A few years ago, Nitasha Mehta felt like a lot of women did when she realized she was paying more than men for lots of the same personal care products: angry. That’s when, as the head of vendor marketing at Boxed, a wholesale e-tailer offering many of those items, she began digging into her own company’s prices.
“I researched products at Boxed and saw there were pretty significant discrepancies in pricing on things like body wash, shave gel, and deodorant among men’s and women’s products,” Mehta told Glamour.
Even though Boxed was getting its prices from manufacturers, Mehta didn’t just sit on her hands; she took the information to her CEO, Chieh Huang. “He didn’t even know it was an issue […] but he has a young daughter and he didn’t understand why she would have to pay more over her lifetime than her male friends would for certain products,” she said.
Because of that 2016 meeting, Boxed became one of the first retailers to take a strong stand against the Pink Tax. The company adjusted the cost of items like shampoo and razors—products women were paying more for—on a per-ounce or per-unit basis. If men and women were buying the same products, they were going to be spending the same amount.
Given the fact that manufacturers were setting these unfair prices, Boxed became the one absorbing the price difference, and offerings that have been adjusted now bare the #RethinkPink logo on the company’s site. “Our goal in taking a stand was to get people talking about this issue, and even to try to get other companies to follow our lead,” Mehta says.
The Pink Tax, which gets its name from the color most often marketed directly to girls, and which refers to the price difference between products aimed at female consumers versus male consumers, has seemingly been around for decades. Whether it’s for dry cleaning, toys, T-shirts, baby bottles, or haircuts, the Pink Tax has been estimated to cost women thousands of dollars over the course of their lifetime. On top of that, women in 36 states in the U.S. also pay a tax on tampons and pads, even though the products are necessities, and non-essential basics like lip balm aren’t taxed.
The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs published a study in 2015, finding that on average, products for women or girls cost 7 percent more than comparable products for men and boys. This isn’t the first time a study has been done on the Pink Tax, either. The state of California did a study back in 1994 and estimated that women spend $1,350 (that’s roughly $2,304 in today’s dollars) over the course of a year on the Pink Tax.
While women have gotten stuck paying the Pink Tax, they’re also the one’s leading the charge to end it.
“If you look at how many women are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and pay inequalities, it’s easy to see how this got neglected.” —Sherry Baker, president of marketing and product development for EWC
While Mehta raised her hand to do something about the Pink Tax from within the ranks of her company, former advertising executive Georgina Gooley decided to start her own company to address it. “I was looking at the shaving category, and wondering why a women’s subscription service hadn’t been created, and why women have been an afterthought in the category,” Gooley told Glamour. “Do women not shave? It didn’t make sense.”
After Gooley had this epiphany, she sprung into action. “I knew the Pink Tax existed, but when I discovered that razors and dry cleaners were the worst offenders, I knew I had to do something,” Gooley shared. “That’s when I decided to build a woman’s company to address specifically how women shave.”
Along with co-founder Jason Bravman, Gooley dreamt up Billie, a women’s razor subscription service, and raised $1.5 million in seed funding to start. Billie allows its customers to select the frequency of how often they want deliveries of razor cartridges, and pricing is $9 for four with free delivery. By comparison, another popular mass brand’s cartridges cost $17 for a four-pack.
“We’re more affordable than some men’s razor subscriptions and about half the price of women’s razors in stores,” Gooley says.
Ending the Pink Tax also plays a key role in Billie’s marketing. For instance, the brand offers a “Pink Tax Rebate” to customers so they can share a referral link with friends to earn coupons for Billie so customers can “get some of the money back” they’ve spent on the Pink Tax. “We are unapologetic about being pro-women, and our customers really love that about us,” Gooley says.
Even companies that don’t have a Pink Tax problem themselves are taking on the issue, seeing it as something that matters to its customers. The European Wax Center (or EWC), a chain of hair removal salons around the country, was looking for a focus for a new advertising campaign a little more than a year ago when it honed in on the frustration around the unfair tax.
While the company says it has never charged different prices for the same men’s and women’s services, the majority of its customers are women, as are its employees.
The company launched its #AxThePinkTax campaign in April of this year to advocate for equal pricing for products. The campaign includes a dedicated site where users can discover just how much they’ve lost to the Pink Tax over their lifetime, content for its various social media channels including Snapchat, and the company is making a donation to multiple women-focused charities including Girls In Tech.
“This hits close to home for us as a company,” Sherry Baker, President of Marketing and Product Development for EWC, told Glamour. “We see examples all of the time. Just recently, a senior executive at EWC who has a baby girl went online to look for a baby bottle, and there is a blue baby bottle and pink baby bottle, and two different prices for the exact same thing. It’s almost hard to believe. That’s why it’s so important to raise awareness.”
As retailers and smaller start-ups have positioned themselves as anti-Pink Tax warriors, they’ve discovered one big thing: it can be good business to do the right thing.
Boxed, who absorbed the cost of the Pink Tax, has made up for it bringing in new customers, it says. And Gooley says Billie has far-exceeded her expectations since its launch in late 2017. “We were totally blown away that we reached our 12-month goal in four-and-a-half months, and we sold out of six of our seven offerings,” Gooley says. The company also picked up another $4 million in funding earlier this year.
The bottom line is, women are sick of paying more and are eager to put their wallets where their mouths are.
“We’ve gotten a lot of responses through social media about it, or our customers read about what we are doing while they are getting their brows done, and they feel good about their association with us,” Baker says of the impact EWC has felt from its anti-Pink Tax campaign.
Still, despite progress, there is no question there is a long way to go. “If you look at the landscape—how many women are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, inequalities when it comes to pay—it’s easy to see how this got neglected,” Baker says. “This is going to take a long time to fix.”
“Consumers have a big role in holding companies accountable.” —Georgina Gooley, co-founder of Billie
Mehta points to how few companies have followed Boxed’s lead since the company took a stand two years ago. “Tesco [a U.K. chain] has discounted its products, but if you look at retailers in the U.S., not many have been willing to change,” she says.
The women who have been instrumental in leading the charge against the Pink Tax think it will ultimately be up to others raising their voices on this issue to end it. “I’ve seen customers call out companies on Twitter, and the companies haven’t even realized they were doing it, they were pricing according to the market,” Gooley says. “But then the company corrected it. Consumers have a big role in holding companies accountable.”
“I think it’s women taking a stand that’s really going to prompt change,” Mehta shared. “What’s happening is more and more women celebrities are talking about this. Amy Schumer talking about this in a Budweiser commercial was one of the first things that brought this to my attention.”
Now, Mehta is taking her fight on the road, traveling the country as an advocate. She testified in the Colorado House of Representatives and in the Nevada State Assembly in favor of bills repealing the tampon tax. Next, she is heading to Michigan to support a similar bill.
“I’m just getting started,” she says.
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