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“I Am The Underdog”: How The Founder Of PantyProp Bucked The System

As a black female entrepreneur, PantyProp’s founder knew launching a business would be an uphill battle. She did it anyway.

While Thinx was plastering the New York City subway with enormous Georgia O’Keefe-inspired ads, Crystal Etienne, a black woman from Flushing, Queens quietly launched her own period brand, PantyProp.

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 PantyProp, 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 PantyProp, as have women from many other backgrounds. In her first year, Etienne made $300,000 in revenue, and two years into starting the business, she was up to $1.1 million. But just imagine, for a second, a world in which Etienne actually had access to capital and the support of advisers. “If I dwell on this, I would not get anything done,” she says. “I just went out and did it myself.”

Here, Etienne explains how she launched her business.

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