Small Business

Joanna Griffiths is disrupting period care with high-tech underwear

December 5, 2023 | By Maggie Sieger

When Toronto native Joanna Griffiths approached male investors about funding her leakproof period underwear, she witnessed some odd behavior.

“They would grab the closest female employee or call their female family members and ask them if they experienced leaks,” says Griffiths, founder and president of Knix and kt by Knix, the direct-to-consumer intimate apparel brands. Often, she was told her idea was “too niche” — despite the fact that half the world’s population menstruates.

Those days of confusion are long gone. In the ten years since launching Knix, Griffiths has been named Entrepreneur of the Year by EY Canada, and when she sold 80% of the business to Swedish health and hygiene giant Essity in 2022, she broke investment categories in Canada. What’s more, her leakproof underwear has spawned a near-billion-dollar market.

Knix, too, has continued its groundbreaking ways, branching out into bras and intimate apparel for teens and perimenopausal and menopausal women. The brand focuses on body positivity, showcases real customers in its ads and refuses to use euphemisms for words like “bleeding,” “period” or “leaks.” Griffiths says one of her goals is to normalize taboos and make sure young women learn that their bodies are normal, not shameful or gross.

Starting in October, Griffiths partnered with Mastercard Canada on a campaign to help women-owned small businesses thrive. The Mastercard Newsroom recently spoke with Griffiths about her entrepreneurial journey, how she transformed the underwear market and why seeking out support from fellow women entrepreneurs is invaluable: “Throughout my experience as an entrepreneur, I have learned the most from fellow female founders. We share, we support, we encourage each other and we are there for each other on the good days and the bad.”

What was your “aha” moment for Knix?

Griffiths: I was inspired to create Knix when I learned that half of the world’s population experiences leaks regularly, and not only were alternatives to disposable menstrual products lacking, but the topic remained taboo. In my younger years, I was so focused on my career in the arts and entertainment industry that the notion of being an entrepreneur wasn’t on my radar. I found my passion for starting Knix when I worked on it in business school in 2011–2012 and have been focused on it since. When I look back, I can see the lessons that I learned in my earlier career that helped shape me into becoming an entrepreneur. I have always been goal-oriented; I believe that every person has a voice and the opportunity to make a difference.

What are some of the specific challenges you faced as a female entrepreneur?

Griffiths: For me, the hardest thing was believing in myself and putting in the hard work to grow and evolve as a person and a leader as Knix grew. I’m a big believer that if you change your mindset, you can change your life. You can’t control what is going to happen, but you can control how you show up and respond to the challenges that you face. I think this is particularly true of female entrepreneurs. We tend to be harder on ourselves and often struggle with impostor syndrome.

What’s the worst piece of advice you were given when you were starting out?

Griffiths: In the early days, there was a lot of pressure to do everything by myself, and I received advice from quite a few people that you can’t count on anyone but yourself. The reality is that building a company is a team sport, and one of the best things you can do is create something that others want to join.

Why is being part of a community of women small business owners important?

Griffiths: Being a small business owner is an incredibly lonely place. The days are long, the challenges are real and you often find yourself in one of two positions. In the best case, your company is growing and every day you find yourself running a bigger business than the day before, questioning if you have what it takes. In the hard case, your company is shrinking and every day you question why you were naive enough in the first place to take on the challenge. In both cases — and those in between — you need the support of your peers.

How has the world changed since you founded Knix in 2013?

Griffiths: We’ve seen a shift where many topics and conversations that were once taboo have now made their way into the mainstream. A big driving force behind some of these changes has been a new guard of female founders and CEOs setting out to drive change, along with more women in leadership roles in the venture capital and private equity communities. Some of the most disruptive companies that exist today are female-led, and with every success, we help change the narrative —women founders are worth backing. There is still a long way to go, but it’s encouraging to see progress.

Why is it important for companies like Mastercard to be aware of the struggles faced by women small business owners and work to even the playing field?

Griffiths: The first step toward driving meaningful change is acknowledging that challenges exist and helping to shine a light on exactly what it is like for female founders. We know the facts: A very small percentage of funding goes to women. The more we talk about the challenges, the sooner we can start to address them.

Maggie Sieger, Contributor