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The word “vagina” is either medicalized or sexualized in today’s world, and it’s certainly not a popular term in Silicon Valley. Yet startups in the femtech space are starting to use it more openly in their pitches and marketing outreach — because after all, we’re all grown-ups here, aren’t we?
You’d think so, but the famed “boy’s club” in tech has some catching up to do. While women are often deemed hysterical or irrational, it seems like it’s the men who need some hormonal adjustment. These testosterone-filled VCs, who happen to handle hundreds of millions of committed capital, are known for their dislike of the word “vagina”, making it harder for female-first startups to raise capital.
VCs aren’t the only ones shying away from the word, however. Tech giants like Facebook have also shown an inherent bias when it comes to their ad policies. In an article I wrote for VentureBeat, I cite three examples in which femtech brands have had their ads banned and removed for using words that relate to the vagina (vaginal, vaginosis, mucus) — while ads using terms like “sperm” and “condoms” were left untouched.
But female founders aren’t deterred. New York City-based Lindsay Wynn has decided to bet on the vagina. The young entrepreneur recently launched Momotaro Apotheca, a 100% organic vaginal wellness brand. The impetus came from the uncomfortable and chronic infections she experienced with her ex, who is a co-founder.
“I used OTC (over-the-counter) medication, which sent me into this insane tailspin of UTIs (urinary tract infections), yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis,” she told me. “My vagina was literally in pain. So I turned myself into a DIY vaginal wellness project and started creating new, 100% natural products.”
Some of these products include the Multi-Use Salve, which is formulated with ingredients like echinacea, tea tree, goldenseal and calendula, all known for their power to heal symptoms associated with yeast and bacterial infections. The salve costs $35 — cheaper than going three times to the gynecologist for the same symptoms.
As a former creative director, labels and marketing terms are very important to Wynn.
“After having worked in beauty and cosmetics for so long, I was frustrated with the way they communicate their products, using misleading labels like ‘natural fragrances’”, she added. “We’re not trying to refresh your vagina. Sexual and reproductive care is so much more intimate.”
The Banned List
Another brand that pays extra attention to labels and ingredients is The Bloomi, an online marketplace that selects and sells clean intimate care products. The Oakland, California-based startup was founded in 2017 by Rebecca Alvarez, a sexual health expert who graduated from UC Berkeley with a major she created: Women’s Health & Sexuality. Her motto is simple: “Be the CEO of your own body”.
“A lot of the ingredients in products on the market today are made with cheap, toxic ingredients that are not intended for the vulva or vagina,” said Alvarez in a statement. “We have developed a community for women where they can shop for products and not have to worry about whether their selections have toxic ingredients. We are really holding partners accountable to make sure their products are clean.”
Brands must apply to be featured on The Bloomi site and they each undergo an extensive approval process by a team of experts. The startup says it has screened thousands of products and carries about 100 items that have met their criteria. These include the Healthy HooHoo gentle wash, Rael’s organic pads and Chakrubs’ Yoni Egg: a small quartz or jade stone that can help improve vaginal health and tone pelvic floor muscles.
The Bloomi also just released a “Banned List” with all the ingredients that are deemed toxic or harmful for intimate health. These include (mostly unpronounceable) names likes Benzethonium Chloride, Methylchloroisothiazolinone and Phthalates, in addition to synthetic dyes, preservatives and many other things.
Finally, some founders are also betting on the external part of a woman’s intimacy: her body hair. Fur was launched in 2016 by Laura Schubert and Lillian Tung, two Harvard grads and childhood friends. Their mission? Shed light on grooming rather than removing the hair. The natural products include oils, scrubs and creams that hydrate skin and soften hair.
Like the brand, VCs should start grooming this sector, not try and remove it.
April 12, 2019 at 10:27AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs