I am the underdog

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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