Dame Acquires Fellow Sexual Wellness Brand Emojibator
Sexual wellness brand Dame has acquired sex toy maker Emojibator for an undisclosed sum.
Alexandra Fine, co-founder and CEO of Dame, will oversee both brands, while Emojibator founder Joe Vela will transition into the role of director of sales at Dame. Emojibator is continuing to operate under its brand name and be sold through its e-commerce website as well as existing retail partners like adult novelty concepts Lovers Stores and The Pleasure Parlor, lifestyle chain Urban Outfitters and e-tailer Verishop. Dame’s distribution overlaps with Emojibator’s at the latter two and other select retailers.
There remains some trepidation among institutional investors to jump into the sexual health and wellness segment, and brands within it are sidestepping that apprehension by increasingly striking their own deals. In December, sex education platform Allbodies sold to period care brand The Flex Company, marking the company’s first strategic acquisition. Dame’s acquisition of Emojibator isn’t expected to be its last.
Dame’s 2023 search for a new director of sales led to its deal with Emojibator. Fine has known Vela and Kristin Fretz, his co-founder at Emojibator, for years. Vela reached out to Fine to express interest in the position and presented the idea of Dame buying Emojibator along with him stepping into it. Dame’s subsequent purchase of Emojibator happened quickly. The initial conversation between Fine and Vela happened in April, and the deal was sealed in July.
Recounting her early conversation with Vela about the director of sales position and Dame taking over Emojibator, Fine says, “I said, ‘If you want to open up the hood, let’s look inside and see what’s happening, but I would love that idea.’” Vela, who envisions Emojibator as its customers’ “best first sex toy,” says, “Since I started the brand, Dame was my first choice of who I wanted to exit to.”
Around the time Vela presented Dame with the idea of acquiring Emojibator the brand had already begun exploring the possibility of acquiring other companies. Although Emojibator and Dame could be considered competitors, Vela and Fine suggest sexual health and well-being manifest differently for different people, and the combination of Emojibator and Dame can help grow the joint company’s customer base.
As its portmanteau brand name indicates, Emojibator makes vibrators fashioned after emojis. It launched in 2016 with an Eggplant-shaped device that quickly went viral. More fun and irreverent shapes followed, most under $50 and all under $80, along with accessibly priced lubricants and other sexual play products. Dame takes a more refined approach to the category with elevated designs and higher price points. Four of its devices are $100 or above.
“We have a lot of operational efficiencies,” says Fine. “I think Dame feels sharper too now that we have Emojibator. So much of what Dame has always been trying to say is that pleasure is fundamental to healthy sex. We’ve always been very intentional with how we are fun because we don’t want to diminish the importance or seem like we’re trivializing sexual wellness through jokes and silliness.”
There’s a precedent for multi-brand portfolios in the sexual wellness industry. Founded over a decade ago by Alicia Sinclair, COTR Inc. has Le Wand and B-vibe in its stable. Lelo launched women’s pelvic floor health brand Intimina in 2011. XR Brands, which has been around since 2007, has a portfolio with 40 brands, including Tom of Finland and Wand Essentials. Instead of creating redundancy, the strategy is for these companies’ sub-brands to speak to distinct audiences and make their overall revenue pie bigger.
“Ultimately people want things that are for them,” says Fine. “It makes sense to me that XR Brands is so successful, and I hope to be XR brands one day, but also very different than XR Brands, of course.”
Fine points out Dame’s focus on the health and wellness side of sex distinguishes it from XR Brands. In 2023, it launched Desire gummy ingestibles. In January, it introduced at-home testing kits for sexually transmitted infections.
Dame also switched up its retail distribution last year. In early 2022, the brand was part of Sephora’s celebrated sexual wellness launch in the United States, but it subsequently exited the retailer domestically and entered Target, where the brand is able to be sold on shelves. In the U.S., Sephora has yet to bring sex toys into stores. Dame is still available at Sephora abroad.
Fine describes the decision to depart Sephora as one of the “hardest moments for me at Dame, it was really sad.” Ultimately, she has faith Sephora will place sex toys in its stores in the near future. “That’s going to happen,” says Fine. “They are fighting. I really only have positive things to say about Sephora.”
Notably, Sephora replaced the Dame-sized hole in its sexual wellness device offering with Smile Makers. When the retailer announced the launch on its social media channels, many consumers voiced their disapproval.
Since its launch in 2014, Dame has raised $13 million mostly over seed and series A rounds in 2021 and 2022, respectively. A few of its investors are Amboy Street Ventures, Listen Ventures, Flybridge, Echo and Forest Road Company. Fine conferred with Dame’s board about the Emojibator deal. Their input was beneficial because, in addition to being knowledgable about Dame, some have portfolio companies that have successfully executed similar deals. Of course, the Emojibator deal could impact Dame’s exit opportunities and its investors’ returns with any exit.
Fine keeps Dame’s potential exit in mind as she’s steering its expanding ship. “I think about the customers first and the health of the business and if it makes sense for us financially,” she says. “That’s where I’m going to start. Then, I think through, OK, what will this look like for an acquisition? Does it make sense? In some cases it does, in some cases it doesn’t.”