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Thinx exec talks pop-ups, global growth

If you were interested in cult-y online retail brands or digital advertising stunts in 2015, chances are you heard about Thinx, the women’s underwear brand that went viral after it plastered New York City’s subway system with clever ads that tastefully – depending on your taste – alluded to menstruation.

Thinx founder Miki Agrawal made the most most of the media spotlight, giving interviews about why women shouldn’t be ashamed of talking about their periods. The implicit feminism of the brand message combined with the company’s broader mission to provide access to period products to girls in need around the world, not to mention its online savvy, were almost preternaturally suited to that moment in retail, when pure-plays and ethical brands were beginning to really take off.

Fast forward three years and much has changed at Thinx. Agrawal is no longer with the business (an ex-employee accused the founder of sexual harassment, and there were calls for someone with more management experience to take over), and like many online brands, the pure-play poster child has started experimenting with bricks-and-mortar stores in earnest. There’s also the fact that Thinx is ramping up its sales efforts in a select number of global markets, including Australia.

“This year marks our first real year as a company really dipping our toe into these other markets. Australia is part of that initiative,” Siobhan Lonergan, chief brand officer at Thinx, told IR.

Global expansion

The retailer, which sells a range of around nine different styles of absorbent underwear that are made to be worn as a replacement or backup to traditional period products like tampons, recently launched its first retail presence in Australia through pop-ups.

In the last week of October, Thinx opened a pop-up in Melbourne fashion retailer Kuwaii’s Fitzroy store, and it opened another pop-up in Sydney’s Pitt Street Mall, which will run through the end of this week. Seven employees from the brand’s head office are staffing the stores.

The decision was driven by the fact that Australia is among Thinx’s top five markets globally, despite the fact that the brand has never deliberately targeted markets outside the US.

“I think we’re really strong on digital marketing,” Lonergan explained. “So even though we physically didn’t have focused marketing initiatives, we did have digital ads via Facebook and Instagram. A lot of customers that wandered into our pop-ups said that they know about us through ads.”

Online not the only way to go

One reason Lonergan thinks that Australian customers are responding to Thinx’s offering is the environmentally-friendly nature of its products. She noted that the retailer recently launched a campaign highlighting its sustainability compared to traditional period products (the average person uses 11,000 tampons in their lifetime, many of which end up in landfill, alongside their plastic packaging).

“Australia is on the crest of really thinking about their products in a sustainable way. Ethical is a word that comes up a lot,” Lonergan said.

Explaining things like the company’s sustainability efforts, as well as how the products actually work, is a key reason that Thinx is interested in expanding its physical presence through pop-up stores.

“I don’t think an online channel is the only way to go…Ultimately, we’re thinking about what our version of retail looks like,” Lonergan said.

“We’re a young company and we’re learning as we go. We know pop-ups can be tremendously successful. There’s a level of newness and excitement, but as we branch into retail, it will be more about the education side,” she said.

“A conversation needs to happen around our products, and we can see that our average order value can be tremendously increased when that conversation happens.”

Local competitors not a problem

Lonergan said that the company’s focus is on the US, but there will be “some activity” in Australia in 2019.

“Our first goal is to organise distribution so we can give our Australia customer the same experience online as our American customers. The second step is to understand which partners to work with [to showcase products] in their stores,” she said.

When it comes to competing with local players that offer similar products – Australian brand Modibodi launched in 2013 with a range of what it calls ‘leakproof’ underwear – Lonergan isn’t fazed.

“This is a new category and there’s a behavioural change involved. It’s healthy to have other players help to open up the category.”

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