Founder Dr. Shannon Klingman Plans To Keep Lume Weird Post-Harry’s Acquisition
Sometimes an acquisition leads to the dilution or outright erasure of the acquired brand’s DNA. Shannon Klingman, the OB-GYN founder of Lume, wants consumers not to worry about that happening to the direct-to-consumer all-over deodorant brand recently purchased by Harry’s. She swears its education, irreverence and humor (Lume delights in talking about stinky butts) aren’t going anywhere.
“We definitely lean more into the 12-year-old boy humor,” says Klingman. “But I think, as willing as I am to be vulnerable about my own experiences as a woman, it allows women to identify with me even more deeply. If I’m not willing to be really vulnerable and open and transparent and not take myself too seriously, I don’t know that we would’ve gotten as far as a brand. Harry’s is very much aligned with that ‘not take yourself so seriously’ approach to our marketing.”
Beauty Independent spoke to Klingman about her evolution from doctor to founder and the role she’ll play in Lumē’s evolution as a Harry’s-owned brand. Candidly, though, we mostly chatted about B.O.: Why it happens and how Lumē makes it optional.
How does it feel to be Harry’s’ inaugural investment?
What I love about Harry’s is Andy [Katz-Mayfield] and Jeff [Raider] were scrappy founders just like me at a time, and they’ve grown into a bigger brand that still has the mindset of the founder. They remain very entrepreneurial and innovative, and they love to bring products to market that consumers will love and serve a need that other companies maybe haven’t thought about in the same way. It was incredibly refreshing to meet with them and know that they see things through a very similar lens as I do. I’m really excited and honored to be the first of hopefully other opportunities for them in the future.
Who is the Lume consumer?
Because I’m a woman and I’m a gynecologist, while Lumē is definitely for everyone, the majority of our consumers are the purchasers of the household, which tend to be women, meaning they’re purchasing it for themselves and other people that they love. The men who find us [do so] either themselves or through women that they care about that might be purchasing it for them.
We have plenty of male customers. Women do not have a monopoly on body odor. Certainly, this is a product that’s very effective for men as well. I think, as we start to embrace some differences in our packaging or marketing and the stories that we might tell, it could be that it’s not someone saying, “Hey, trust your gynecologist, Lumē is for you too, guys.” I think, because I’m a gynecologist, that messaging just resonated much more strongly with women.
Is there a part of your founding story or your path to acquisition that you feel hasn’t been told as clearly as you’d like?
I think what most people tend to be the most interested in right out of the gates is, what were the details of the deal and, while we’re not disclosing those, Lume is an incredibly exciting brand that’s disrupting the odor control space in a way that really only a gynecologist, perhaps influenced by the fact that I was a woman, was able to identify.
As a founder, I think that founders are a group of individuals that would just die trying. We glamorize the success that brands have, but we really don’t maybe talk enough about what’s under the tip of the iceberg. We look like we we’re overnight successes, but I’ve definitely put in my 10,000 hours on odor control and invested that time as a physician.
So, while we’re talking about really exciting things, just to be clear, it is not an easy path. Starting a brand and the things that you sacrifice as a founder, I think there tends to be less focus on that piece of it. It’s been a really exciting journey, but you really have to be able to take your knocks and stand back up as a founder. That’s the part of it that I find the most exciting, how you got here versus you’ve now arrived.
We’re seeing more doctors shift to becoming beauty, personal care and wellness brand founders. What’s the path like from doctor to founder?
I think [doctors] have the benefit of life experience that not everyone has, with the intense rigor of the education and training process. But, then, as physicians, we’re really teachers first. A really effective physician is listening to what my patients were sharing with me that resonated with me as a woman. I noticed that there was this common thread between patients as well as myself as a woman, there was this solidarity.
The feminine hygiene aisle at pharmacies is filled with misinformation, and there’s the shame that comes with those centuries-old myths about how odors form on our bodies as women that really required somebody who was willing to take that on, and that’s what I did. I would say that that’s the reason I went to medical school and the reason that I’m standing here right now was to change the narrative on human hygiene.
Are you still a practicing doctor?
I’ve been able to keep up my board certification, but I’m not practicing. The best part about being a founder and owning your own business is that you get to pick which 16 hours a day you want to work. I like the flexibility that that brought, but it is incredibly intense, and there was no way that I would’ve been able to practice medicine and have the brand. [Founding the brand] has required a partnership with my husband, [he] has had to pick up a lot of the other side of the box in a more significant way for me to be able to launch and now run Lumē.
