“Our mission is to really destigmatize the word vagina,” asserts Lauren Steinberg, founder of feminine wellness brand Queen V. “We’re trying to make [feminine hygiene care] a more open discussion, make it a little less taboo.”
The 24-year-old launched her line a month ago, and she’s already garnered over $650,000 in sales. The collection includes vaginal washes, cleansing wipes, deodorants, and lubes in Lisa Frank-colored packaging with kitschy copy. There’s even a daily oral probiotic to promote a healthy, balanced yeast and bacteria, albeit aided with trendy ingredients like turmeric.
Essentially, Steinberg wants to make feminine care fun, approachable, and maybe even cool, for millennial consumers.
“We take a really easy approach to a topic that I think most women find really confusing and embarrassing,” explains Steinberg. She found the landscape hard to navigate, even though her own father is a gynecologist. Her circle of friends were equally as frustrated, and few had brands they could recommend despite the fact that three out of four women get a yeast infection at least once in their lifetime. Roughly 25% of infections are UTIs.
Overwhelmed by the variety of brands with complicated directions at the pharmacy, Steinberg often found herself phoning her mother to ask her father for recommendations.
“I’d tell her, ‘Don’t tell him it’s me asking,'” admits Steinberg. “That whole thing was awkward.”
The game of telephone ultimately inspired Steinberg to quit her a job as a brand development coordinator at a talent agency and focus full-time on creating a line that incorporated all of a modern women’s hygienic needs, instead of the à la carte system that previously existed.
Within a year, the young entrepreneur worked alongside her father and a team of doctors to design a three-step process: maintenance (cleansers), “enjoying your V” (lubricants), and healing (urinary tract support products and suppositories). Most of the products are meant for daily use, save for the healing category.
Steinberg also gave significant attention to the feel and design of the line, noting that competitors “blended together” on supermarket shelves or boasted cheesy, outdated names. “None of the products really stood out to me,” she says, “we wanted our packaging to be young, tough and sexy, kind of like the ideal Queen V woman.”
Queen V products come in bright neon colors and boast tongue-in-cheek names like “swipe right wipes,” “make it reign,” or “p.s. I lube you.” By using a fun, lighthearted approach, Steinberg hopes to rebrand vaginal care, and maybe even brighten up one’s bathroom shelf.
“From the directions to the claims, everything is written in a way that is easy to understand,” says Steinberg. “We’re taking a simple approach to a topic that is so confusing.”
The newly launched line also incorporates a higher percentage of natural ingredients than its big-box predecessors. Aiming to satisfy millennials’ interest in better-for-you ingredients, the collection features rosewater, green tea, berry extract, coconut oil, and organic aloe. Essential oils replace synthetic fragrances, while a majority of the products are paraben- and glycerin-free. A recent Harris Poll survey found that 73% of millennial women seek out cleaner, more natural beauty and self-care products.
“We’re also really into the idea of educating women as to why they should know what they’re putting into their bodies,” says Steinberg. “I always say, ‘You only get one body, you should treat it right.'”
Despite having what she felt was a firm business plan, Steinberg found raising money particularly challenging. Trying to explain to male investors the complications of feminine hygiene and UTIs was less than encouraging. Many would reply with, “Oh, let me talk to my my wife about this,” or “Let me consult my daughter,” without ever following up. Even male executives of health-focused companies showed little enthusiasm.
“I was told by a male that I was just a girl with a company that hadn’t launched yet,” recalls Steinberg. “That lit a fire under my butt.”
Queen V’s big break came in the form of a personal introduction in early November 2017. Steinberg’s boyfriend was friendly with Andy Dunn, the former CEO of bonobos, which Walmart acquired last June. When Dunn heard about Queen V’s vision for reimagining women’s wellness, Dunn reportedly responded: “Can you get her on a plane to Bentonville, Arkansas, tomorrow?”
Steinberg flew to Walmart’s corporate office in Arkansas the next morning, and within the month, she secured an exclusive contract with the retailer. At the time, Queen V had locked in manufacturers (a whopping eight of them), but nothing was in production. The Queen V founder quickly hopped into an accelerated mode, requesting over 100,000 units of every SKU by mid January.
“My manufacturers hated me,” laughs Steinberg. “They thought I was some crazy 24-year-old.”
While Steinberg is still amazed that Walmart took a chance on a young entrepreneur who had never run a company before, she does think there are benefits to her age, or more precisely, her naiveté. Being “green” shielded her from paralyzing fear.
“I think if I had known what I was getting into–like that having eight manufacturers for 11 products was insane–Queen V wouldn’t be what it is today,” she explains. The multiple contracts, for example, ensure that each product stems from the manufacturer best suited to its needs. All the products were made in the U.S. and FDA-approved, underwent rigorous testing by Walmart, and reviewed by board-certified gynecologists.
In mid-April, Queen V finally made its Walmart debut in 4,000 locations. The line starts at the low price of $3.57, with the majority hovering at roughly $5. In just one month, the startup proved that there are indeed plenty of women, like Steinberg, who want their feminine care fuss-free and with a flash of flair.
“Now that I’ve made half a million dollars in sales one month, I think people are really starting to take me seriously,” says Steinberg. The brand continues to grow week over week, outpacing itself by nearly 10% each week since launch.
For the time being, Queen V is only available at Walmart and on Walmart.com. But in time, Steinberg envisions a direct-to-consumer alternative, as well as expanding the collection to more areas of care. “There are a few markets that could use a little Queen V touch,” she hints. The Los Angeles-based office boasts eight staff members–all women and all millennials.
And now that Steinberg spent 18 months openly discussing vaginal concerns–including her own–with Silicon Valley, she no longer needs to hide her embarrassment. Or sneak health questions through her mom.
“If you had asked me to talk about my vagina in front of men one year ago, I would have turned bright red. I would have not done it,” she says, “But now I’ve gotten used to it. I’m proud of it.”