Gill meets Mattius Hulting
What is your background?
I founded Ramblin’ Brands in 2011 together with my friend and former colleague Peder Wikström, with whom I had worked at Procter & Gamble. We had both spent most of our career working with beauty brands like Sassoon, Wella and SK-II.
Over the years, our careers had taken us to Asia. I spent many years working in Japan while Peder was in Shanghai working for a Swedish cosmetics company. The idea to set up our own company came from late night conversations when visiting each other. We have both always had a passion for innovation, but it was when the idea for Smile Makers came about that we decided to finally do something.
What is the story behind the launch of Smile Makers?
Smile Makers was born from an experience Peder had a number of years ago. He had wanted to purchase a vibrator for his girlfriend but found that the products on the market were either vulgar and intimidating or high-end and outrageously expensive. He thought to himself “here’s one of the most intimate products a woman can buy, presented in the most crass, unfeminine way possible.” He told me about this apparent gap in the market and together we thought, ‘we must be able to do better.’
From there we undertook a lot of research ranging from time spent in sex shops, to analysing existing survey results to speaking with experts in the field – sex therapists, gynaecologists and of course, women. The more we spoke to women – friends, family members, focus groups – about our idea, the more we realised that we were onto something big.
In every market we surveyed, from UK to Malaysia, an overwhelming majority of women were either using or curious to try a vibrator. But few of them liked the design and communication of existing products, and even less so where they have traditionally been sold. So we decided to create a range of approachable, friendly massagers that would only be sold in shops that promote health and beauty. Our view is that if this is a product that an overwhelming majority of women want, then it’s not a specialty item for specialty stores. It’s a normal product that belongs in everyday environments. To our knowledge, Smile Makers is the only brand that does not sell its products in adult shops.
Vibrators – whether used alone or with a partner – can have a whole range of positive effects on our physical and emotional well-being. They can add to our sexual satisfaction on so many levels. On a very basic level, they can spice things up with our partner, helping to keep things fun in the bedroom. On a more profound level, they can help us understand our bodies better. There is plenty of research that suggests a significant percent of women are unable to achieve an orgasm. Often, this is due to a lack of understanding of how our bodies work sexually. A common misconception is that women can only orgasm through internal stimulation. However, many orgasm through external stimulation and vibrators can both help us discover that, and then help achieve it.
What we felt we could add to the existing product offering was something much more approachable – in terms of design, communication and price – while also being the highest possible quality. Our vibrators are produced alongside, and share components with, high end consumer electronics brands like Bang & Olufsen, and yet they retail at £30. That combined with what we feel is a more aesthetic approach to the category makes Smile Makers very unique.
You are marketing your vibrators as a beauty product, why?
Our professional backgrounds are working with beauty care products, and the more we learned about the sexual wellbeing category, the more we felt it should be treated as a part of beauty care. If you think about it, sex has always been part of beauty care. Whether it be naming products with sexual innuendos – such as NARS “orgasm series” – or using very sensual imagery to promote beauty products – think of a Tom Ford lipstick ad or the Gucci Guilty ad – sex and beauty have been inseparable.
There is good reason for this. Sexual wellbeing is a part of overall wellbeing, and that in turn is the most fundamental part of beauty care. It’s our brand ethos that beauty starts with a smile – from top to toe – and it’s our aim that through partnerships such as that with Victoria Health, then we’ll start to normalise sexual wellbeing products and reframe them as a natural and healthy part of life and beauty care!
You also talk about the health benefits; can you extrapolate on your research?
From our work with sex experts, therapists, gynaecologists and beauty experts, they’ve all consistently told one clear message – a good sex life does wonders for your health, both physically and emotionally. It’s everything from blood pressure to self-confidence. The impact of sexual satisfaction on health works on so many levels, but one of the basic ways is that orgasms release a range of wonderful hormones, endorphins and oxytocin in particular, that make us feel and look better.
At the present time there are four different vibrators; what was the thinking behind the designs?
Our bodies work so differently from one another, so it’s important to have a range of products so everyone can find one version that works for them. So from the onset, we knew we needed at least four types – for clitoral stimulation, G-spot, a bullet-type vibrator that can be used both internally and externally, and also a softer type product that can be used on all erogenous zones.
Based on the gap in what was already on offer in the market place, we wanted to create a range of vibrators that looked good, felt good and used only the best materials (the massagers are 100% phthalates free and use super-smooth silicone from Japan). Ultimately, our idea was to take focus on design and quality to a new level, but make it affordable for everyday women to buy in their everyday stores. But that’s the serious side.
We also wanted to create a range of products that are fun to use and would get women talking to one another about self-pleasure. Empowerment begins at home and one thing both Peder and myself kept at the back of our minds when creating Smile Makers was ‘would my wife want to talk about this product with her friends.’
In order to make it a bit more fun, we decided to name the products after sexual fantasies. So we asked women from all over the world to send us their fantasies, and the four guys we picked were the most common across cultures. The Fireman, The Frenchman, The Millionaire and The Tennis Coach are our starting line-up, but there will soon be more to choose from. Each of the products is inspired by the character – The Fireman is a clitoral inspired by a flame, The Frenchman is inspired by a French Kiss and works as a vibrating tongue, The Millionaire is the bullet vibrator inspired by a cigar, and The Tennis Coach a G-spot vibrator inspired by a tennis ball in motion.
Smile Makers are now available in 13 different countries; geographically has the response differed at all?
The most surprising thing is that conservative countries have been much more openly welcoming than countries that have traditionally been seen as more liberal. This applies to women openly talking about the products, to retailers, to media. We have found that conservative countries such as Malaysia and Taiwan can have far more objective and fact-based discussions than in Western Europe, where sex-related topics are often either shied away from, or treated in a pretty crass manner.
Even in the UK, talking and writing about sex, masturbation, and vibrators openly is still very taboo. Even if 56% of women are using them and the majority of the rest are ‘vi-curious’ (ie. curious to try), it tends to be a subject that is avoided. What we are trying to achieve is to do away with that archaic stigma, and bring it out into the open. Using – or wanting to use – a vibrator is being part of the overwhelming majority, not a kinky minority, but it’s only by communication that we can realize that.
So this has been completely contradictory to what we expected. The great aspect of it is that all response that we have seen as been overwhelmingly positive.
What is the overall response from women?
When women see the massagers, they love them. Everything from the packaging to the feel of the vibrator on their skin. The whole design is premium and desirable, not vulgar or crass, and this is reflected in the feedback we’ve been receiving.
What is your mission?
We want to make Smile Makers available in mainstream retailers for people who – like us – feel more comfortable in a health & beauty retailer than in a sex shop. Therefore, what we are trying to do with Smile Makers is first and foremost to open up the conversation of women’s self-pleasure and how vibrators fit into that.
We want to bring the topic out into the open to enable people to realise that everyone else is not as conservative and judgmental as we fear they might be, and that almost everyone views it as naturally as we do ourselves.
It’s starting the conversation that is the biggest challenge.
Our ethos at Smile Makers is that beauty starts with a smile and when you’re smiling on the inside, you’re smiling on the outside too. We want to empower women to take control of their sex lives and again, there’s nothing more attractive and impressive than a happy, confident woman.
For Smile Makers the future sees us working with like-minded brands and retailers, such as Victoria Health, to continue driving the conversation around female sexual pleasure – and self-pleasure – in the hope that one day, it will become as normalised as the existing dialogue around male sexuality. There’s no reason why female masturbation and sexual pleasure should be a taboo subject, so hopefully by encouraging visibility and empowering users, it will become part of the wider health and wellbeing discussion.