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March 11, 2016

At mindbodygreen, we get to meet the female entrepreneurs who are passionate about making the world a healthier place. In this new series, we’re profiling #WellnessWonderWomen who inspire us with vision and dedication—and hopefully inspire you, too.

Serial entrepreneur Miki Agrawal is working to remove the taboo surrounding menstruation. The CEO and co-founder of THINX, the underwear for periods, she's making pads and tampons redundant.

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Developed over three years, THINX "period-proof" underwear is made of layered fabric that absorbs liquid to prevent leaks. It can be incorporated into a cycle set of different absorption levels depending on the day.

While THINX isn’t the only player in the period underwear field—Dear Kate, KnixWear, and PantyProp are also making waves—the brand has had some serendipitous marketing moments. Concerns over the wording and imagery of THINX New York subway ads started a spirited conversation within the city. The ads are now in 1 out of every 10 subway cars in NYC.

Not one to shy away from topics that are often swept under the rug, Miki is also thinking up smart ways to solve light bladder leaks and clean your bum. We caught up with the unapologetic businesswoman to get her take on the entrepreneurial spirit and the future of sanitation.

A Q&A With Miki Agrawal

Why is the world starting to talk about periods?

I think new innovations in the period category—that actually work for women—created the space for discussion. There have only been three major period innovations in the entire 20th century (tampons, pads, menstrual cups). And let's be real—they don't get the job done. They leak, they're bulky, they're messy, they're uncomfortable. They're environmentally unfriendly and they may or may not cause toxic shock syndrome.

That's why we invented THINX: to create a new way to experience periods that considers the way a woman feels and the functionality required to actually do the job.

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How are millennials helping usher in new products for periods?

I think millennials are more comfortable with the idea of breaking taboos and discussing the uncomfortable. With the Internet comes a lot of new exposure to things, and as a result, I think it facilitates new conversations like this one.

Do you use any apps or tools to track your cycle? If so, which ones?

I personally use My Cycles because it's super simple, but most of our team uses Clue.

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What do you love about being an entrepreneur?

I love learning. I love figuring stuff out. I love solving real problems. I love it when people run up to me and tell me that our products have changed their lives. It's so, so, so hard, but that part lights me up.

What's your favorite piece of feedback you've received from someone who uses your products?

A woman who has severe bleeding and couldn't leave her home during her period told me, "You have given me my life back."

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Best piece of advice you've ever received?

Hire slow. Fire fast.

You have a product coming out for new moms that addresses leakage—is that the next taboo that we aren't already talking about?

Absolutely. Our next big focus is solving the light bladder leakage problem that women are facing today and giving women who leak the ability to feel like themselves again. One in three women pee a little when they laugh, jump, jog, sneeze, or cough ... and yet that's still taboo? When one-third of all women go through this?

So we created a special, gorgeous, patented underwear called Icon to remind these women that they're powerful, even as they age. The undies are leakproof, odorless, moisture-wicking, fast-drying, antimicrobial, and absorb up to 25ml worth of liquid, and for every Icon sold, we are funding the Fistula Foundation to fight the fistula crisis in Africa and other developing countries.

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Any other taboos that you'd like to tackle, outside the world of leaks and periods?

We just launched our newest project called Tushy, which is elevating the way you clean your butt while fighting the global sanitation crisis. Wiping with toilet paper hasn't changed since 1890, and it's contributing to the 13 million cases of urinary tract infections and hemorrhoids per year. Not to mention, it's killing trees to the tune of 15 million trees a year. A single roll of toilet paper requires 37 gallons of water to make, and the average American uses 57 sheets of toilet paper per day. Seriously!? Why are our bums the only places we clean with paper? How are we not asking these questions?

All of this can be prevented with the simple use of a gentle spray of water, so I created a bidet attachment that attaches to your toilet and turns it into a bidet in less than 10 minutes. For every Tushy sold, we partnered with Samagra House to fight the global sanitation crisis that is affecting 40 percent of the world.

Giving back is obviously a big part of your brand—why is it so important to your business?

I think the future of entrepreneurship is social entrepreneurship. People won't care about business if it's purely for profit anymore. A spirit of giving back should be interwoven in all companies, not just an afterthought (like CSR), but a key measurement of the company's success.

You mentioned that a lot of your products are eco-friendly—do you see sustainability becoming more important to consumers?

It has to be ... The planet can only take so much.

How do you stay well in the midst of being an entrepreneur?

I meditate, work out, and travel when I can with my love, Andrew Horn, who is also a social entrepreneur and the founder of Tribute. I spend free time with my amazing tribe in NYC; many of whom are entrepreneurs. Some of my good friends are Radha Agrawal of Daybreaker, Zach Iscol of Task & Purpose, and poet creative Max Stossel. It's important to spend time with people who "get" me and understand what I'm going through as I grow my businesses.

What's your favorite way to meditate?

At home on my Tibetan meditation mat.

What type of fitness do you do to de-stress?

I practice yoga and do Japanese calisthenics.

What type of travel do you like to do? Any favorite recent trips?

I like to relax when I travel for sure—I recently went to Tulum, Mexico, for New Year's.

How do you tap into your creativity?

By actively watching, listening to, and participating in the world around me.

This interview has been edited and condensed.