The story of how Nitasha Mehta decided to fight the “Pink Tax”
Today we’re hearing an incredibly inspiring story from Nitasha Mehta, a woman I met in New York who works in the CPG space for a company called Boxed.
And why I wanted to share this story with you is to show you how much impact you can create in the world, even without jumping straight into starting a business. I think it’s an important reminder that you can create significant impact at your place of employment; with resources and support at your fingertips.
Nitasha’s an experienced digital marketer with over 15 years of expertise in e-commerce, product marketing, CRM, and shopper marketing. She currently heads up CPG Brand Partnerships at Boxed, working directly with over 60 CPG brands. She's extremely passionate about technology and equal opportunity, and she launched the RethinkPink initiative at Boxed--which led to Boxed becoming the first and only US retailer to take a stand against gender pricing inequities. She has also been involved with legislation and has testified in states that have introduced bills to repeal the Tampon Tax, 3 of which went on to repeal the tax, as well as joined Congresswoman Jackie Speier in her Pink Tax Repeal Act.
Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!
Hello, thank you so much for having me here too, and I'm so excited to chat with you today. I'm so excited to, how's your day going? Where are you, What are you doing? I'm in the Upper west side in new york city working. It's still early on a Tuesday, but I'm really looking forward to enjoying the summer in new york post, covid, Everything is opening back up and it feels almost back to normal, which is amazing. The good vibes, good energy, I'm sure for sure. I want to give our listeners a little bit of context because this episode is a little different from our usual programming where I interview CPG founders who have kind of going through that blueprint and to give everyone that context. You and I met about a month ago, kind of by chance, I had a meeting with your husband for work and he was like, you need to meet my wife and that's basically how that kind of like came about, we had lunch together, we got along and you kind of just talk to me a little bit about what you were up to and I was so inspired by you kind of deciding to take a stance on something within the company that you worked for and going off to you know doing something about it and I was so inspired so I wanted you to come on the show, tell everyone what you're up to and share that story with us, especially because I think for me it serves as a really important reminder and I wanted everyone listening to know this too.
00:04:11Edit Is that like if you realize a problem in the world or you realize something that doesn't make too much sense, you don't have to go out and start a business and do everything that way straight away. You can actually make change in your place of employment and you can rally and fight and do interesting stuff with the support of your place of employment. So I'm very excited, I'm very excited to go back over your story. Where do you like to start kind of talking about your background and what you've been doing the past couple of years. Sure. So I've always been in the e commerce space and world. I started my career in digital media, went to grad school and then joined Amazon. Really focused on mobile electronics and doing content marketing there in Seattle, I moved back to the east coast where I'm originally from, I grew up in New Jersey and so I moved back to work at Samsung doing product marketing a little bit of a different side of the coin, working on the brand side and then working ironically with amazon as my customer And then I joined boxed almost seven years ago.
00:05:22Edit It's been seven years, which is insane. But it was just a small startup, I think I was number 24, within the company and boxes only about a year old when I joined. And I initially started um to really lead up our retention team and overall strategy, so focus on retention marketing through Crm strategies like email SmS and push. And then in true startup fashion started doing kind of two full time roles at the same time as profitability became more of a priority for the organization. I launched our CPG brand partnerships team which I lead today and so we work with over 60 of our CPG brand partners of products that we assort on our box platform like Pepsi and coke, Unilever, PNG, soap box etcetera. And so our goal is to increase their sales and exposure through marketing activations on the box platform.
00:06:23Edit Amazing. And for anyone outside of the U. S. Who might not know what boxed specifically is what's the kind of like one liner tweet sized pitch unboxed. Sure. So we are the online version of your wholesale shopping club. And so we sell direct to consumer book size items, anything that you would normally get at your wholesale club. Um but without the membership fees and with free shipping, um, freebies and perks and free samples. And so we really focus on creating the best in class, customer experience and user interface from an online e commerce perspective. Very cool. And last time I was with you last time when I met you, rather you were telling me about some really cool campaigns that you've worked on during your time kind of leading this particular team. Could you step us through some of your kind of highlights? Yeah, sure. So you know, we consider ourselves, we're a partnership team and so we work very closely with our CPG partners and creating custom, creative, unique types of campaigns.
