With an eye towards simplicity and a love for knowledge, sexologist Rebecca Alvarez Story landed on the name for her intimacy marketplace, Bloomi, which launched in 2018. In evoking thoughts of "learning" or "blooming," Story sought to create safe space where people could grow sexual-health knowledge about their body, in realms of pleasure, menstruation, and pregnancy. Now, Bloomi is a thriving marketplace for trustworthy products and a space that values community.
But that success alone isn't why Well+Good selected Story to be part of our 2021 Changemakers list (despite how much we love Bloomi's arousal oil and massage oil). Rather, it's her company's innovation in the midst of a pandemic that has made safe connection via touch inaccessible to many. Story and Bloomi have been bringing a warm, detail-oriented, arms-wide-open approach to self-pleasure, ensuring all of us stay intimate. Below, she shares how she's done that, and what we can expect next.
- Rebecca Alvarez Story, sexologist and founder of Bloomi
Well+Good: What led you to create Bloomi?
Rebecca Alvarez Story: I've been preparing to create something like Bloomi, honestly, for the majority of my life. When I was growing up, I was a very curious kid, and I felt like the world wasn’t being honest and wasn't preparing me. I went to a private all-girls high school on a scholarship, and we were taught abstinence-only education, and we were given abstinence contracts—it was so bizarre to me.
That world then contrasted with the one I experienced as a student at the University of California, Berkeley—a public, liberal university, with tons of holistic sexuality classes. That duality made me realize there are really two worlds: the world of hiding information, not being confident, and making weird decisions, and the world of celebrating intimacy and sexuality. Moving forward, I wanted to bring positivity to places where information was still hiding.
When I got my sexology degree, I had that passion, but at the time, I was also a single mom. I ended up going into the [more stable] corporate world and being a consultant sexologist, doing education work and product development.
I wanted people to feel like they came to a destination where they were able to get the products and tools they needed, but also learn how to use it and learn about their bodies.
Then a couple years ago, when my daughter was a little bit older, I realized that I wanted to be directly in this space. I knew that I wanted it to be inclusive, I wanted it to have variety. I wanted people to feel like they came to a destination where they were able to get the products and tools they needed, but also learn how to use it and learn about their bodies.
Bloomi isn't solely a sexual wellness shop. Why is the company's mission focused on intimacy beyond just self-pleasure?
In my work as a sexologist, people assume I think the most important thing is sex. But I think the most important thing is intimacy, and feeling good about your body. That's the foundation that a lot of us don't learn.
So for me, Bloomi is about sexuality and it is about sex toys, but I think of it in a more holistic sense. Focusing on intimacy and making sure that we are breaking taboos by having all products that touch intimate areas of the body is innovative. And it made sense to me to give people a destination for overall body care, but I couldn't find it. So honestly, it was a need I had, and then I saw other people had it, too.
I do think that COVID-19 accelerated the need for something like a marketplace like ours. People are longing for connection in order to survive and feel good and thrive. [Bloomi is] trying to help people connect with themselves first, and then connect with others.
The Intimate Talk blog and Sessions by Bloomi workshops are fantastic sex education initiatives. How did they come to be?
When I was working for other startups, I saw that their approach to reaching customers was through doctors' offices—it was very medical. We launched the blog because we felt that the products themselves warranted more how-to information. It started slowly morphing into a sexology blog at first, and then we started throwing in more wellness and holistic information, because it felt like that's what people need.
We launched [the sessions] when the pandemic hit because we realized that we weren't going to be able to do our in-person summit, or pop-ups, or panels the same way we previously had, but we wanted people to have a safe space where they still felt they’re getting good info. I started off leading the majority of them as what I like to call "mini sexology sessions." Then we started bringing in other experts.
Now it's just this natural extension of what we're building on the marketplace where people can come, learn, laugh, and then they probably go shopping after.
A core part of Bloomi’s mission is being able to back up each sold onsite, and everything is rigorously tested—only about 2 percent of items are ultimately approved. How does Bloomi address the concerns about ingredients we put on or in the body?
When we have a product that's Bloomi-approved, it means three things. One, it doesn't have any ingredients or materials that will irritate vulva or vaginal skin; we created an extensive banned list of hundreds of chemicals and materials that should not be touching that part of the body. Two, if it’s a liquid, it [has to be] pH balanced, and we actually can confirm that it's truly pH balanced. The third is we actually give it to people in our tester community to make sure that they have a an enjoyable experience. So we say that it's safe and enjoyable; that’s what we're trying to accomplish.
