How Knix Founder Joanna Griffiths Built a Leak-Proof Underwear Empire

In July, the entrepreneur sold an 80 per cent stake in her company for US$320 million
Knix founder Joanna Griffiths (photo illustration: Anthony Gebrehiwot)

Joanna Griffiths began her career in media relations and marketing, with roles at CBC, Universal Music and the Toronto International Film Festival. A decade ago, she struck out on her own with a completely different, innovative idea: to shake up the underwear industry. She launched Knix—a brand of size-inclusive leak-proof underwear—in direct opposition to the big lingerie companies that marketed sexiness for the male gaze. Knix has grown wildly in the years since. It expanded from briefs to bras, sleepwear, shapewear, swim and maternity and opened seven bricks-and-mortar locations in Canada and California. In July, Griffiths sold an 80 per cent stake in the company to the health-and-hygiene-sector giant Essity for US$320 million.

Age: 38
Based in: Toronto
Degrees: B.Com. in marketing (Queen’s University) and M.B.A. in international business (Insead)

My earliest memory:

Sitting at the end of our driveway in Toronto with my older brother. He was incredibly shy, and I was constantly talking to anyone who would walk by. I’ve always been curious about people, and it’s something I have carried into my work at Knix. Being successful as an entrepreneur is highly dependent on your ability to deliver solutions for your customers’ needs better than anyone else.

My first job:

At a hair salon when I was in my early teens. I would occasionally go in and sweep the floors for a few dollars or sometimes barter for a free hairstyle.

My major break:

Knix’s crowdfunding campaign in 2015. It allowed us to transition from a wholesaler to a direct-to-consumer brand, and we also began to sell bras. We ended up selling more than $1-million’s worth over the month-plus-long campaign and broke every record Kickstarter had for a fashion project at the time. The campaign was a huge confidence-builder, but it was also very stressful: I told myself that this was our one shot. At the time, that pressure contributed to a major bout of depression.

My most memorable mistake:

I parted ways with an investor at the 11th hour while raising our Series A funding in 2018. I got cold feet thinking that the investor had little openness to error. It felt like they wanted me to land a rocket ship on a dime. I walked away from $15 million. I’d already bought a new house, and 24 hours later, I found out I was pregnant with my first child.

I never confuse:

Vulnerability with weakness. Our Series B round in 2021 made headlines because I refused to consider any investors who questioned my ability to build the company while raising three young children. I gave birth to twins that year. Twelve months later, we sold the company to Essity. That showed all the naysayers.

A great leader:

Is always learning. Before launching Knix, I interviewed hundreds of women to learn what they wanted from a lingerie company. It was at the height of Victoria’s Secret, and the women told me that the industry made them feel bad about their bodies. We became the first brand to have prod- ucts in every size and the first brand to use real people—our customers—in our photo shoots.

My version of a power suit:

I’ve transitioned from having an exclusively all-black wardrobe throughout Covid lockdowns to wearing more colour. Jules Power, our design director, loves colour and print—I guess it finally rubbed off!

One thing that needs to change in my industry:

Prudishness about menstruation. Some TV networks won’t air our commercials because we use red liquid to represent period blood instead of the usual blue liquid.

The word I most overuse:

I probably say “gusset” more than anyone you’ve ever met.

I’d like to be remembered:

For being kind. We have a no-assholes rule at Knix.

This article appears in print in the fall 2022 issue of Canadian Business magazine. Buy the issue for $7.99 or better yet, subscribe to the quarterly print magazine for just $20.