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Revolve is a digital fashion and beauty retailer that has quickly acquired a large Gen Z and millennial customer base thanks to heavy influencer marketing and a strong social media presence. Recently, Revolve’s best-selling product in its beauty department was not a highlighter or face mask — it was a vibrator. The Fin ($75), a small silicone knob, is meant to be held between two fingers either alone or with a removable tether. It’s still on preorder, but people are clearly eager to get their, er, fingers on it.
“Literally the day [Fin] launched [at Revolve], they placed another order,” says Alexandra Fine, the co-founder of Dame, which manufactures the Fin and another vibrator called Eva. This is Dame’s first truly mainstream fashion retailer, though it also sells on Goop, the site that famously brought jade yoni eggs into our collective consciousness. Dame is currently also in talks with other fashion and beauty retailers to sell its products. It potentially marks the beginning of the end for sex toy shopping stigmas, or at least a step in that direction.
You can find Fin on Revolve when you click on the beauty tab, then go to wellness, a place where selling a vibrator makes a lot of sense. The lines are already blurred between beauty and wellness, with the products on a continuum now: Moisturizer, yes. Hmm, how about some aromatherapy face mist? Ooh, yes, a cleavage mask! Huh, maybe I do need Fur Oil for pubic hair grooming. Wow, a clitoral vibrator. *add to cart*
Since most fashion retailers probably aren’t ready to have a tab marked “SEX TOYS,” it also provides an easy way to sell these products without being so in-your-face about it.
“We all know the benefits of a healthy sex life for our overall well-being. The wellness movement is huge. We see it in our sales for activewear and our wellness category within beauty, and part of that conversation has shifted to female sexuality,” Kandice Hansen, a buyer at Revolve, said in an email to Racked. “There has always been a stigma surrounding it and we see that changing and want to be part of the movement to normalize it.”
Hansen also cited statistics that more than 50 percent of women own a vibrator, and of those who don’t, two-thirds want to try one. It’s a savvy move to sell them on a site that women already trust and shop. She says that Revolve will expand the “intimate care category” with more products in the coming months.
“Revolve reached out to us, and it was just an amazing opportunity. It’s so exciting for people to see us holistically as part of self-care,” Fine says. “They already have a connection with an audience, and then when they support a brand like ours, they’re also telling their consumers that their sexual pleasure is okay. It’s a very subtly powerful thing.”
Fine had studied to become a sex therapist, and her business partner, Janet Lieberman, is an MIT-educated mechanical engineer. They had both been trying to launch a sex toy business when they met and combined their efforts. Dame launched its first product, the Eva, in 2014. The Fin came in 2016, and an update to the Eva, which is a hands-free vibrator that kind of looks like a bug and is meant to be nestled in the vulva during penetrative sex, in late 2017. (The designs were partially inspired by Oxo household goods, according to Ad Age.)
Getting funding for sex tech is still not easy, because sex generally, and women’s orgasms specifically, are still taboo. Dame landed $575,000 in funding in 45 days on Indiegogo for Eva’s first iteration. A few years later, Fin was the first sex toy ever allowed on Kickstarter. Fine and Lieberman got to know some Kickstarter employees in the “hardware maker scene” in Brooklyn, and finally convincing them to allow their product onto the crowdfunding site.
Social media is the next hurdle for companies like Dame. For businesses run by and geared towards millennial, Dame should be finding customers on Instagram and Facebook. But it has to contend with draconian rules on these platforms about selling sex products. Facebook’s guideline states that condoms can be promoted if ads focus on contraception only. “Sexual pleasure or sexual enhancement” can’t be mentioned at all. Or as Fine says, “You can sell condoms, but not if they’re ribbed for her pleasure.”
It’s been an issue when Dame has tried to pay for promotional posts on Facebook and Instagram, a place that is awash in bra ads. Fine has purchased ads to boost exposure to her products, only to have them removed by the platforms even though Dame’s designs are not phallic and do not read “sex toy” at all. She’s even tried workarounds. When the New York Times did a story on the brand, she paid to promote it on her personal page. It still got taken down. “An article that the New York Times wrote is just inherently too sexual, I guess. I mean, that article literally refers to the vagina as the ‘nether regions,”’ she says, laughing.
It frustrates Fine because Facebook’s algorithm lately does not exactly favor organic business posts. “The way most people found out about Casper wasn’t an organic post; it was an ad,” she says. “Just because it’s about sex doesn’t mean that it’s sexual or that our advertising is necessarily sexual, even though all other advertisements are sexual, so it’s like, I don’t know why we can’t be!”
She has a great point. Another sex tech company called Unbound (which sells its own products as well as other brands, including Dame) just tried to purchase subway ads in New York City, but the MTA denied the ads for “offensive sexual material,” according to the company’s Instagram. The collage-like cartoon images are so colorful and psychedelic that you really have to hunt to see the sex toys in them. Unbound juxtaposed its rejected ads next to a racy image of two nude bodies pressed together for the Museum of Sex and an ad, currently all over the MTA, for a new digital erectile dysfunction service that reads, “Erectile dysfunction meds prescribed online, delivered to your ‘friend’s’ door.”
Recall that Thinx period underwear almost had the same issue before the MTA ultimately approved those ads, which featured the word “period” and fruit that looks like external female genitalia. Advertising has a long and storied history of using sex to sell things, but you apparently can’t sell sexual pleasure itself openly yet — at least women-focused sexual pleasure.
“We have all of these ads that have brainwashed us to think all of these really shitty things about the male-female dynamic within sex,” says Fine.
But this retail partnership with Revolve and future ones that pop up may help normalize it. Maybe someday you’ll be able to walk into a J. Crew and buy a dildo. Fine is optimistic about seeing more sex toys at your local boutique. “People are just starting to really see it as not an inherently embarrassing object,” she says.