Meet Cécile Gasnault, Brand Director of Smile Makers

Tell Us About the Business, How Did it Come About?

Smile Makers was launched with the belief that vibrators and lubricants are wellness products like any others.
When we launched 10 years ago, 1 out of 2 women or those with a vulva in the UK were already using vibrators. It was absolutely not a niche category.

Additionally, there were plenty of scientific studies documenting the mental and physical health benefits associated with sexual pleasure and vibrator usage and supporting the fact that sexual wellness is a factor of our overall wellbeing. That’s why we wanted to bring the topic of female pleasure out in the open, make it broadly available in mainstream retail and discussed in mainstream media to ultimately impact how female sexuality was perceived.


What Have You Learnt So Far?

Everywhere we have launched the brand, from North America to Europe and Asia Pacific, there is a genuine yearning to talk about sexuality more openly and to validate pleasure as a normal and healthy part of our lives. Interestingly so, every country also seems to see itself as more conservative than others. The stigma exists everywhere and is lifting at different paces.

As a sexual wellness brand, we need to be mindful about where the conversation is at in countries where we operate. When we talk about our brand and products to a buyer at retailer or a journalist at a big publication. They will most likely have to convince their hierarchy and do so on a topic that feels very personal and intimate. That’s why we have learnt over the years that there is no one-size-fits-all approach and we need to make the conversation about female pleasure easy vs stigmatised and educated vs sensationalised.


What Challenges Have You Overcome? How Have You Responded During Covid?

When we started out 10 years ago, we were the only brand in the category to focus on launching sexual wellness in mainstream retail. At the time, it was an uphill battle to convince fashion/beauty/lifestyle retailers to launch us, but to us, it was key to bring the category in everyday stores in order to change the way people perceive it and by extension, the way people perceive female sexual wellness. We had a very pragmatic approach to removing the taboo, so we stuck to our guns and it is now paying out.

We started getting listings as early as 2013 and the momentum gradually grew over time. In 2020, the first Covid lockdowns triggered a spike in sales for the whole category that amplified the conversation, both in media and among retailers and we saw interest for sexual wellness further rise.


What are Your Plans for Growth?

We’re focusing on 3 things:

  • Education: making pleasure positive sex education widely accessible with reliable content written by experts. Last year, our sex education program Vulva Talks was shared with students associations from all over the world, from NTU in Singapore to Wesleyan and Harvard in the US.
  • Continuing to develop our offering to provide more options to explore pleasure. We are launching The Artist, our first dual vibrator, on March 1st and have more plans for the rest of the year.
  • Expanding our distribution to make vibrators broadly available. Last year, we were the first vibrator brand ever launch by Sephora. Last week, we launched at Isetan Shinjuku, one of the busiest department stores in the world.



Why is the Normalisation of the Category so Important?

Sexual wellbeing is an important and fundamental part of our lives. The United Nations has in fact labelled it a Human Right. Our sexual satisfaction directly impacts our physical health, and both directly and indirectly our emotional wellbeing. Conversely, sexual dysfunction is a common occurrence that leads not only to health issues for the individual experiencing it, but also wider issues in marriage and society, most visibly a rise in divorce rates.

A wide range of literature has been published in medical and therapy journals showing the effectiveness of vibratory stimulation in treating anorgasmia in women.

However, while products to treat or cure men’s dysfunction have since long been available in mainstream retail, products for women have largely been absent. This has led to the perception of society placing a skewed importance on men’s sexual wellness as compared to women’s.

Why this new distribution of the category is so important is because it does a lot to normalise the perception of female sexuality. It sends a very clear message that female sexuality is a normal, everyday topic that shouldn’t be hushed and hidden because it’s part of our overall health.


How Has This Progressed in Recent Years, and What Do You Think the Future Holds for Femtech?

We feel that mindsets have shifted and we like to think that our relentless efforts to convince top retailers in the world for the past 10 years have helped changing the way we, as a society, look at female sexual wellness as part of our everyday life and our overall wellbeing.

There still remains challenges to overcome. A notable one is opening up advertising channels that remain closed to our brand. To give you an example, Facebook keeps banning our ads.  Meanwhile, brands that have traditionally addressed a male audience are allowed to advertise with sexual content. So, there are still some double standards that we need to address and remove.


The Launch of Your New Product The Artist Marks a Step Change for the Brand – Can You Explain More About This?

We’ve spent the first 10 years of our journey normalising the perception of female sexuality and we have brought that conversation to a wider audience. What strikes us in these discussions is how the bar that we set for our sexpectations is both low (no pain = good sex !?) and standardised: sex = a physical stimulation of the genitals with a partner in the pursuit of orgasm.

This is a very limiting approach to sex and pleasure, and it is holding us back from shaping our sexual experiences based on our own personal desires and preferences rather than what we deem “normal”. On the foundation on consent, all sexual expression is valid and worth exploring.

This is why we want to focus our work on inspiring vulva owners to set their own standards for good sex. This guides both our educational content and our product offering and The Artist embodies our mission perfectly. Our dual vibrator invites the user to design the pleasure experience they want, through UI/UX, ergonomics and technology.

Users can finely adjust the intensity of the vibration mode by intuitively squeezing sensors on the handles rather than flipping through pre-set levels. They can control the internal and external heads independently, choosing from 4 different modes for the two heads. They can adjust the angle between the two heads can be adjusted to create an intimate fit.