00:07:31Edit One of them was box tops with general Mills for example, education is something that's very important for our organization. And so we worked very closely to create the first digital box tops campaign with general mills. So today customers can come on the box platform purchase items that are eligible for box tops and then donate to their school of their choice in terms of box tops. And so we run campaigns where Customers can earn up to 200 bonus box tops or $20 further local school, which is pretty incredible through like the first and only real digital integration with that program. This is a really stupid question, but what is the box top, what is that? So general mills launched box tops. Um probably. I don't know. It must be, you know, over 50 years ago. Um, but essentially on specific food items like cereals and snacks, customers can earn box tops and they're like physical box tops that they used to cut off boxes and then you would turn them in and you redeem them or turn them into your school or your child's school or just a local school and that would actually earn money for that school.
00:08:53Edit And so they can redeem these box tops and earn, you know, up to like thousands of dollars for school and for Children in need. Now it's pretty much digital. And so customers can purchase through boxed for example, they can purchase an eligible General Mills item, Nature Valley or any of their brands that are eligible for box tops and earn box tops immediately for the school of their choice. And so it's a really incredible program to give back in Children in need. Especially, you know, underrepresented schools that you don't necessarily have the funds to support everyday activities. Mm hmm, wow, that's so interesting. Very cool. Very cool. Indeed. In these digital times. Almost all consumers tend to search online for a product or brand before making a purchase. So it's never been as important as now to have a home for your brand or your online business if you've been thinking about taking your business to the next level and going online with it now is the perfect time to start building your website with zero zero is the most affordable website builder on the market with beautiful designer made templates, simple drag and drop editing and business tools like a logo maker and ai rider which will save you hundreds of dollars per year that you can reinvest into your business and create your own website without any coding knowledge.
00:10:20Edit Go to zero dot com forward slash F. S. C. That's Z Y R O dot com slash fsc Or use our code fsc to get up to 71% discount plus three months free and a domain with any yearly plan. I want to kind of start talking about the realization moment that you had that kind of got you going down this pink tax mission take us back to that time. Yeah, for sure. So I was only at box for about a year when I launched are raising Pink initiative. But this was back in 2016 I had been reading a lot about the pink tax and the tampon tax and just started to do a little bit of Out of my own curiosity. I started to do a little bit of digging, you know at box 70% of our customers are women. And so the majority of our users are affected by pink text and tampon tax every day. And so I wanted to understand what our pricing and costs that we received from manufacturers look like and if there was any discrepancies between men, men's products and women's items and guess what I found that there was.
00:11:36Edit And so I was learning a lot and reading a lot about paying tax. And so it's essentially there are two different issues that we tackle under our initiative, paying taxes, one where women's items cost more than their male counterparts. And so this could be razors, shave gels, deodorant, body wash, they could be made by the same manufacturer, part of the same brand, but just because they're targeting women versus men, they're up charged from a cost perspective. So like For example, a razor, a women's razor, disposable razor can cost up to 108% more than the men's disposable razor, the men's version, which is insane, but I still just don't understand why, like when did it start and why did it start? I don't understand. Do you know, do you have the answer? No. This goes back generations. And so, you know, when we asked when we talk to brands and manufacturers oftentimes their rationale is that, you know, the packaging is different or the the marketing costs are higher when they're targeting women.
00:12:43Edit And so it's unfortunate, but that's the case and it's so systemic as well. Um it's really hard to change. I think that is the toughest type of, or the toughest issue right now to really tackle because it is so specific and it goes back so far. So I looked at our own prices at box and realized that the costs that we were receiving from manufacturers for a lot of these items cost more for women than for men's items. And then on top of that is the tampon tax. So back in 2016 I think 35 states charge sales tax on feminine or pureed care products. So pads and tampons were considered luxury items and were charged sales tax. The U. K. For example repealed it nationally. Canada has repealed the Tampa attacks nationally. Um many countries India Australia have repealed the tampon tax nationally. The US unfortunately is far behind it's a state by state issue.
00:13:45Edit And so You know in 2016 there were over 35 states that still charged tampon tax. There is progress being made today. There are 27 states that charged tampon tax. So there is there are states that are repealing it one by one. It's going to take some time. But we decided to take a stand at box on tampon text as well and really roll it under our rethink pink umbrella. And so within, you know, two weeks of me bringing up this issue to our ceo were able to to launch this campaign are to take a step back. Our company has more four male co founders. And so I essentially if you asked our ceo che, he will say that it cornered him in the hallway and demanded demanded to know what we were doing about the pink tax, but they were so incredibly supportive and they understood who our customer base was, right and this was an issue that we could genuinely take a stand on and really positively make an impact to our customers.
