Once upon a time, entrepreneurship was only a man’s business. But, now, the tables have turned with women taking charge of their own lives, passion, and ambition. However, unfortunately, what they still feel shy about (at least, the larger section of the female population) is to talk about their sexual hygiene and reproductive care.
In conversation with TC46, Aastha Sharma, the founder of the brand Imbue Natural, shares her thoughts and experiences about the taboos that plague the subject of female sexual hygiene, and how educating customers is the only way forward.
1. What is your educational & professional background?
In 2010, I graduated with a Masters degree in Entrepreneurship from TISS (Mumbai). For 6 years, I worked with two inspiring female-first beauty brands—The Body Shop and Avon. It was then that I dabbled with entrepreneurship alongside my exceptional co-founders!
2. What prompted the idea for Imbue?
Imbue started small with a tall mission. The journey began in 2019, as a charged conversation between three friends—back then, colleagues—working together in a powerful female-first beauty brand. With first-hand insights, we identified the need for safe and women-friendly personal care products. Products that go beyond the acceptable norm, products that inspire a new behaviour in reproductive care, which would help women manage four important aspects of their life: Pleasure, hygiene, pain, and menstruation, with normalcy and dignity. We continued to ask the tough questions until we were a part of the answer ourselves! The journey has been nothing short of a roller coaster since then.
Imbue Natural is proud to be an activist-minded female-first wellness brand with a range of products specifically designed to cater to the awkward needs of women across their reproductive years. Completely devoid of harmful chemicals, the brand has reinvented feminine care made with acclaimed ingredients from ancient Ayurveda. Imbue is fast emerging as the one-stop destination for all ‘Awkward Essentials’. It is challenging self-care convention by normalising the use of intimate and sexual wellness products, as a healthy part of daily routine.
With ‘Embrace the Awkward’, the company maintains its commitment to its four core values: Banish Social Taboos, Mobilise Sex Positivity, Stimulate Self-Care, and Celebrate Nature’s Power.
3. What was your first milestone and how did you get there?
Having people visit our website store on launch day! Our Instagram community pre-dated our site by nearly 6 months. During this time, we connected with thousands of women to understand their personal hygiene concerns. After a solid R&D cycle, we induced trials with over 1000 customers and received an NPS score > 4! To see real customers, beyond moms, sisters, and friends, was a phenomenal high! It didn’t end there. Sampling soon converted to real purchases and then repeat! That’s when we filed a patent for our Intimate Hygiene Wash.
4. What are some challenges you face with your audience?
Issues concerning feminine wellness are rarely addressed without hesitation. Health and culture are interlaced and manifest through beliefs, norms, and values of the people within a society, a region, a race, or a sexuality type. To be able to build a safe judgment-free space for individuals to confidently interact with Imbue and amongst themselves, inclusive communication is the key.
While on one side, we are trying to shake up the skeeviness surrounding intimate and sexual concerns, on the other side we are trying to steer clear from unnecessary activism. We believe positive change is inclusive and gradual. That’s why we have embarked on a long and hopefully rewarding journey to #EmbraceTheAwkward!
5. What were the 3 best decisions you made for your platform?
- Direct communication with customers and target audience. We’ve always ensured that we are at a ‘one-call distance’ from our customers. Over a few years, we’ve realised that our customers desire frank and straightforward transparency about awkward topics that they’ve traditionally shied away from. Getting a deeper insight into their personal needs has helped us develop products suited for quicker adoption.
- Building a cross-category portfolio for a good 12 months, we were a single-product company. While our Intimate Hygiene Wash was getting rave reviews, more than 80% of queries we received, focussed on uncomfortable issues related to the reproductive years of sexually active individuals. Using this insight, we evolved to merge talks on menstrual hygiene, sexual expression, reproductive health and general wellbeing. The aim was to normalise the use of natural and innovative products for all awkward concerns from vaginal odour to breast pain, from joint pain to piles, from libido enhancement to the need to reach an orgasm!
- To focus beyond metros as a modern-day D2C brand, one might assume that metros would be the first to adopt daily-use intimate and sexual wellness products. Over time we realised that the audience set in non-metro cities too is used to buying local products made with popular ingredients like Shatavari, Musli, Shilajit, and Ginseng. By offering products packed with such quality extracts alongside a modern brand narrative, we were able to inspire trust and confidence. Today, over 50% of our sales are attributed to non-metro cities. A very healthy decision for our business.
6. How long did it take for you to monetise your venture?
That’s the beauty of D2C businesses. You can start monetising the day you launch your first product. The question though is: Can you sustain it? It’s only with the encouragement and appreciation of our customers, that we are steady on robust growth.
7. What are your tips for an aspiring entrepreneur who wants to enter this space?
- This is a challenging space to be in. Setting out to challenge convention has never been easy. It’s the commitment to the purpose and the persistence in action that pays off!
- It’s easy to get carried away with the challenges. Find the right people to help you. If you have subject and functional experts around you, then it makes all the difference!
- Talk to the potential customer. Understand their stated as well as unstated needs. Never rely on secondary insights. Keep testing and refining your products and your story. Command love.
8. When you create content on complex and taboo subjects like intimate hygiene and sexual wellness on Instagram, how do you ensure it is simplified and open enough to break the societal barrier as well as make it easy enough to understand?
We believe in focussing on the most important takeaway for our audience from our content, which is education. We strive to impart education that empowers a new generation of consumers to make informed positive decisions around their bodies and lives.
We build a knowledge base for ourselves and our audience that covers multiple perspectives and then identify empirical facts that cut through the complexity. The team deconstructs communication into short byte-sized content pieces, mostly in a Q&A format. For instance, STIs & STDs might sound heavy, but when we break it down into simple questions like “What should I do if I see a green discharge on my underwear?” or “What precautions do I take if I have multiple sexual partners?”, it is more relatable for the viewers. An open stance on taboo subjects with a resolution orientation encourages our audience to engage with us further as a value addition to their lifestyle.
9. In a country where most women aren’t yet open to talk about their issues, and worse aren’t aware of some issues, how can we encourage them to approach experts to address their concerns and normalise these conversations?
Embrace the Awkward, our latest brand movement aspires to connect with women of all ages and needs—from periods to menopause. It is going to take collective action of all stakeholders of the society to bring about this fundamental change.
Destigmatisation faces double the challenge of addressal and normalisation, simultaneously. The challenge is in bridging the gaps by mobilising the ecosystem to facilitate this change. A woman’s reproductive cycle is a social responsibility and in a complexly fast-paced lifestyle, it requires reinforcements more than ever. It is crucial to build up a woman’s understanding of her body, her identity, her ability to ask relevant questions, and her confidence to make informed decisions around her reproductive, intimate and sexual being.
Digital offers a never-before opportunity to build direct relationships with the audience. With this movement, we intend to engage our audience with our byte-sized education, help them identify their specific concern, and provide them access to specialists that can address the same.
10. What’s your take on professionals now using Instagram to share information on sexual health, women’s health, mental health, laws, and other expert-led subjects?
It is a healthy sign and needs encouragement. It is still in its nascent form as a movement and is driven by passion. Professionals coming to the fore allows younger audiences to learn first-hand experiences, to better prepare themselves for challenges that they might be facing or are to face.
Professionals need to encourage their audiences to engage with them for a deeper and more meaningful experience. They should be transparent about their sources that allow the ecosystem to collectively mature.
Digital identity is a relatively new idea in the subcontinent and would require an experienced professional to go through a quick upgrade to be effective in their outreach. It will only encourage professionals from all walks of life to participate freely.