Bloomingdale’s, Sephora and the adoption of sexual wellness

Special for Infobae of The New York Times.

A recent email from Sephora touted the usual: mascara, mascara, and blush compacts. But among those products was an “intimate care” promotion that encouraged shoppers to try two new brands at the chain: Maude and Dame Products.

Clicking on a link revealed dozens of art-style vibrators, lubricants, oils for sensitive body parts, and candles that turn into massage oil.

Sephora is the latest of the big chain stores to embrace a category known as “sexual wellness,” following Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom, which started carrying such products last year. Thanks to careful rebranding, word choice and packaging, products like vibrators and lubes have become hot items for high-end retailers catering to women. It’s a significant evolution in public acceptance of those products, fueled in part by celebrities, and comes amid a broader focus on wellness and self-care prompted by the pandemic.

“People spend more time, energy and surplus income on their own wellness, so it was only natural that this extended to sexual wellness,” said Elizabeth Miller, a vice president at Bloomingdale’s, which oversees cosmetics. “It’s evolved a lot from what it used to be maybe ten or fifteen years ago to be much more accessible.”

Bloomingdale’s—which recently promoted “the latest in sexual wellness” alongside David Yurman’s gowns and jewelry in a Valentine’s Day marketing email—introduced sexual wellness products in May 2021, after an employee at your executive development program will launch the idea. Miller said part of the retailer’s comfort with the strategy could be due to actress Gwyneth Paltrow, whose Goop brand introduced a vibrator last year.

“Seeing Gwyneth Paltrow and Goop take the lead in this category made the brand put us at ease, so I give her a lot of credit,” Miller said, noting that the products are seen as an attraction to Gen Z and shoppers. millennials “Obviously we reviewed it internally with management to make sure everyone was comfortable, but the performance has been very strong.”

For startups selling adult-oriented products, which often struggle to comply with advertising regulations, the fact that they are promoted and purchased alongside other beauty and luxury products gives them credibility.

“Sephora and other big beauty stores say it’s like everything else, that you can buy it with other products,” said Eva Goicochea, founder and CEO of Maude, which is sold at Bloomingdale’s and Sephora. “It’s shocking in a very subtle way.”

Or as Alexandra Fine, co-founder and CEO of Dame puts it: “Every time someone puts us in their store, especially a major company like Sephora, it makes it easier for other people to add us to their store, for investors to invest in us, and for customers buy our products.

Maude and Dame have several things in common. Both startups are based in New York and both are founded and led by women; Maude, which started selling products in 2018, has raised more than $10 million in funding, while Dame, founded in 2014, has raised more than $5 million.

For many years, products like vibrators have been associated with adult stores, often portrayed as seedy or male-oriented, or otherwise found in the fluorescent aisles of drugstores or chains like Walmart. Maude and Dame have sought to elevate the retail experience, incorporating more accessible language and design. Celebrities have also gotten involved: actress Dakota Johnson works with Maude as an investor and co-creative director, while singers Demi Lovato and Lily Allen have launched sex toys with other big brands.

Lisa Finn, brand manager and sex educator for Babeland, a decades-old feminist adult products emporium with stores in Seattle and New York, noted that conversations about sex toys have become more “normalized” during the pandemic, as the people suddenly isolated themselves, either alone or with their partners. She has seen these items increasingly referred to as “pleasure products” or “sexual wellness tools.”

“This removes some of the idea that sex toys are dirty or kinky,” he explained. “And while they may be, for a lot of people they are tools.” That change “allows them to exist in the mainstream,” she added.

Cristina Núñez, co-founder of True Beauty Ventures, a venture capital firm that invested in Maude, said the products were created with the “shelfie” in mind, meaning people can feel proud and comfortable displaying the items on a shelf. photography in social networks.

“We joked that the vibrator was something you could leave on your nightstand and not be embarrassed to have it there,” he said. “There wouldn’t be that stigma around him because he wasn’t vulgar.”

It is difficult to estimate the size of the sexual wellness industry; above all, because it is increasingly being extended to beauty products. Many of the top companies are privately owned, and Maude and Dame declined to share their sales figures. Still, Nunez, who studied seven or eight similar brands before investing in Maude, clarified that many of the companies his company examined had “single-digit” revenues. He was optimistic about the path to tens of millions of dollars in revenue and beyond.

“Opening up retail to these brands will help them achieve this,” Núñez said, “because historically they could only get to that point through direct sales to the consumer and now they have multiple points of sale, from mass channels to prestige and luxury department stores.

Appearing in emails from big retailers also helps brands solve their advertising problems, which keep coming up. For example, Dame recently settled a dispute with the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which had rejected an ad campaign for being a “sexually oriented business.” The MTA’s move had sparked an outcry, given other advertisements on the subway for things like erectile dysfunction drugs and the Museum of Sex.

On social networks, Facebook and Instagram prohibit ads that promote the sale or use of adult products or services, especially those focused on sexual pleasure. That means brands have to be creative, and the notion of “sexual wellness” helps. While Maude can’t advertise her devices on those platforms, she can promote her “massage candle,” which when melted can be used as massage oil, and her condoms.

“The reality is that we will continue to see alerts, we will continue to receive warnings,” Babeland’s Finn said, but Babeland products “are less likely to be addressed as such if we don’t talk about them as vibrators, but as ‘tools’ or ‘massagers’. ‘”.

Dame’s Fine said it was a tough battle. When he tried to post about Gimme launching with Sephora on LinkedIn this month (“Someone pinch me…after five years of launching, we’re at SEPHORA!”), his post was automatically removed multiple times for violating guidelines. of the professional site against “sexually explicit material or language”. That persisted even when he included a link to an article about the deal. Fine said he had a similar experience last year when she posted about Dame’s presence at Bloomingdale’s.

“In a way it seems personal to me: it is my voice and it is me as a businesswoman, so I am made to feel that I am inherently unprofessional because of what I do,” she said. But he said he hoped the collaboration with Sephora and Bloomingdale’s would temper that perception.

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