Thinx founder Miki Agrawal was once a feminist darling of the startup world.
Hints that all was not as it seemed were confirmed this week when a former employee filed a complaint claiming Agrawal was guilty of sexual harassment at the period underwear company, according to a story in The Cut.
Chelsea Leibow, who used to serve as Thinx’s enthusiastic head of public relations, filed a complaint with the City of New York Commission on Human Rights that alleged that Agrawal changed her clothing and was frequently nude in the office, talked often about her sex life in a way that intimidated employees into discussing their own, FaceTimed into meetings from the toilet, and touched Leibow’s breasts.
News of the extent of a culture of intimidation at Thinx followed a report by Rackedlast week that outlined employees’ dissatisfaction with other aspects of life at the company: bad maternity leave policies, low salaries with no room to negotiate, and pressure to always smile. That news came out after Agrawal stepped down as CEO.
All these violations were especially bad because Thinx grew to a household name (well, in some circles) with its presentation as a feminist product and startup. Its marketing famously took over the New York City subways with suggestive grapefruits and inclusive ads for “people with periods.”
The first inkling that Thinx’s outward values weren’t practiced inside the company came with an unflattering profile of Agrawal a year ago where she said that she “only started relating to being a feminist, literally, right when I started my company.” Before finding a corporate reason to get on board, it seemed, Agrawal saw feminism as the domain of an “angry, ranty girl.”
And Agrawal has publicly described some of the behavior listed in the complaint before but not in a way that indicated she found it at all problematic.
Agrawal responded to the first set of allegations (before the sexual harassment complaint) with a Medium post late last week.
“Things grew and they grew fast. Hockey stick growth fast. Beyond my wildest dreams fast,” she wrote. “Like any Co-Founder/CEO, all I did was the best I could under these crazy circumstances. Yes, I have made a TON of mistakes along the way but I can proudly say that our company has grown from an idea in my head to an innovation that is worn by millions of satisfied women globally in a few short years.”
Employees told Racked and The Cut that Thinx’s feminist mission was real when it came to the product. Thinx’s period underwear provided a new option for women and could be used in places where periods are a real obstacle for women and girls attending school and work.
It was only when it came to its own employees that Thinx fell far, far short.