When Alex Fine was in college, her vibrator caught fire. The poor materials and shoddy design of sex toys back then led her to start her own sex toy company with an MIT-trained mechanical engineer.
Dame Products – dame being Spanish for ‘give me’ – makes toys for people with vulvas. Customer input is at the heart of its design – it even has a specialized business arm, Dame Labs, which focus specifically on product development through collecting user feedback.
SEXTECHGUIDE spoke to Fine, CEO of Dame Products, about being one of the first female-led companies to make sex toys, how the ‘pleasure gap’ influences the products it makes, and what’s in store for the future.
Check out the rest of the Founder Focus series here.
When were you first aware of the term ‘sextech’?
“I don’t remember when I became aware of sextech specifically, but I knew since college that the state of the sex toy market was… dire, to say the least. At one point during my college years, I’d bought a sex toy that actually caught on fire in front of me. Yes, I was desperately trying to get it to turn on but it shouldn’t have shorted. The materials were shoddy, the design was lacking, and there was overall a ton of room for growth.
Around 70% of women need clitoral stimulation to orgasm. I saw couples toys on the market, but they didn’t seem to smoothly integrate into the sexual experiences me and my friends were having. I wanted to create a functional, wearable vibrator that could stimulate the clitoris during partnered sex.”
Why did you launch Dame Products? Why the name?
“I’ve always been passionate about passion and I wanted to create a brand that addressed my sexual needs in a non-judgemental and human way. After grad school, I worked in consumer goods and really fell in love with the idea of starting my own business. I wanted to combine that with my passion to change our culture’s conversation surrounding sexuality. I realized I could make more of an impact through having a company platform.
Eventually, I put the word out that I was looking to start a sex toy company founded by people with vulvas, for people with vulvas. I met my co-founder, Janet Lieberman, who is an MIT-trained mechanical engineer, at an event. She too was working on starting a sex toy company (people actually thought we were the same person!) Once we met, it was clear that we could have a really valuable partnership. We complement each other’s skillsets, and together, we made for a really powerful team.
Our goal at Dame Products is really to start necessary conversations, to listen to people rather than assume, and to create products that are mechanically engineered to enhance intimacy (in an age where a lot of technology detracts from it).
And as for the name, we felt Dame captured something that was both powerful and feminine all at once – which really ties into our brand mission. It also holds space for many different definitions of being femme. You can be a fancy Dame married to a knight or one of those Dames that picks up attractive people at the speakeasy. It also has different meanings in different languages – in Spanish it means ‘give me’.”
What research was involved when you were starting out?
“When I first had the idea to start a vibrator company, I began crafting my own vibrators at home and asking friends to give me their feedback. Once I teamed up with Janet, we began a more ‘formal’ prototype process for our first product, Eva. With Janet’s expertise, we were able to create 3D printed versions of different aspects of the toy (the wings, the body, etc.) and investigate the best way to execute our idea for a wearable couple’s vibrator. At the end of the day though, consumer feedback continued to be a key part of our research process – and what friends said from the ‘field testing’ process informed some big decisions about the final design.”
What is Dame Labs and how does it help your business?
“Customer input has also been an integral part of our product philosophy since day one. We recently just formalized the process of being a part of our feedback community via Dame Labs. Our audience can sign up to take surveys about what products they want to see next, their preference, etc., all of which informs our product development strategy. We also pull from this list to find beta testers, who get the chance to try out prototypes and provide feedback.
Dame Labs is one of our main methods to ensure we’re creating a product that our customers want. We’ll get on the phone with respondents as follow-up when we need to, host in-person focus groups, and in general leave the lines of the communication open for people to tell us what they think! We incorporate input from hundreds of people into each product and make design tweaks accordingly. We’re increasing our customer satisfaction, as well as creating more opportunities to build community and have open conversations about sex and sexuality.”
What makes you different to other sex toy retailers?
“When we first started, we were one of few women-led companies who was making sex toys. Now, we’re being joined by many other women looking to disrupt sex tech. Not only is this raising the standard for the toys and products we see on the market, but it is also shifting the conversation about what it means to be a woman having sex.
We’re creating well-designed products that prioritize ergonomics over flashy gimmicks. Our in-house engineering team allows us to extensively research and refine our products to ensure they’re the best they can be. And perhaps most importantly, we’re creating a community of folks who want to feel empowered about their sexuality through Dame Labs, our online presence, and other community events.”
How important is innovation in sextech?
“Innovation is important as long as it serves a purpose. Notably, we’ve never designed a toy with an app. Our customers continue to give us feedback that having that feature isn’t important to them, so we focus on the features that are. Making products that are easy to use and seamlessly integrate into people’s sex lives is our main goal, and we prioritize innovations that help us achieve that.”
How can technology improve our sex lives?
“Our goal at Dame is to help heighten intimacy pleasure. We strive to do this with toys for sex that are well-made, safe, and fun to use. Women are four times more likely to describe recent sex as “not at all pleasurable.” We call this the pleasure gap. Many women/people with vulvas need clitoral stimulation to achieve orgasm or have pleasurable sex (notably, not one and the same!), so we create products that make it easy to achieve those sensations while still connecting with your partner or yourself. “
“Tools and technology allow us to have more expansive embodied experiences. We can touch parts we normally cannot touch, we can feel vibration or weight that the human body cannot produce, or we can hear and even transmit sensation across the world. Technology gives us more options and more ways to play, it’s up to us to engage the technology in a way that improves our lives.”
Where’s next for Dame Products?
“We recently launched our third product, Pom, which is a flexible vibrator and an essential wellness tool to help people make masturbation a part of their self-care routines. We have a few exciting releases slated for 2019, which we can’t wait to share.”