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This Company Is Empowering Women One Vibrator And Menstrual Cup At A Time

Culture

What if you grew up in a house where sex was dirty and a society where women's reproductive rights weren't even second-class citizens? Do you think you might grow up to sell sex toys and use those sales to help women whose needs and rights were in peril? Well, if you're Sheila Oh you would. Oh is one of two founders of Knotty Vibes, an online store that sells vibrators and has been known to give away menstrual cups. Knotty Vibes cares about taking care of women sexually, reproductively, and all the rest.


Her upbringing certainly didn't point to this future for Oh who grew up in both Nigeria and Ohio, if you can imagine. As a young woman, she attended Wake Forest University where she majored in business.

Oh says people called her a “peculiar" kid. “I was mainly quiet and introverted unless I felt someone was being bullied, oppressed, or disrespected. I have a five-girl squad, which includes co-founder [of Knotty Vibes] Courtney Davis, my childhood friend and college roommate, who I love and lean on for support."

“I've always been considered a rebel," Oh says. “Growing up in a space where women are expected to be quiet, docile, and subservient. Never to be heard only seen. I always felt there was something wrong with having my voice belittled in comparison to boys or men."

When she was a kid, Oh wanted to be a farmer so she could “feed the poor and hungry children." Then, because she learned that food doesn't cure illness, she wanted to be a doctor. “Through my journey of self-discovery, I have always wanted to help others as I recognized that I was fortunate to have had an education, shelter, and sustenance for most of my life."

Oh began her career by interning for a nonprofit for children with special needs. Following that, she moved through the corporate world as a business analyst. “However, I felt I wasn't following my passion for helping others in that capacity. So I'm back to doing what I love; giving back and helping others.

“Women's sexuality and sexual freedom have always been important and essential in the fight for women's equality," Oh says. “Not only are women men paid less but we also have fewer orgasms than men do. Studies have shown that 91 percent of men vs 64 percent of women orgasm through intercourse. Masturbation, which we consider to be a crucial part of sexual freedom, helps close this gap."

And, Oh adds, men are praised while women are bashed and called disrespectful names when it comes to having multiple sexual partners. This social disparity is both sexist and inhibitive to women's full sexual expression. “While we at Knotty Vibes advocate for safe sex, we also advocate for women to have full reins of their body."

Oh and her co-founder Courtney have always been advocates for sexual freedom and bridging the orgasm gap between men and women. They were both raised in very strict homes where sex was a taboo topic. After Oh suffered a missed miscarriage in 2017, she had a $25,000.00 dilation and curettage, which was covered by her comprehensive insurance. After sharing her loss with other women, she found that she was indeed privileged to have the healthcare access. We live in one of the greatest nations in the world, yet our healthcare system is failing us, Oh explains. “The cost of reproductive healthcare is astronomical if you cannot afford comprehensive insurance coverage.“

Many women rely on non-profit organizations such as planned parenthood to obtain sexual and reproductive health procedures, says Oh. “Given that such organizations are being defunded, we decided to combine our advocacy for sexual freedom with fundraising for access to women's reproductive health by selling the best yet affordable sex toys." And, she adds, “To be inclusive of women of all socioeconomic backgrounds in our mission, we also offer free sex toys and free menstrual cups .

The very first purchase made at Knotty vibes was by a former coworker, Oh says, someone with whom she shared business ideas. “She bought her first vibrator in my store because she wanted to 'plant a seed of faith.' She then shared my business with her friend who was hosting a small bridal shower. I was so overjoyed when I woke up to two orders from them. I later got an email from Pledging that I had donated $50.00 - from just those vibrators – to twelve organizations.

  1. Equality Now
  2. Global Fund for Women
  3. Jacksonville Area Sexual Minority Youth Network Inc
  4. League of Women Voters Education Fund
  5. MS Foundation For Women
  6. Partners In Health
  7. Planned Parenthood Federation of America
  8. Robert R. Frank Student-Run Free Clinic
  9. Sexual Health Innovations
  10. Women Helping Women
  11. Women of Power Empowering Women
  12. WomenOne

I was excited that others believed in women's access to healthcare and that I could be a channel for all to support women's reproductive rights."

Photo Courtesy of Knotty Vibes

When Oh was growing up, she had thirteen cousins who she fondly calls “amazing." As she got older, she discovered that five of the thirteen were not blood-related. “My grandmother had adopted them from various orphanages and raised them as part of our family. In doing so, she taught me to be selfless and to care for those who couldn't. With my innate desire to speak up for the oppressed and the selflessness instilled in me by my grandmother, I am inspired to help other women via Knotty Vibes."

Being a woman has presented issues for Oh and her co-founder. But that hasn't stopped either one of them in any way. It's only served to move them forward. In the past, Oh says, she has seen her opinions and insights dismissed because she is a woman. “This could be done in micro-aggressive ways such as talking over me. I have learned to be more assertive and speak up even if I am classified as 'bossy' by men. I know at the end of the day, I stood up for myself and other women."

As a Black woman, Oh says, she has experienced additional difficulties, including raising capital to start her business. “However, that has made Courtney, my co-founder, and myself resourceful and fiscally responsible. For example, I learned to budget our capital properly throughout the year and cut out any unnecessary purchases. We also use a lean model with our business to ensure that most of the revenue goes donations and not the cost of running the business."

The good news is there to finally be a move toward recognizing the many, many contributions that Black women have been making to society since the beginning. Oh says she believes this is because we are in an era where “social media allows us to see the contributions of Black women (and men). There is a growing appreciation overall for celebrating Blackness and Black achievements. I think social media has allowed more dialogues regarding race, which has prompted awareness of issues that Black people face. This is a step in the right direction. However, we as a nation, have a long way to go."