From what I know, we're still the only standard for intimate-care products. It hasn't changed in almost 100 years, we’re still under what FDA calls the Cosmetic Act. So for example, a lipstick and mascara can have the same things as a vulva wash. That's why we thought it was important to launch Bloomi with a clean standard. It's based on academic research by top experts, and we put a lot of work and love into that.
In addition to featuring rigorously vetted products from trusted manufacturers, Bloomi’s own product line includes a best-selling botanical arousal oil and CBD massage oil. Can you describe the process for creating a Bloomi product?
When it comes to creating a Bloomi product, we're using a couple of North Stars: We’re using my instinct and my background in terms of what I believe could help people connect better. We're using community feedback based on our own data from the marketplace. We see what sells well, and we see what's missing on the marketplace. Then we also try to make sure that what we create doesn’t exist in the U.S .yet.
So when we created our arousal oil, we found a lot of arousal oils that had chemicals or warming agent, but not any that were truly like potent with botanical aphrodisiacs. So I feel like we're very innovative in that way, but also focused on "clean." Not a lot of ingredients, but very beautiful, powerful plant-based ingredients. Moving forward, we're going to continue to try to make products that help people feel good.
Inclusivity and sustainability are cornerstones of Bloomi's mission, and that extends to the packaging, which is made from eco-friendly material and written in both English and Spanish. What stirs you to make products that are so thoughtful, from beginning to end?
Anything with Bloomi’s name on it is going to be as inclusive as possible. To speak to the Spanish part, in cosmetics, there's a trend, where there's English and sometimes English and French, right? And in the U.S., we have English, and then Spanish as a second primary language. So it doesn't make sense, for me, why we don't at least see [Spanish] more often. I'm not saying we should swap it out for French, we should have all languages, if possible.
Additionally, moving forward, we’re doing exclusives; one of the things that I saw going into 2020 was that we don't have as many Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) founders as I would want on the platform because it's hard to find companies in the [sexual wellness] category by BIPOC founders. So we've taken a couple of them and done exclusives with the [Bloomi] marketplace, with their secondary language on their packaging. We have somebody who’s Creole, and you'll see French and English on her packaging. We have somebody who may be also coming in, she's from Poland, so we're going to have Polish and English on her packaging. And it's just a way of them being able to share with the community and be part of two worlds almost.
Why is community—and even the idea of family—so powerful when it comes to navigating previously taboo subjects like sex and intimate health?
I'm Mexican, and my parents both immigrated here from Mexico. I think when you're a child of an immigrant, and when you're in the Latinx community, especially in the U.S., family is the core value, that’s how you grow up. That’s just who I am, and family is kind of the foundation for me. So I think being able to stay true to that core is why we see Bloomi morphing into like this inclusive family vibe.
One of the things I was worried about regarding working in the sexual wellness space, was that if I had children—before children—and they found some of the things that I was doing, I didn't want them to ever feel uncomfortable. I wanted Bloomi to be inviting enough, where if you have a preteen, or teen, and they find the website, it wouldn't be scary for them.
So I wanted to make sure that Bloomi is a family, like it is like homage to being a Latina and making sure that people feel like they belong, even if it is a brand and it sells direct-to-consumer products.
Speaking of being inviting for all ages, what are the values you hope the next generation will adopt when it comes to understanding their body and their sexuality?
Gen Z is amazing; they are the most radically inclusive generation we've ever seen, and they hold brands to a high standard. My 12-year-old daughter knows who's behind the brand and if they're eco-friendly. She knows what mission they’re tied to and if they have a give-back program, so I feel that being around her is a great reminder of what we want to sprinkle into Bloomi.
Gen Z reads a lot of our content, and they do shop a little, but primarily millennials shop with us. We know that the future is going to shift, and we know that Gen Z will be consumers of the products as well. So we want them to be exposed, to know about them and learn about them.
Gen Z is going to grow up knowing intimacy is a core value and that our sexual wellness is just something that we talk about. I feel like there's just going to be so many positive things that we see in the next 10 years, and [Bloomi is] trying to get ahead of that by working to inspire them and give them great content.
I have to ask—what’s currently the best-selling sex toy in Bloomi's marketplace?
Our best-selling sex toy right now is a product by Lelo called Sona 2; we cannot keep it in stock. It's a clitoral vibrator with suction, and you can use it on a low setting to have foreplay time or on a high setting to have a quick orgasm. It's versatile and price point-wise it's kind of in the middle [at $99], so I feel like it's more accessible, too.
What’s next for Bloomi in 2021 and beyond?
2021 is a high growth year for us. I want more people to know that they have access to us. We’re also going to continue to develop Bloomi products that make people feel good, and that don't exist in the U.S. or in a clean version. I'm really excited because in 2021—we're going to see all the things that we've started become bigger and better.
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