00:14:52Edit And so Within two weeks of bringing this up to leadership, I launched our initiative. We decided we became the first and still the only national US retailer to take a stand and discount items on a cost per unit or cost per ounce basis for pink tax. So those razors and shave gels, etcetera that cost more for women than their male counterparts, and then also discount period care products to offset the sales tax, we cannot remove sales tax, um, but we can offset it by discounting those items. And so since we launched, we've been testifying in states, I've testified in states that have introduced bills to repeal the tampon tax. Three of those states have gone on to actually repeal them, which has been amazing. Um and we have also been working with congresswoman, um specifically congresswoman Jackie spear on her national Pink Tax repeal act, um to try to get that through.
00:15:53Edit Bye Really. The goal was to create conversation and education around this issue and overall awareness. You know, when I launched it probably one out of 10 women that I spoke to within my network even knew that they had been paying sales tax on period care products the majority of their lives. It's not something that you really look at line by line. And so now I would say that has, has changed significantly through the work that box has done and and so many other brands that have taken a stand on this issue as well, um awareness is there and that is really what is going to make real change overall, wow, that is so inspiring and so cool. What's your kind of like bigger picture mission for this initiative specifically? Like are you going like state by state and you're not going to stop until you finish or like is it doing bigger things with boxed or is it going directly to manufacturers to try and force, not forced, but to try and you know, see what changes they can make all the way back at that point or working directly with brands, like what's kind of the blueprint from here.
00:17:07Edit Yeah, it's a lot of those things that you just mentioned, I would say number one is is continuing to really create awareness. Our goal is to get other retailers on board and so we're still working on that. I think if we're able to get, you know, other major e commerce et commerce retailers to do the same thing and take a stand on this issue, that would impact change even quicker. So that's, you know, number one it's a number two is is really we don't consider this a campaign a one time campaign, This is an ongoing initiative. And so it will continue to be one of our core values and missions that box until it's no longer an issue. So we'll continue to testify in states that have introduced bills to repeal tampon tax and really move battle through the finish line, will continue to spread awareness and educate our consumers and our network on, you know, what the issue is and how they can make impact as well, whether that's contact your local legislator or even just tell your network and really spread awareness around this issue.
00:18:16Edit And so we're still fighting. There's still a lot more that needs to be done Um to get all 50 states to repeal repeal the tax two really understand or educate manufacturers and brands um to ultimately change their pricing, we've decided from, you know, a manufacturer's standpoint or brand standpoint that we no longer will even ex except products on our platform that cost more for women than for men. And so unless they update their pricing and offer us equal pricing for equal products, then we won't even accept it on box. And so that's been a huge game changer for a lot of our brands as well. They've updated their cost and pricing as a result of that. So it's, you know, step by step change, you know, one at a time, but it's definitely happening, you know, here we are, six years later. And there's been so much conversation around this issue and and so much impact that has already been made.
00:19:17Edit And so I think we're still, you know, just getting started. Have you had to drop any brands altogether because they wouldn't meet you at the table. No. You know, we took the hit on pricing ourselves and so if they weren't able to update their pricing and costs, we did it ourselves and we took a hit on margin so that I would say the majority of items that are part of our initiative today are ones that we are discounting on our own, wow, so interesting. What does the impact actually look like? Like from boxed point of view? Like what's happened since you've gone out with this stance in the world and educated consumers and done stuff? Yeah, I think probably the most surprising has been that has actually been good for business and I think the reason being is that, Like I mentioned, you know, 70% of our consumers are women and if we're able to make an impact and improve their everyday lives on items that, you know, our everyday essentials, then that is hugely significant.
00:20:32Edit And so I would say since we've launched, we've attracted tens of thousands of new customers as a result of this initiative because their values align with ours. Um I think, you know, again, like if you're able as an organization able to launch something in a genuine way, not just because not performative, right? Exactly. But if it's genuine, it's authentic. If it's something that you can actually put your money behind and your actions behind, then, you know, that's really going to resonate with your customers. And so as a result, you know, we've been able to attract tens of thousands of new users who have then become some of our most loyal customers. They're spending more, They're repeating more and they're also the ones that are talking about box as well. And so I think that word of mouth because of the issue that we've taken to stand on and because it aligns with what they care about has been probably the most surprising impact.
