Building Approachable Sex Toys: Interview with SmileMakers' Cécile Gasnault
Updated: Aug 23, 2021
We spoke with Cécile Gasnault, Senior Global Marketing Manager at Ramblin' Brands. Ramblin' Brands is a Singapore-based erotic products company best known for SmileMakers Collection.
Cecile, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Sure. So I live in Singapore, I'm originally from France, and I moved to Singapore six years ago. I've been with the sex tech brand SmileMakers for the past four years, where I've been managing all the online activity of the business and the marketing and communication for the brand. Really trying to build a safe space for people with vulvas to learn and explore human sexuality.
Why SmileMakers? How did you end up there?
Actually, a friend of mine joined the company, she was employee number two. And she told me about SmileMakers, and what's SmileMakers was about. That it was like this very fun brand of vibrators never sold in sex shop and that it was trying to really break the taboos around masturbation and human sexuality. She showed me the products and the design. And to be honest, before I started working at SmileMakers, I had actually never own any vibrator myself.
I absolutely loved the whole mission of the brand. A few months later, she told me, 'Listen, there might be an opening if I'm interested in it'. I was like, yeah, sure, like, definitely hook me up.
And that's how I joined. So it was like really starting by hearing about it from a friend and falling completely in love with the mission of SmileMakers.
What makes SmileMakers, products different than other people's products?
I think a very big component of the way we design our products is to make them very approachable, very unintimidating. The way we do that is by paying a lot of attention to the design and creating designs that are aesthetically pleasing.
We also work with doctors and sexologists, to make sure that the designs are anatomically relevant. And in the approachability, what we also focus on is how do we break the ice to bring more people into the category. For that we use humor. For example, or our products, they are named after woman's fantasies and how we know that is because we've actually surveyed thousands of women around the world, about their fantasies. And we've kept the name that kept coming back and working in every country to name our products after that.
So you have, for example, the tennis coach or the surfer. And that makes the product more approachable, because it's based on the fantasy and it also validates the fact that women have fantasies, and you remember better and then have a product that is fun like that, rather than some tech name, that doesn't really mean anything.
I think the approachability and the fact that the brand is never sold in sex shop, that sends a very strong message, which is: it's very normal to own a vibrator. You shouldn't have to go to a specific shop, you should be able to have a product that you find beautiful that you proud of. And that's really how we are trying to execute the category very differently from other brands.
I think the approachability and the fact that the brand is never sold in sex shop, that sends a very strong message, which is: it's very normal to own a vibrator.
I mean, yeah, I think that's amazing. Because I first saw SmileMakers, I think it was in a Watson's Drugstore.
Yeah, I think in Malaysia, we are the only and we are the only vibrator brand allowed to sell in Malaysia, we are the only viable brand that has got government approval to be sold. In what sense? In Malaysia, because of the whole approach of the brand. The fact that we partner up with NGO or in Malaysia, we found out who's the biggest family planning clinic organization to run a workshop on female pleasure and copper intimacy. Yeah. And I think that approach that is much more based on has really changed completely the way people look at our product compared to different brands.
In my experience, Malaysia is quite conservative, how has it been fighting the taboo of the industry in a more conservative region?
I think one very interesting fact that we observe whenever we go to a new market is that every country considers themselves as the most conservative one on earth, and everybody else is very liberal. That's actually not true. It's just that I guess it each country and each culture, they have a specific approach to sexuality, and you just need to understand this approach.
For example, I'm French, and people just assume that France is going to be super open and that the brand is going to work super well there. But it's actually a complicated market on this topic, surprisingly. On the contrary, in Malaysia working on this tool, you should talk about the topic in the context of matrimony, then you have the space to talk about pleasure. If you are able to do it in a way that is very respectful, very educated, and centered on health as well, then you bring a lot of people around around the topic.
So Asia, Southeast Asia is a very interesting region, because you have Malaysia is quite conservative. Singapore is quite conservative as well. Taiwan is already more progressive when it comes to the topics of sexuality. Hong Kong is a bit in between. So we see different configurations. But since the brand is worldwide, we observe that it's such a universal topic anyway, that everybody wants to talk about, it only matters how you are able to talk about it. That's really what makes the difference.
And then it takes patience, like for any other social progress, the brand was founded in 2012. The first year, in the first years, it was very complicated to open the doors of retailers, mainstream retailers, not only in Southeast Asia, but in Europe and in the US, as well. We've been lobbying for years in and years out. And then I think towards the end of 2017, and the me too movement, things have started to speed up. And those open much more quickly.
How many markets are you guys in?
I think maybe over 20. So because with our online shop, we cover basically all countries where vibrators are not illegal. When it comes to distribution with retailers, North America, maybe 10 countries in Europe, we have five or six countries in Asia, plus Australia and New Zealand. So we've had a pretty big reach. Yeah, it's awesome.
What, if any trends are you seeing, I guess, in Asia, maybe Asia Pacific more broadly?
In Asia and Asia Pacific. We see the categories developing not only in these retailers, but in the department stores as well. So this category is growing, making its place among the beauty and wellness ecosystem. It is more and more perceived as something that is part of taking care of ourselves or having a self care routine, basically. And we have more and more retailers at our department stores or gift shops that are interested in carrying the brands and having it as part of their offering.
So I think expanding the distribution to new kinds of materials, as well as growing efforts on the education side. I mentioned earlier that we do workshops with NGOs. We have an online sex education program called Vulva Talks, also in touch with student associations or sexual health clinics here in Singapore, and we see a growing interest of people to engage directly on that topic. So basically, the discussion is, is becoming more and more engaged, and lively.
Want to learn more about SmileMakers? Visit smilemakerscollection.com