Tylea Richard is the type of badass we love. The type who creates a 30-day pussy challenge, takes selfies in filthy bathrooms, has an Instagram page dedicated to vaginas, periods and body positivity, and creates a line of “coochie friendly” underwear for women.
The 36-year-old entrepreneur is the creator of the LA-based lifestyle brand Thundress. Launched in 2015 after a successful Kickstarter campaign, Thundress provides eco-friendly, 100 percent organic cotton underwear, made with low impact dyes to women of all body types. This means the cotton-soft undies do not contain toxic chemicals or synthetic fibers, are comfortable AF and highly unlikely to cause irritation to your lady parts.
Recently, we sat down with Richard to discuss business, body, beauty, the art of boldness and everything in between.
Where did the idea to create toxic free underwear come from?
I went through this period of time in my late ‘20s where I kept getting yeast infections. I know it’s a little TMI but that’s the point. I hesitated to tell my doctor and I thought there was something wrong with me. Finally, one day during a doctor’s visit, I broke down and thought what is wrong with me, why does this keep happening to me, why am I so gross? My doctor told me that yeast infections are one of the most common things she sees. To treat this, she basically told me I needed to change my lifestyle. She advised that I wear cotton underwear and pay attention to things that are going up, in and around my vagina. Looking back, [the solution] seems so obvious but at that time, nobody was telling me that.
As women, we are taught the basics about our body, but rarely does anyone tell you to be careful of tampons, underwear, laundry detergent or other things that may be irritating you down there. And because we are trained to believe that our bodies and vaginas are gross, anything that happens to us ‘down there’ hits on all of those insecurities.”
After having the conversation with my doctor, I realized I was not alone. I also realized that all of the products on the market that we put into our vaginas were irritating the shit out of me and so many other women. Once I realized this, I began making changes in my own life, and once I started to see results, I made the decision to build a brand around this.
Talking vaginas can sometimes make people uncomfortable. What were the initial reactions to Thundress?
When I started [the company], people weren’t really talking about vaginas in open settings. Now it’s a little better. It’s great that there’s been a shift more recently, but the problem I found was that there were spaces to access this information in an informal, fun and playful way. That’s where the brand came in. I wanted [Thundress] to feel like your friend or someone you could go to for personal advice.
[In the early days] some people were definitely turned off by that but to be honest, most people were ready for it. I would write a blog post about something vagina-related and would get flooded with emails and tweets from people asking questions or thanking me for speaking about something that hadn’t been talked about before.
With black women specifically, I’ve found that we are very open and receptive to the conversation, particularly in welcoming spaces not targeted to white, Whole Foods yoga moms. The conversations have been geared toward other people for so long that when you don’t think it’s for you, you don’t want to come to the table. I’m working to change that and bring more of us to the table.
What was your personal journey to love yourself and body like?
[Thundress] has definitely mirrored my journey of self-awareness with my body. When I was at the doctor thinking I was gross, I wasn’t realizing that this was something that affected everyone; instead I internalized it. Part of the process of me starting [Thundress] was becoming comfortable talking about [my own health issues]. Over the years I’ve learned that people are more comfortable talking about sex than the actual body parts involved with it. The expectation that we’re supposed to be sexy all of the time, but use products that result in us not being able to do the act is a weird juxtaposition to me.
What has your journey as an entrepreneur been like?
It’s been really hard. Being an entrepreneur is the most rewarding and most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life. When I first founded the company, someone once told me that when you become an entrepreneur all of your issues, insecurities and flaws come out in the process. I found that to be very true. [Creating my own company] has pushed me to be a better person but it definitely has not been easy.
What’s next for the brand?
When I started there weren’t many people talking about vaginas however, in the last few years, there’ve been a lot more conversations happening in this area. Looking long-term, I want to continue to push the conversation, and position the brand to be a vanguard so we don’t get caught up with fads or whatever female movement is happening at the time. I’ve also been thinking a lot about gender neutral underwear, kids’ products and creating more content.
What’s your best advice to a new entrepreneur?
Build a community of other entrepreneurs. The more you’re around other entrepreneurs who look and live like you, the better. You’re going to need them; especially if you’re doing this by yourself. You need people you can text in the middle of the night or bounce ideas off of. Once you have a hustle, everyone doesn’t understand the lifestyle, and you have to build relationships with like-minded individuals.