Wellness

FEMALE FOUNDERS

The Women Making Sex Toys Chic

Here at goop, we’ve been noticing—and applauding—the rise and influence of women in industry. Perhaps the only upside to workplace inequality is it has driven a lot of amazing women out of corporate America—and straight to the helm of their own companies. So we decided we didn’t want to just cheer them on anymore. We wanted to meet them and interview them and write about them. With that, we give you: Female Founders, a new column featuring women who create, design, and inspire.

The orgasm gap sparked Alexandra Fine and Janet Lieberman to create what have turned out to be the most human-centric (and chicest) sex toys on the planet. The founders of Dame Products combine sex-tech know-how with empathy and personal experience to design their game-changing vibrators. The newest, the Eva II, can be worn by a woman to deliver clitoral stimulation during penetrative sex so both partners get pleasure. “At a time when the tension between genders—or the absence of genders—is more heated than ever, we’re aiming to bringing people together,” says Fine.

A Q&A with Alexandra Fine and Janet Lieberman

Q

What was your process in coming up with Dame?

A

Fine: My true passion will always be passion. As far as I can remember, sexuality seemed like a really natural thing to be curious and passionate about. After I earned my master’s in clinical psychology with a concentration in sex therapy from Columbia University, I quickly realized that my skills would be better used to make concrete improvements to people’s lives. So I began developing my own vibrators at home and asking friends to give me their feedback.

My goal is to start necessary conversations, to really listen to people rather than assume I know what they’re thinking, and to create products that enhance intimacy in an age where a lot of technology detracts from it.

Lieberman: After graduating from MIT in 2007 with a degree in mechanical engineering, I started working in consumer product development as the lead engineer and project manager for the Makerbot Replicator Mini 3D printer. While I was there, I bought an expensive sex toy—and couldn’t figure out how to use it.  That made me realize I’d never expected the same value for my money from sex toys than I did for any other product category. What was missing from the industry was what I’d been learning to do for last seven years: Things like design for manufacturing, value engineering, design to make an emotional connection with the user, user interface development, and quality assurance.

I questioned why I’d never expected more. I realized that companies were profiting off of a sense of shame I didn’t even realize I felt. It didn’t seem fair that pornography drove the state of the art for technology, but sex toys lagged behind. I wanted to change it.

Q

You brought Dame’s first product, Eva, to market through Indiegogo. What was that crowdfunding process like?

A

Indiegogo was a really amazing experience because it validated our concept before moving forward. We realized there was an enormous demand (our goal was $50,000, and we ended up with over $500,000). Putting your vision into the world for the first time can certainly be an emotional roller coaster, but when you put yourself out there, you get feedback—in our case, feedback from 6,000-plus humans. Our backers truly supported our mission and have been our partners in developing products ever since.

Q

Tell us about the wear-testing process. How does this affect the final product?

A

We take feedback and testing very seriously. Typically, in our industry, ideas start in some boardroom and go directly to the factory for production, with a minimum of consideration for the people using these toys or the ways that their sex lives might be improved.

The fact that we’re women and sex-toy users ourselves is a great first step toward changing this space. But more importantly, we believe ideas should be gut-checked with a wide audience, and any resulting product should be tested and refined to ensure that it’s the ultimate version it can be.

“The fact that we’re women and sex-toy users ourselves is a great first step toward changing this space.”

At Dame, we send surveys to a trusted network of users, work with focus groups to check concepts and product features, and send actual prototypes to an extra-reliable set of testers to get real human feedback. This way, when we launch a product, we can rest easy knowing that real people helped us make something that adds value to their sex lives.

Q

What were the best and worst surprises from the company’s early days?

A

People always ask if we were surprised when we beat our crowdfunding goal by over $450,000. Honestly—no! We thought we had a great idea, we hoped it was a great idea, and it was! But we were surprised by the impact our product had on the tone of the industry overall. Four years ago, when we started Dame, there was a serious dearth of female-identifying-founded companies in this space. Now we’re seeing a serious wave, which is amazing.

We’ve also been surprised by just how unregulated this industry is. There is no regulating body for sex tech, which means that it’s really hard to police the quality of materials, or even basic functionalities, like something claiming to be waterproof. We really have to research and test and regulate ourselves by the standards we believe should exist.

Q

Why do you think sex toys get a bad rap?

A

That’s a complicated question. It’s no shock that our society does not have a healthy relationship with sex, especially with female sexuality. Not only are we unable to thoughtfully discuss it, but we tend to relegate sexuality to the shadows, which often means that products within this space remain, well, shady. The lacking design and poor materials that then lead to sex toys having a bad rap stem from our society’s inability to demand more from this category. It’s a cycle.

Beyond that, there are some insecurities that arise when people bring up sex toys. Oftentimes, people are threatened that a sex toy will replace them. This leads to shaming and stigmas. Nothing can replace true human connection, and that’s not what we’re here to do. We’re here to really enhance intimacy, and sometimes tools are a good way to do that.

“We’re here to really enhance intimacy, and sometimes tools are a good way to do that.”

Q

Was there a tipping point when you felt like the company was really taking off?

A

Right after our Indiegogo campaign really took off, we doubled our raise overnight—and the momentum there was rewarding and really, really validating. I would say that the second moment was when Kickstarter allowed us to be the first sex toy on their platform. That was a really powerful moment for us because we weren’t just making waves in the sex-tech industry; we were changing the way that the world looked at sex toys and breaking down age-old barriers. It encouraged us to keep pushing.

“We weren’t just making waves in the sex-tech industry; we were changing the way that the world looked at sex toys and breaking down age-old barriers.”

Q

What do you think differentiates Dame from other products out there?

A

First of all, we’re a company founded by people with vulvas. We have a mixed team, but it’s really important to us that we have that perspective on our side, because traditionally it hasn’t been a perspective that’s been incorporated into product design.

We have a team that is about 40 percent engineers—which I’m really proud of. To have this much of our engineering done in-house means that we have real control over the design of the product. These engineers work with thousands of people to incorporate their feedback into our designs. We adjust, we update—we make sure our products are a reflection of real human desires and not just our assumptions.

Q

Because you’re in the sex-toy category, you can’t spread the word about the brand in a typical manner—on Instagram, Twitter, with ads on Facebook. How has this forced you to get creative?

A

It’s really disappointing that these platforms haven’t opened themselves up to us for advertising yet—but we’re hoping this changes soon. In the meantime, we’ve put a lot of energy into things like social partnership, creative events, original brand partnerships, and press.

We’re always thinking of creative ways that we can get the product out there, beyond traditional advertising, which has really forced us to be scrappy and to think outside the box. The regulation has also really encouraged me to use my personal voice. These platforms might not let Dame amplify its voice with money, but sometimes I can use money to amplify our individual voices.

Q

What do we need to know about your newest product, Eva II? How is it different from the first iteration?

A

Eva II was invented after we listened to user feedback for over three years. This is a great example of how we really make a point here of listening to how our products are being received and making sure we act on that when we have the chance. Eva II is, in general, made to fit more vulvas. Because vulvas come in all shapes and sizes, we’ve done our best to make a product that works for as many as possible.

“Eva II is, in general, made to fit more vulvas. Because vulvas come in all shapes and sizes, we’ve done our best to make a product that works for as many as possible.”

This means it has slightly shorter wings for improved fit, plus it’s 10 percent lighter and 18 percent smaller than Eva. The wing profile is also optimized for better grip. It also comes with a super cool travel/bedside case.

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