500 million business in the next three to four years.” That’s especially true when Thinx isn’t the only player in the market. Brands like PantyProp, Dear Kate, and Knixwear all carry competing wares, and this month, sexual wellness brand Sustain Natural debuted period underwear, too.
But if it seems like Thinx has been a quieter presence in the last year, as the novelty of period underwear has worn off—and perhaps as Thinx marches on without Agrawal, who was adept at drumming up press—it hasn’t had a bearing on sales. Molland says Thinx grew by 50% last year and Icon by 80%; she also claims that while the focus is on customer acquisition, Thinx has a high percentage of repeat users. The company has more than doubled in size since Molland started as CEO, with plans to have about 80 employees by year end. Thinx has already made its way into U.K.-based department store Selfridges, and Molland tells me the company has signed a partnership in the U.S. with a “premium player.” And as is trendy for online brands du jour, Thinx will be opening a “handful” of dedicated brick-and-mortar stores next year, both in New York and abroad.
Molland knows Thinx’s key differentiator is its brand and voice. “I think there’s always going to be people that launch new period underwear or urinary incontinence underwear,” Molland says. “What we’ve built is a brand. It’s something that I think we’re proud of and that we constantly have to innovate on. How do we talk about things differently? How do we create images that are unique and provocative, but not too provocative? That’s a fine line—maintaining the edge that has kept us unique.”