I am the underdog
While Thinx was plastering the New York Subway system with enormous Georgia O'Keeffe-inspired ads, Crystal Etienne, a black woman from Queens, quietly launched her own period brand, Panty Prop. Thinx founder Miki Agrawal often talked about how investors--who are disproportionately male--could not understand the point of period panties. But Etienne knew it would be infinitely harder for her: Not only did she have less entrepreneurial experience than Agrawal, but only 0.2% of all VC deals go to black women. "As an African-American woman, I am the underdog," she says. "You go into a room full of investors and not a single one looks like you."
Funding wasn't an option, so Etienne bootstrapped Panty Prop, making a small run of underwear in the Garment District. But Etienne also had some insights her competitors didn't have. From her own experience--and through months of consumer research--Etienne discovered that while 62% of American women prefer pads, this figure is much higher in the black, Asian, and Middle Eastern communities. So she created period underwear into which you could insert a pad, something that Thinx did not produce. And while Thinx has thrived on risqué marketing, Etienne believed that many women in her community would appreciate a brand with a more feminine and traditional spin.
She was right. Black women have flocked to Panty Prop--as have women from many other backgrounds. In her first 10 months, Etienne made a million dollars in revenue and two years into starting the business, she has sold nearly a million pairs of underwear. But just imagine, for a second, a world in which Etienne actually had access to capital and the support of advisors. "If I dwell on this I would not get anything done," she says. "I just went out and did it myself."
Liz Segran, Staff Writer, Fast Company