Employees of a media company that owns Sports Illustrated and Maxim want the publisher to shut down a pro-police website. The call to pull the…
Miki Agrawal considers herself the Joan of Arc of underwear.
The publicity notes for her book, “Disrupt-Her: A Manifesto for the Modern Woman” (Hay House), out Tuesday, refer to her “overcom[ing] an attempt to burn her for witchcraft.”
In Agrawal’s case, that old black magic refers to her creation of companies focused on things some people don’t care to discuss in polite company.
One is Thinx, which makes “period-proof underwear” and which Agrawal says is worth as much as $100 million; another is Tushy, a $69 bidet feature that clips on to any toilet. The tagline: “For people who poop.”
And then there’s the martyrdom. In 2017 she was forced to walk away from Thinx after a sexual-harassment claim that alleged, among other things, that Agrawal conducted at least one meeting via FaceTime while on the toilet. (The claim was dropped after the case was settled, and Agrawal told The Post the allegations were false.)
Agrawal concedes that her “body-positive” company could sound “weird” and was often “misunderstood.”
“I spent the last eight years dedicating myself to liberating women and talking about something that’s taboo and making it not shameful — making it powerful for women,” she told The Post. “And to have that turned into something so contextually misaligned was the hardest thing I ever had to go through in my life.”
“Disrupt-Her” details the 40-year-old’s trials and tribulations and also serves as a rallying cry for women (and men) to challenge the status quo.
But at what point does disrupting your life look like blowing it up?
Growing up in Montreal, Canada, Agrawal was always aware of disruption. Her father is Indian and bucked the tradition of arranged marriage when he wed Miki’s Japanese mother; the two who would go on to build a company that taught children about electronics. Agrawal recalls being hauled into the principal’s office as a 10-year-old after asserting herself over the boys at recess. She says the principal told her she made the boys feel “insecure.”
After earning a business degree at Cornell, Agrawal moved to Manhattan in 2001 and worked as an investment-banking analyst at Deutsche Bank and later in TV production. She also played soccer for the New York Magic until a torn ACL sidelined her in 2003.
Although the then-27-year-old had no food-service experience, in 2006 she opened the gluten-free pizza shop Wild in the West Village. Agrawal talked Tao owner Richard Wolf into mentoring her, and Paul McCartney, Jon Bon Jovi and Meryl Streep all flocked to the restaurant. (There is now a second location, in Park Slope.)
It was around that time that she came up with the idea for panties that could supplant feminine-hygiene products. It took a decade before Thinx launched in 2015, with $1.45 million in funding and the help of co-founders Radha Agrawal and Antonia Dunbar.
‘I really wanted to shift culture — and talk about vaginas and breasts, talk about periods, talk about everything.’
“We were just holding onto the magic carpet,” she told The Post of the momentum.
But it all came crashing down in March 2017 when news broke that Chelsea Leibow, who had been the company’s head of public relations, had filed a sexual-harassment complaint with the NYC Commission on Human Rights. In it, Agrawal was accused of touching an employee’s breasts and asking her to expose herself; sharing nude photos of herself with her staff; and talking about her own sexual preferences. Leibow also claimed that Agrawal had changed clothes in front of employees and conducted a FaceTime meeting with staff while on the toilet.
On her Web site, Agrawal wrote that Leibow had demanded $250,000 for a “bogus sexual harassment claim … When [Leibow] received no money, she went to the press instead.”
(A representative for Leibow had no comment.)
Eventually, the parties settled and the complaint was withdrawn. But the damage was done — Agrawal was ousted from her own company. “It wasn’t willingly,” she told The Post.
She maintains she was misunderstood. “I really wanted to shift culture — and talk about vaginas and breasts, talk about periods, talk about everything. That’s what attracted [employees] to come to work there in the first place. ‘I support whatever you want to do, body positivity, you go girl.’ We were a bunch of girls talking about periods.”
And, she insists, the people in her office “wanted to talk about it … It was natural.”
Agrawal said the turning point came in early 2017 when she restructured the staff. “You let people go who aren’t the right fit for the culture, who aren’t the right fit for the company. You want people who have more experience, so you restructure.”
Stretching out on a sofa in the living room of her Williamsburg townhouse, she stops herself.
“I can’t talk about my particular case — I signed an agreement. But I will say that, sometimes when people are let go they look for money.”
Her husband, Andrew Horn — a tech entrepreneur she met at Burning Man — has plenty more to say for her, however.
“The idea of context is so important,” he told The Post. “Is it appropriate for your boss to slap you on the ass? Objectively no, but if you’re players on the Mets, can your boss smack you on the ass? Maybe.
“Not only was her product disruptive, but her company was disruptive. [Her staffers] were empowered to be themselves, to have conversations about all aspects of their lives. The employees got naked in a lake [at a corporate retreat]. Miki had nothing to do with that!”
Horn added that the behavior at Thinx was a reflection of millennial society.
“There’s this culture of openness … Girls talk about their breast size openly, and it’s not a big deal. You have [Agrawal] who’s brave enough to create the f–king culture we want!”
The couple, who married in 2018 and have a toddler son, Hiro Happy, say the media that once celebrated Agrawal turned on her in a brutal way.
“It’s too sexy of a story to pass up — to see this media darling fall on her face. There’s a gleefulness to it,” she said.
Added Horn: “Miki had never been put in a situation that was so out of her control. She’s in the driver’s seat of her own life — with her friends, her relationships, her business.”
‘It’s too sexy of a story to pass up — to see this media darling fall on her face.’
Agrawal was five months pregnant with her son when the scandal first broke. “After I gave birth, I didn’t wear a shirt for six straight months. and all my friends — women, men, children — visited me with my shirt off. I didn’t give a f–k because it chafed my nipples, and it’s my home. [After the harassment claim,] It’s not like, ‘Oh, now I can’t talk about my breasts.’ I was actually leaning into this.”
Thinx has marched on without her. New CEO Maria Molland Selby boasted in 2018 that sales at the NYC-based company had increased 50 percent over the previous year.
And Agrawal is still a dedicated consumer: “I’m literally wearing [Thinx] right now,” she said.
Today, her focus is on Tushy, the bidet company she founded in 2015. “My saving grace was pouring my love into Tushy,” she said, adding that the business has doubled year over year.
The staff of seven works mostly remotely, but they gather at Agrawal’s 4,000-square-foot, six-bedroom home once a week or so. Her new team, she said, has no trouble making light of the scandals at Thinx. “We almost laugh at it. It’s like, ‘We have our HR yarmulke on.’ Now it’s so dumb, we can joke.”
Agrawal was named one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in 2018, but says her greatest career moment came last December on “Saturday Night Live,” when “Weekend Update” co-anchor Michael
Che extolled his love of bidets and name-dropped Tushy.
“I was like, ‘I’m doing it again!’ ” she recalled. “I was back in my flow.”
Just like old times, Agrawal has stoked the ire of the MTA — which rejected ads for Tushy, including one that read “Nothing says I love you like a clean butthole.”
“I spent my entire life trying to improve the lives of people, women, trying to better society, trying to move the conversation forward,” Agrawal said.
But, as she writes in her book: “In the end, it’s our moments of struggle that define us.
A day in the life of a real menstruating human – Thinx Commercial
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