Sex toy developers want to remove product stigma

They created a buzz when they first appeared on shopping shelves here.

Coming in four different personas - Fireman, Tennis Coach, Millionaire and Frenchman - the Smile Makers personal massagers for women raised eyebrows when health-and-beauty care chain Watsons started stocking them exclusively in April.

But the massagers, or vibrators, have taken off in a huge way here, according to their makers.

Singapore has risen to become one of the top three markets for Smile Makers, alongside UK and France, said Mr Peder Wikström, 38, and Mr Mattias Hulting, 40.

On Tuesday, the co-founders of Singapore-based company Ramblin' Brands, which Smile Makers comes under, launched a new line of three lubricants.

While Singapore, one of the two Smile Makers markets in Asia, is generally deemed conservative by many, Mr Wikström dismisses it as a stereotype.

He said: "In Europe, which everyone in Asia believes is so open, it is not necessarily the case. We're both Swedes, but our products are not sold in Sweden because the retailers say that the market is not ready yet."

Mr Wikström shared that the Smile Makers' journey all began with a personal experience in Stockholm, Sweden, about 15 years ago.

"I walked into a sex shop and found the whole experience to be really bad. I didn't like the shopping environment. I didn't like the products they had. I didn't like the way they were displayed," he said.

"And it struck me as very odd that a product so essentially feminine was sold in a way that didn't appeal to any woman that I could think of."


Mr Hulting, who said he has "reluctantly" stepped into a sex shop here once, added: "The designs and the communication behind the products, to me, can be a little bit extreme and it's not such a positive feeling being in there."

Given that Mr Wikström and Mr Hulting spent five years and 10 years respectively at Procter & Gamble, working with women-centric brands like Tampax and SKII, the idea of developing vibrators and lubricants should not come as a surprise to their wives.

Mrs Alice Wikström, 37, said: "My husband and Mattias have a great understanding of female health and beauty. They have spent their careers working within that field across the globe.

"I believe that they have a much better understanding of female health and body products than me and most other women."

But for Mr Hulting's wife Claire, 35, the idea took getting used to.

"(It) wasn't a category I was very familiar with," she conceded, adding that she was initially unsure of how to field questions about her husband's job.

"Now, it comes naturally and I'm proud talking about what he does."

The feminine and aesthetically-pleasing packaging is not just a result of consulting women from all over the world. There are two self-imposed criteria that the two Swedes try to fulfil.


This article was first published on Sept 25, 2015.
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