There’s been a spate of sexual harassment charges at startups over the past few weeks. Uber has been accused of systemic discrimination against its women employees, while closer home, TVF CEO Arunabh Kumar has had multiple women question his conduct at work. One thing that’s common to these allegations – and most sexual harassment charges in the corporate realm – is that the perpetrators are usually men.
That’s not the case with the sexual harassment charges that were leveled by employees at Thinx, a startup based out of New York.
Thinx was founded in 2011 by Antonia Saint Dunbar, Miki Agrawal and Radha Agrawal to produce underwear that can be worn during menstruation as a substitute or supplement to traditional feminine hygiene products. The company had managed to patent technology around its fabrics, and said its underwear was anti-microbial, moisture-wicking, absorbent and leak resistant.
Being a company founded by women, and whose products were to be used exclusively by women, Thinx was often in the public eye. The company extended its mission to help menstruating women through the Thinx foundation which was partnering with local NGOs around the world to teach self-defense, menstrual education, and other skills to girls. Its product seemed to be doing well too, having been covered by major outlets like Buzzfeed and Forbes.
But now a clutch of former employees have come out and spoken against what they call CEO Miki Agrawal’s sexual overtures. A complaint filed with City of New York Commission on Human Rights says that Agrawal discussed inappropriate topics at the workplace, including “the size and shape of her employees’ breasts, an employee’s nipple piercings, her own sexual exploits, her desire to experiment with polyamory, her interest in entering a sexual relationship with one of her employees, and the exact means by which she was brought to female ejaculation.”
And her complaint claims that her inappropriate conduct wasn’t just verbal. Agrawal also allegedly touched an employee’s breasts and asked her to expose them, routinely changed clothes in front of employees, and conducted meetings via videoconference while in bed, apparently unclothed. She also is said in the filing to have shared nude photos of herself and others with staff. At least once, she supposedly FaceTimed into a meeting from the toilet.
Agrawal denies these allegations, calling them “baseless” and with “absolutely no merit”. Thinx does have a zany, quirky approach to the taboo subject of menstruation, that seems to permeate through its company. “We know, this sounds pretty weird. Not weird, tho. Just awesome,” it says on its site describing its product. Agrawal too doesn’t seem shy of speaking her mind. “My favorite thing to talk about are the things you’re not supposed to talk about”, she’d said in a promotional video. She also seems to be upfront about her sexuality – her personal blog describes in graphic detail how she and her fiancé participated in a group sex workshop at the Burning Man.
But this openness about taboo subjects might’ve rubbed some employees the wrong way. Chelsea Leibow, who was the PR head for the company before she quit, says that once she’d texted Agrawal a picture from her vacation wearing a shirt that she’d gifted her, to which Agrawal replied “Couldn’t focus bc boobs [sic]. Oh and the shirt looks good too!” At another instance, when Leibow got her nipples pierced, Agrawal allegedly asked her to show her the piercings in her office. Leibow says that she said yes, “because Thinx was a culture of we’re all women here, this is to be expected.”
Thinx’s free-spirited culture might’ve gone too far – Agrawal has resigned from her post as CEO since the allegations came out, and is now the company’s “Chief Vision Officer”. While the charges are being investigated, she’s started a new company, Tushy, that aims to bring bidets to the US. Tushy will attach spray jets to western loos, eliminating the use of toilet paper. The new company seems to retain Thinx’s quirkiness though – its website describes the product as “like a shower for your butt”.