What will be your role at Lume be going forward?
I’m really grateful that, through this acquisition by Harry’s of Lume, they have had really strong interest and genuinely still value my contribution to Lumē as a leader. I’ll be continuing on as CEO and the voice of the brand. They’re backing me 100%, which I absolutely love. I still get to lead the brand and the vision. They’re very much aligned with where I see Lumē headed. They really helped me to realize where my core strengths are and where I would need to be spending most of my time to get Lumē in the hands of even more people as we move forward. That is very much front and center.
Can you share anything about retail expansion post-acquisition?
We’ve been exclusively a direct-to-consumer business, on our site and on Amazon, and there are definitely opportunities to continue to optimize that space. Our superpower is direct-to-consumer, but there are forward-thinking goals to get Lume in the places where people love to shop the most. Those conversations and considerations are happening in real time, but the priority is to optimize what we’re doing right now.
I’m a problem solver by nature. I have a lot of ideas around new products and product line extensions and new categories. I would say that one of my superpowers is product development. I know that Harry’s is keenly interested in what those ideas are, but primarily I think our priority together is optimizing the products that we have right now in our line, while we’re working secondarily on product line extensions and new categories.
A category Lume entered recently is laundry. Tell us about that.
The Lumē Biofilm Buster launched the summer of 2021. Odor is something we’ve been talking about since the day we launched. That core message is that I realize that body odor really does happen in two places, on your skin and in your clothes. When you sweat into your clothes, the bacteria that’s singed there and other microorganisms as well, they digest the sweat, dead skin cells, fabric softeners and fragrance compounds, and they actually consume it as a form of energy.
Then, it releases this byproduct, which is odor in your clothes. This is going to get really gross here: They excrete compounds— sugars and proteins—and even their genetic material that kind of fuses together and forms like a concrete that adheres to clothing that makes it difficult to wash out. It continues to accumulate over time.
So, when you’ve showered and put on deodorant, and you smell in a few hours, the chances are it’s probably in your clothes. It’s not your deodorant letting you down in that number of hours. To the degree that people would think Lumē let them down and they had breakthrough body odor, I was incredibly motivated to eliminate body odor in clothing as well. The Biofilm Buster is one step closer to enlightening people with education, which I think our deodorant does as well. Our advertising is educational and entertaining at the same time.
Our message has resonated with consumers from the very beginning, that body odor that happens in clothing. We were recommending other products on the market, but realized that they really were not addressing it specifically with the intent that I felt that a product needed to. So, I launched Lumē Biofilm Buster.
What do you think sets Lume apart from other feminine hygiene brands?
Lume is the first deodorant to talk about body odor in a very different way, and the science of Lumē is very different from anything else on the market. I think we’ll be the brand that’s leading the charge in this space for sure. We’ve had the courage to approach the messaging in a way that’s resonating with consumers. It’s resonated since day one.
At first, I think consumers would pause and say, “You’re telling people that they have vaginal odor,” but we really spent the time to educate our consumer to say that the feminine hygiene industry is so broken. If you walk down the aisle, you’ll see that they’re blaming the vagina, physicians are over-diagnosing women with vaginal conditions they don’t have as a way of explaining and remedying odor concerns that women have.
I don’t know that anybody historically has ever taken the time to say, “Wow, we’re blaming the vagina for all odor below the belt, but it’s likely happening on the outside.” I think I was the first one to ever speak to that. Lumē was all about busting that myth. Initially, when we did get pushback, even from consumers, it was a louder minority that felt like we were right in that feminine hygiene category shaming women for odor below the belt.
It’s quite the opposite. We are enlightening people with education about how odors form on our bodies and, no matter where they happen, those reactions are all the same, and Lumē blocks odor, no matter where it begins. So, all body odor is now optional with Lumē.
We’re not instructing people that being odor-free is better. We’re saying, “Should you choose to eliminate odors anywhere on your body, Lumē is a great defense against that.” As of right now, we are in a sea of one. I think that we are still the frontrunner on that messaging that I think it’s very refreshing messaging around how body odors form and how you eliminate odors anywhere on your body—and it’s been received really well by the consumer.
Is there anything we haven’t touched upon that you’re excited about?
I’m super excited to be the brand that is leading the charge on disrupting the way we talk about body odor. I’ve come a really long way already, but I can still see that there is a long way to go. When I think about odor control, even in different populations where whole body odor control could provide people with increased dignity, there are more stories to tell there, there are more ways to reach Lumē worldwide.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.