Thinx, a women’s underwear designer that became a symbol of startup dysfunction, is trying to overcome scandals with direction from a new leader. The New York company had been without a chief executive officer since March, when co-founder Miki Agrawal left amid allegations that she sexually harassed her employees and that the company’s human-resources policies failed to match the brand’s lofty feminist rhetoric.
Maria Molland Selby will become Thinx’s CEO starting Monday, the company told Bloomberg. Selby has a background in digital marketing and e-commerce, holding past leadership roles at Fab.com, Thomson Reuters Corp., Yahoo! and News Corp.’s Dow Jones. Agrawal no longer has any involvement with Thinx, Selby said.
“This is a team that has gone through a lot, with the shadow of leadership changes and obviously the PR associated with that,” Selby said. “I’m happy to see we were able to move forward relatively quickly.”
Thinx makes absorbent, reusable and washable underwear for women on their period or with urinary incontinence. Agrawal started the company in 2014 with her twin sister Radha and a third co-founder, Antonia Saint Dunbar. The startup often grabbed attention with provocative content it put out alongside those products: feminism newsletters and splashy ads featuring close-ups of produce made to suggest menstrual flow and vaginas.
The company came under fire this year after reports of Agrawal’s hostile management style. The company also faced scrutiny for weak corporate policies around employee pay standards and parental leave. A former employee also filed a complaint against Thinx with the New York City Commission on Human Rights, alleging that Agrawal had touched her breasts without consent at work and made harassing comments. Agrawal said at the time that the allegations were “baseless.” The complaint was withdrawn in May after the parties settled privately, according to the commission.
Agrawal, who used to refer to herself as “She-E-O,” said she’s still the second-largest shareholder in the company. “I look forward to seeing how the new CEO performs,” she wrote in an email. (Selby said she will not take on the title of She-E-O.) Agrawal is also co-founder of a portable bidet startup called Tushy, which is not associated with Thinx. She recently found a publisher for her second book, Disrupt-Her. Her first was called Do Cool Sh*t: Quit Your Day Job, Start Your Own Business, and Live Happily Ever After.
Selby has experience with companies in crisis. She ran the European operation at online fashion retailer Fab under founders Jason Goldberg and Bradford Shellhammer, whose management practices faced scrutiny. They threatened to fire an employee who made a mess in a corporate apartment and withhold paychecks for workers who failed to upload their headshots to the company website.
At Thinx, Selby said she admired the way employees focused on their work during a turbulent time. The 35-person company has tried to formalize internal policies and procedures since Agrawal’s departure, Selby said. That includes distributing an employee handbook in May, which includes guidelines on how to handle workplace complaints. Selby said health care is now free for the majority of employees and that the parental leave policy was increased to 12 weeks, as long as the person has been working there for at least a year. The company also raised salaries for workers deemed to be underpaid, she said. Thinx will hire a head of human resources “in the next couple of months,” she added.
Selby said Thinx will continue to focus on growing the business. She said the company will introduce a new advertising campaign in August and expand into athletic wear and tampon-related products.
Frontpage August 22, 2019