SHANGHAI — It was a matter of going from “Just Do It” to “Just Do You”.
The founders of The Oh Collective, a Chinese sexual wellness start up, first met while they were all working at Nike. But after friends Eden Chiang, Simona Xu, Diana Lin and Winxi Kan found that their best weekly dinner conversations kept on revolving around sex, the four got together to create a brand that would shake up the uninspiring and male-dominated sex toy industry.
The Oh Collective is part of a new wave of brands around the world, like Maude and Ketish, that is reorienting the sector to serve the desires of females instead of their male partners. The company’s main focus is China where the online sexual wellness market was estimated by CBN Data to have exceeded 60 billion renminbi, or $9.2 billion last year, and growing 50 percent year over year.
The brand launched last October with two vibrators — the first is the prong-shaped Kit, and then there’s the Pixie, which looks like an egg and fits snugly into the palm of the hand. With each priced at around $40 and available in soft, pastel tones, both are designed to be a girl’s “first friend into the world of masturbation.”
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“Women don’t necessarily need big or penetrative, screaming branding, [and it should be] not too gimmicky either,” said Xu. “In a way, we’re not that complicated. It shouldn’t look too aggressive.”
“We bought so many products, our houses — the four of us together — are literally filled with vibrators,” added Chiang. “It’s a very big difference from us versus other brands. We are the founders, we are for women, we trial and tested products ourselves.”
Women are so rare in the industry, said Xu, that over the course of building the brand she shared that other than their customers, she has yet to interact with another female in the business. “We have not communicated with women at all — suppliers, factories, none,” Xu said.
Another aspect of the industry the founders disliked was the common use of plastic in sex toys, given how some plastics can leach chemicals, so in their products they opt for food-grade silicone.
Running a sexual wellness company in China has its specific hurdles. It is a culture that errs conservative and has societal structures in place that leave little room for bodily exploration. For example, at Chinese universities, standard dorms are single sex and offer little privacy. (It’s common for six to eight people to bunk in one room.) Soon after college, women are expected to marry.
“A lot of the time it’s after they get married, after they have the baby that they start exploring sex toys. At that point, the wild [passionate] phase with your partner has already passed so you start to look at yourself and explore yourself,” Xu said.
The brand is fundraising at the moment and in the long term, The Oh Collective wants to target more than just toys but expand into vaginal probiotics, oils and lingerie as well.
“As opposed to always looking for new audiences, we want them to continue to come back to us,” Chiang said. “Vibrators, you only need to buy once every few years. Yes, of course, if there’s new innovation you can upgrade but we want products where she can keep coming back to the shop and engage with us.”
There’s also experiences and education too, which is extra important for word-of-mouth marketing, since China does not allow the sexual wellness industry to advertise. So far, the brand-hosted sessions have ranged from teaching vulva anatomy and female orgasm to a Shibari bondage workshop. Meanwhile, its social channels are dedicated to giving pleasuring tips and sharing real-life anecdotes from its community.
A good number of The Oh Collective customers share similar backgrounds to the founding team, who are Chinese heritage but who grew up overseas in the Netherlands, U.S. and Canada. But the brand says it has also found good traction with Mainland Chinese females with no experience living abroad, too.
“The ABC girls that are a bit more international are speaking up more,” said Xu. “But then if you look into the data in how people respond and also the backend, 65 to 70 percent are just girls from here, Mainland Chinese girls. But they’re not loud.”
Chiang added: “Even in our group chats, they’re more like listening and just looking. There will be girls who come to our workshop, they sit there and they get really quiet. And what we try to do is pair them up with someone who is experienced, give them guidance or give them tips….like we are your older sister.”