America’s biggest feminine pads maker is buying Thinx

Kimberly-Clark, the top feminine products maker in the US and inventor of the pantyliner, has bought a majority stake in sanitary underwear brand Thinx. It’s the first foray into the reusable period and incontinence underwear category for the company, which is behind Kleenex tissues, Huggies diapers, and Kotex feminine products. Kimberly-Clark first took a minority share in Thinx back in 2019.

Sanitary underwear has picked up steam in the last few years. The global period panties market is projected to reach $79.3 million by the end of 2026, up from $67.2 million in 2017, according to Transparency Market Research. Some of the world’s biggest brands have also gotten into the category. Last year, Uniqlo and Aerie, owned by American Eagle Outfitters, launched their own collections of sanitary underwear, too.

More people have started using menstrual product alternatives during the pandemic. Extra time at home has allowed people to try out other methods without the fear of accidental leaks.

“With the continued advancement of hybrid environments, more consumers are staying and working from home, and they are demonstrating increased awareness and consideration for the category,” the company said announcing the deal. “Market trends also confirm consumers are seeking these additional solutions for their period and bladder leak needs.”

That said, period panties are only a tiny sliver of the overall global feminine hygiene market, which was valued at $19.24 billion in 2020. Pads and tampons remain the top choices for most women around the world.

Makers of sanitary underwear, however, say their products offer a range of benefits including greater comfort and absorbing capacity than pads, while avoiding toxic shock syndrome, an uncommon but potentially fatal side effect of tampon use.

Sustainability is also a major selling point. A woman is expected to use over 11,000 menstrual products in their lifetime (pdf), which creates a lot of waste, particularly plastic. Reusable products like period underwear and menstrual cups could also help make feminine care products more affordable. Many women and girls in developing nations struggle to afford pads and tampons, a trend that’s been exacerbated by recent supply chain issues.

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