In terms of doing good by serving and supporting others, Oh says this is absolutely how she imagined her future. But she says, “In terms of being interviewed for a magazine, the introverted seven-year-old Sheila could never imagine that."

Oh says she hopes that one-day “conversations regarding our sexuality and reproductive health will be normalized and celebrated to allow for women to not only fully express their sexuality, attain sexual fulfillment but to also seek reproductive health advice as needed." She also holds out hope that in the future women's reproductive rights and healthcare will become a priority in every aspect. “Personally, I hope that Courtney and I will continue to grow our volunteerism, advocacy, business, and outreach efforts to benefit more women."

As for what advice she would you give to other women – and especially women of color - in terms of turning their dreams into their realities, she has three recommendations.

  • Don't second-guess yourself and your passions. The moment you do that, your dream stays an unattainable dream.
  • Be sure to surround yourself with people who believe in you. They will fuel your drive and eventually help you to get back on track.
  • Obstacles on the journey can be stepping stones to greater things if you stay optimistic.

What matters most to Oh is empowering women, and she has found a myriad of ways to do just that. “I understand that not every woman is very bold about her sexuality or sexual freedoms," says Oh. “But we can all agree that reproductive health is important to all women. As such, a Knotty Vibes provides free menstrual cups in our store! We are here for all women in different stages of their sexual journey."

Business

Taking My Own Advice: How I Learned To Let Go Of The Things That Are Out Of My Control

It seemed like everything happened overnight because, well… it did.


One moment, my team and I were business as usual, running a multi-million-dollar edible cookie dough company I built from scratch in my at-home kitchen five years ago and the next we were sitting in an emergency management team meeting asking ourselves, "What do we do now?" Things had escalated in New York, and we were all called to do our part in "flattening the curve" and "slowing the spread."

The governor had declared that all restaurants immediately close to the public. All non-essential businesses were also closed, and 8.7 million New Yorkers were quarantined to their tiny apartments for the foreseeable future. Things like "social distancing" and "quarantine" were our new 2020 vernacular — and reality.

What did that mean for us? Our main revenue source was the retail part of the business. Sure, we offered delivery and take-out, but that was such a small portion of our sales. I had built a retail experience where people from near and far came to eat edible cookie dough exactly how they craved it. We had two stores, one in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn, which employed over 55 people. We have two production facilities; an online business shipping cookie dough nationwide; a wholesale arm that supplies stores, restaurants, and other retail establishments with treats; and a catering vertical for customizable treats for celebrations of all sizes. And while business and sales were nearly at a complete halt, we still had bills. We had payroll to pay, vendors we owed, services we were contractually obligated to continue, rent, utilities, insurance, and none of that was stopping.

How were we going to do this? And for how long will this go on? No one knew.

As an entrepreneur, this certainly wasn't my first-time facing challenges. But this was unprecedented. Unimaginable. Unbelievable. Certainly unplanned. This control-freak type-A gal was unraveling. I had to make decisions quickly. What was best for my team? For my business? For the safety of my staff? For the city? For my family and unborn baby (oh, yeah, throw being 28 weeks pregnant and all those fun hormones in there, it's real interesting!). Everything was spiraling out of control.

I decided to take the advice I had given to many people over the years — focus on the things you can control. There's no point worrying about all the things you have no control over. If you focus there, you'll just continue spiraling into a deeper, darker hole. Let it go. Once you shift your perspective, you can move forward. It's not going to be easy; the challenges still exist. But you can control certain things, so focus your energy and attention on those.

So that's what I did. I chose, for the safety of staff and customers, to close the retail portion completely — it wasn't worth the take-out and delivery volume to staff the store, open ourselves up to more germs and human contact than absolutely necessary.

I went back to our mission and the reason I started the business in the first place — to spread joy. How could we continue to bring happiness to people during this uncertain time? That's our purpose. With millions of people across the globe stuck inside, working from home, quarantined with their families, how can we reach them since they can't come to us? So I thought back to how and why we got started.

Baking, for me, has always been a type of therapy. I could get lost in the mixing bowl and forget about everything else for a moment in time. Sure, I have a huge sweet tooth, but it's about the process. It's about taking all of these different ingredients and mixing them together to create something magically sweet and special. It's about creating and being creative with the simple things. It's about allowing people to indulge in something that brings them joy — a lick from the spatula or a big batch of cookies.

It's about joy in the moment and sharing that joy with others. So my focus is back on that, and it feels good.

We could still ship nationwide, straight to people's doorstep. So we are making it easier and less expensive to send the ultimate comfort food (edible cookie dough) by introducing a reduced shipping rate, and deals on some of our best-selling packages.

In a way for us, it feels like we are going back in time… back to our roots. When I first started the business, we were only shipping nationwide. There were no stores, no big team, no wholesale. It was just me, a small crew juggling it all, and we made it work then. And we'll make it work again. We have to leverage our online business and hope it floats us through this time.

We are focusing our digital content strategy on sharing recipes, activities, and at-home treats with our engaged, amazing social following so they bake with their families and stay busy at-home. We started live baking tutorials where our fans can bake-along with me and I can share all the tips and tricks I've learned over the years with them.

I've leveraged the cookbook I published last year, Hello, Cookie Dough: 110 Doughlicious Confections to Eat, Bake & Share, to come up with fun content and additional things to do at home. We started shipping it and our at-home baking mixes for free to encourage people to get busy in their kitchens!

And as a business, we will continue to connect with our community to bring them joy and focus on what we can control, including our attitude and outlook first.

During times of uncertainty, which this certainly is, you should do the same. Identify the things you can control and focus your time and energy on those things. Distract yourself with the positive. Force yourself to stop asking and worrying about all the what-ifs. Do what you can for the moment and then the next moment. Make a list, and take it day-by-day.

It's going to be okay. You will be okay. We will all be okay.