When you want to buy sex toys, where do you usually go? Shabby sex toy shops in the hidden alleys of Geylang? Or online sex shops with a confusing array of products with expensive price tags that make you hesitate to buy before you try?
Noting these concerns, Peder Wikstrom and Mattias Hulting from Sweden aim to break down the taboo and stigma surrounding the products of female sexuality.
In the past, when Mattias tried to buy a vibrator for his then-girlfriend (now wife), he found the shopping experience to be very uncomfortable, intimidating and shameful. Even in Europe, female sex toys were not sold in traditional outlets.
Both saw this gap and wanted to normalize the experience of buying sex toys in a way that is easy, spontaneous and more accessible to all. The Asian market became their initial focus, as they felt there was less competition in this sector.
They then raised US $ 4.4 million in funding from angel investors as well as venture capitalists such as DSG Consumer Partners and Nouvago Capital to ultimately launch a sex toy brand called Smile Makers.
Making the world’s best sex toys
Their mission is singularly clear: to normalize female sexuality and create the best sex toys in the world.
As none of them had any background in design or engineering, they conducted focus groups and market research, working with a strong product development team, as well as sex therapists and gynecologists. to offer their products.
They reiterated their prototype, getting several tries and feedback to perfect the shape and design. They incorporated stories and personalities for each of their sex toys, inspired by common western and eastern female erotic fantasy.
After perfecting friendly, cute and attractive vibrators at an affordable price of S $ 70, they deliberately targeted mainstream retail stores to sell their products.
They avoided shops specializing in sex-related products and approached pharmacies, grocery stores, fashion and cosmetic stores, as well as department stores.
Conquering mainstream retail stores
Launched in Singapore in 2013, the biggest challenge Smile Makers faced in its early days was breaking into retail. Their approach was new and unprecedented, which made it difficult to convince customers and partners to come on board.
They continued to receive refusals from major outlets who felt their products did not reflect their corporate image. Until 2015, they still encountered difficulties in establishing partnerships with consumer brands.
Their breakthrough came from Watsons who ultimately supported their brand’s mission to normalize female sexuality – it was the first brand to be incorporated.
Despite positive reviews from satisfied and curious customers, barriers remained. Initially, products were not allowed to be presented on the packaging, and there were limitations in the directions for use presented inside.
Today, Smile Makers has grown into a global brand with a presence in 4,000 retail stores in more than 25 markets, including Malaysia, Hong Kong, South Korea, Australia, Taiwan, Mongolia, South Africa. South and the United States.
They can be found at stores such as Watsons and Guardian pharmacies, Isetan department store, as well as fashion retailer Cotton On.
They also promote sex education
Besides the persistent and relentless demands on traditional outlets, Smile Makers was also pushing for universal sex education.
They have worked closely with governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to launch sex education campaigns and push for legalization in conservative countries, as they hope to educate people about the importance of female pleasure to general well-being.
They launched the Vulva Talks program, a pleasure-focused sex education program developed by Smile Makers with sex therapists to answer questions about sex and anything related to the vulva. They believe that in addition to developing top-notch sex toys, it is important for women to understand their bodies in order to experience sexual satisfaction.
In conservative markets like Malaysia, they’ve partnered with NGOs like the Federation of Reproductive Health Association of Malaysia (FRHAM) to launch sex education campaigns. FRHAM is the leading nonprofit service NGO in Malaysia advocating and promoting sexual and reproductive health (SRH), including family planning, and the reproductive rights of women, men and youth.
Slowly but surely, all of their efforts and determination began to pay off.
With the rise of the female tech industry (femtech) in 2016 and the viral spread of the #metoo movement in 2017, empowering women’s claim to their sexuality has become more mainstream. Beauty and fashion brands have also started promoting messages of wellness and body positivity for women, including prioritizing sexual well-being.
At the end of 2018, many mainstream media began to feature them and retailers finally started saying ‘yes’ to them.
In fact, the demand for their products has changed dramatically over the past couple of years. They have witnessed strong demand in the mainstream market, and their revenues increased 123% from 2019 to 2020 in the United States alone.
In October 2020, they conducted a survey of their customers – collecting data from 7,000 women in seven markets – and found that more than half (56%) prefer to buy vibrators in mainstream retail, while that 63% prefer to buy from beauty. stores.
This is a testament to the fact that their push into mainstream retail was the right move from the start.
The end goal is to legalize the sex toy industry
Smile Makers are constantly improving their product design and branding to make them more accessible, more reliable and easier to use for ultimate female satisfaction.
They are set to relaunch their original collection of innovative vibrators, with a range of improved designs inspired by user feedback.
Smile Makers increased the total product weight by 150% for a more powerful vibration and increased feel. They have incorporated the latest and best technology available to provide stronger yet smoother vibrations, while the increased size makes the products more comfortable to hold and enables precise use.
Commenting on the design of the product, Cécile Gasnault, brand director at Smile Makers, said customers love the accessibility of their designs, so they intend to keep it.
“Although we have increased the horsepower of the motors and the size of the products, we have kept the proportions affordable and we are looking to cater to a novice audience, as originally intended,” added Ariel Chen, Brand Manager. Asia at Smile Makers.
They have developed simple and ergonomic designs with a pretty, very attractive pastel color palette. They branded and personalized each product with fantastic erotic characters – like The Firefighter (formerly The Fireman), The Billionaire (formerly The Millionaire), The Tennis Pro and The French Lover.
The new packaging features positive artwork for the body, while product names have been updated to be trendy, entertaining, and relevant descriptors.
In an interview with Vulcan Post, Ariel said that moving forward, Smile Makers is still determined to continue its original mission of normalizing the perception of female sexuality around the world.
Their ultimate goal is for Smile Makers to become ubiquitous, and their sex education campaigns would help normalize perception and push for legalization of the industry around the world.
They want to reach as many countries as possible, even in countries where the sex toy industry is banned, such as Arab countries, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Featured Image Credit: Smile Makers
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