00:21:35Edit You know, it wasn't our goal when we launched this initiative, but it is What we've seen as a result. And since we've launched, we've passed almost maybe over by this point $2 million dollars of savings back to our customers, which is not chump change. Wow, that's crazy. Yeah, that's a lot. Yeah, my gosh, wow, That is just so inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing that with us. Where do you go from here specifically what's next in terms of like, you know, the coming few months? Yeah. I think it's, you know, continuing to work with local legislators and repealing the tampon tax, working with our brands and manufacturers to help us or help support us with some of the products that we carry today that, you know, still have different costs or where we see, you know, most of the majority of discrepancies and also partnering with our partners. So we've had, we've created some really incredible partnerships with partners like Seventh Generation and Unilever for example, we've partnered with a nonprofit organization called Girls Helping Girls period, It's just a mother and her two daughters that are donating period care products to underserved high schools across the country.
00:22:56Edit And so we ran a program a campaign with them and 7th generation and we were able to donate hundreds of thousands of period care products to that organization. And so I think any opportunity that there is to partner with our own brands that want to support us as well as other organizations that have taken a stand on this is such an incredible opportunity to continue this initiative and to keep it going and to continue to spread that awareness around it. If there's anyone listening right now who is like this is lit a fire inside of me, like how can I help, what can I do? Can they reach out to you? Like is there a way that they can get involved? What's the course of action for people who want to join your movement specifically around this? Yeah, for sure. So there's a couple of different ways that you can really break it out from a consumer standpoint like you is if this is an issue that you really care about and you're asking how you can raise awareness, I would say, you know, continue to be vocal about what you care about and educate your networks and then also support brands that align with your values.
00:24:06Edit I think that says a lot. Um Billy's, for example, is a startup razor organization um, that launched as a result of the Pink tax and so I think there are a lot of great brands out there that are doing, you know, really great things and especially around this issue as well, and so continue to support brands that that align with their values. And then as an employee, I would say, how can you find your voice in the workplace? When I launched this initiative, you know, as a senior manager on the marketing team, it was something that I really cared about, it was an issue that really resonated with me. And so if I never spoke to our leadership team, you know, this never would have happened when I was at amazon, I don't think I could have ever had the guts to go up to Jeff Bezos and ask and tell him that we need to do something about the Pink tax, but I think, you know, being able to find your voice within the workplace is such, can make such a huge impact.
00:25:08Edit Um, and so I would say, be brave, speak up and don't give up if it is something that you think your organization can really take a stand on and then also, you know, set up one on ones with key folks in your organization and build allies within the company. That is really, you know, the best way to get an idea over the finish line again. Especially if it's something that you really care about that you think your company can take a stand on in an authentic way. That's a really great piece of practical advice. Set up meetings with key stakeholders. Start those conversations. I'm also wondering on that practical kind of level when you went to your management team, you know, did you just go with the conversation or did you come like ultra prepared with like a slide show? Like, you know, print outs like what did it actually look like? Yeah, I came with data and so I had done all the back end work. I was looking at our cost per product for items that we carried the men's and women's versions of and I came with an Excel doc of data was like, hey look at this razor that we carry, it Costs 108% more than the men's version.
00:26:23Edit And like there's if you come with hard data and prove that there's nothing that they can say about that, right or there's, I mean it was kind of a no brainer for our leadership team to take a stand a they were flabbergasted that this was even an issue. They didn't know that it was an issue that it still existed back then in 2016. And so just bringing this to their attention was the first step. And then coming with that data and that hard proof of items that we carry at our company um that we can actually change ourselves or we have the ability and power to update. Um that was, you know, what ultimately was able to get this over the finish line, wow, I am so inspired by you. I can't wait to see what you do next with this mission, how you keep approaching it and where you are, you know, one year, five years down the track with everything.
00:27:25Edit Hopefully we can have you back on the show to give us an update. Where can people find you? Sure. So I'm on linkedin, please feel free to reach out Natasha Metha. Um or you can email me as well. I'll share my contact info with with you dune. But I would love to continue the conversation for anyone that's interested in this particular issue or even any issue right, that they think that they can take a stand on and really make impactful change with. I'm happy happy to chat. Always. Thank you so much. Thank you so much for taking the time. Thank you.