New Company Bringing Inclusivity and Minimalism to Sexual Wellness Industry
More than any group before them, Gen Z has done away with labels, opting instead for the idea that identity and preferences are constantly in flux. So in the heavily gendered industries of health and sex, who is prepared to cater to them? Enter Maude, the startup making minimalist sex essentials for everyone.
For our Forecast Z report, PSFK interviewed co-founder and CEO Eva Goicochea about the inclusive, unisex brand, which launches in February, and changing the sexual wellness conversation for the next generation of consumers.
What was the inspiration behind starting Maude?
Eva: In a way, I’ve lived two lives and not necessarily in two parts. I came to New York to study advertising and marketing, but I was here in the early 2000s, so e-commerce and social media weren’t really a thing yet. In my 20s, I worked in the healthcare world as a legislative aide, and then went on to work in the creative world.
The awareness of how health education is disseminated and impacts people became a big part of my journey. When I started working at product companies, I realized that the sexual wellness space has not been touched (for the unisex market) and I wanted to know why.
Dina, my co-founder (and initially just a friend), an industrial designer who worked in the sex product industry, explained, “Well, if you think it’s really confusing and unevolved on the consumer side, you should see what it’s like behind the scenes.”
We’re changing this from the inside out. Currently, this monopolized market gets into your bedroom by making decisions in the boardroom without listening to the consumer.
How did the brand evolve from there?
Originally, we thought, “Why isn’t there a sex essentials subscription?” There are a few companies now, but they focus on women. When I met Dina, she was like, “This has been something I’ve been interested in for a very long time,” given her experience. From there, we started the research and development on products, and then we started looking at trends on the design and branding side.
The interesting thing was that Maude felt less genderless when we first started, and that wasn’t on purpose. It just had much more of a color scheme and palette.
The more that we’ve gone through the process and the more conversations have changed, the more we felt like our mission is to be gender-inclusive and so the branding and packaging need to feel really universal.
Can you define the term ‘unisex brand’? Is it more about fluidity?
For us, it’s about solving a human problem with a human solution. We think less about gender, even though when you think about sex, of course it seems to intertwine so much with gender identity.
We’ve actually taken that out of the equation for a second to say, “What are the friction points for people when they purchase these products?” and then, “What are the friction points when they talk about it?” Those are human experiences. They’re not just about one gender. It’s all people, everybody in between and everybody that feels like they haven’t been spoken to.
Why do you think this resonates with consumers?
Certainly we’ve seen a huge shift in what we’re talking about, especially this year, with all the news about sex culture, how we talk about sex and how we treat one another.
We were always ahead of the curve, because we were beyond treating this like a “man, woman or otherwise” solution and more about thinking of solving a human problem. Culturally, I think this is going to be how companies will evolve. They’re going to realize that when you start assigning a product to just one gender, not only from a business perspective are you eliminating an audience, but you also seem passé.
This is the reason why brands have been able to come along and create products that seem benign, like a razor, and do it in a way that feels very genderless and brandless. Maybe I don’t want a pink razor because I’m a female. To me, it doesn’t matter.
How would you describe the Maude consumer?
We always think of our consumer as somebody who really values form and function when it comes to the product itself and really wants to know what the brand story is and who’s behind the brand, whether that means where the materials come from, the humans behind the brand or the ethos.
Our audience is smart, curious and really wants something that’s beautiful that works.
What are the different ways in which the product is inclusive?
A question that we get asked a lot is, “Is this an eco-company?” On the one hand, we make an organic lubricant. And our vibrator is 100% silicone, which is much safer than plastic toys you see out there for your body.
But we chose to include silicone lube because we wanted to be inclusive of the gay community and anybody who didn’t want to use water-based lube. First and foremost, we care about the person. The other thing that makes us different is the way that we approach packaging, like with our buttercup condom. There’s a huge efficacy problem with the way that people open condoms. If they unroll it and then try to roll it back up and roll it on again, there is a chance of breaking and tearing. You don’t want breakage and tears. Also, we’ve all had the experience of trying to rip open a condom and it ruining the moment. Everything we design, from the pump to the way the vibrator works to the placement of the button to how you open it, is really easy to use.
I keep saying the word human, but it’s all about human-focused design.
How do you think that the conception of technology affects people’s perception of what unisex and fluidity might mean?
Technology has created these platforms and interactions that don’t really assign gender. If you came out with a social platform specifically for one gender, which there probably are many, you’re losing a big audience, the potential for conversation and evolution in your business, unless it has a purpose that’s specific to gender.
We shop differently as men and women in some ways. You also shop differently based on where you live. You shop differently based on your income. You shop differently based on all these other things. There’s just really no reason to assign one perspective to technology. I never actually think of technology as being gendered.
How do you see your product changing the conversation or the mindsets of consumers?
We’ve had a lot of people come up to us or write to us. They’re from all walks of life and they’ll say things like, “I grew up in a house where we weren’t allowed to talk about this. The angle that you take and the language on your site makes me feel like it’s OK to talk about it.”
I feel like we’re trying to disarm people, basically taking out all of the discomfort in this process so that they can examine the product and say, “Whatever I decide to do, this product only enhances my experience. It doesn’t dictate the experience or make it worse.” That’s what we’re hoping to do—to make people feel like it’s a safe place to examine how they’re integrating sex into their lives. Hopefully, they’ll integrate it more into their lives when they realize it should and can be an everyday thing, not a two-hour event with black satin sheets.
How is the conversation already playing out among consumers?
The conversation is already happening because there are other brands that are taking a unisex approach. We did a really big survey that made us realize that no matter the preference or gender of the person, they simply don’t identify with the products on the market. They don’t identify with them for the same pain points.
We started to recognize patterns. Approximately 98% of people who took the survey didn’t like the products on the market or have any brand loyalty.
With the growth of the wellness industry at present, how do you see your brand playing a role?
We would love to own the conversation about morning sex, in that it gives context for happy sex, consensual sex, sex you’re comfortable with, sex in natural light where you shouldn’t be ashamed and something that is part of your daily routine. We’re trying to really hone in on making it a part of your wellness conversation because it is.
The reason why people feel repressed, unattractive or incompetent in this area is because they don’t get a chance to do it often, or they have somehow compartmentalized this part of their life and they’re not integrating it. It should be the same messaging as working out, which is “go out there and do it.”
How would you say the sex industry is shifting for the next generation?
I don’t know that the industry is shifting. We are trying to stay outside of the arena. We’re not going to be at sex conventions and adult toy shows. I think that there is an oversaturation there. There’s lot of choice. Especially on the toy market, it’s relegated to particular online sites and sex stores.
Where do you see Maude in five or 10 years?
I hope that Maude has completely carved out a world of sexual wellness and health that feels so normal, so every day and so much a part of people’s lives that they’re happier. I just want us to create products that help people to feel empowered, happier, educated and unafraid.