When you think of sexual wellness, your first thought may not be a hair ribbon or bar of soap. But Joyce Lee, founder of the intimacy-forward beauty line Her Place, wants to persuade you that beauty is more sensual than you realize.
Born and raised in Seoul, Korea, Lee moved to New York City as a teenager. She has a background in fashion, working as the e-commerce senior merchandising manager at Opening Ceremony (creative director Carol Lim is an adviser for Her Place—NBD). But in recent years, an interest in sexual wellness sparked the creation of Her Place, which launched in May 2021 with just two products: a scrunchie and a ribbon, both rendered from deadstock designer fabric.
The ribbon, Lee explains, is much more than just a hair accessory (it’s recommended for light bondage use, for instance). “It was almost like a club membership,” she tells BAZAAR.com. “It’s showing that you own your sexuality proudly. By wearing it during the day as fashion, it’s almost like winking at each other. You know, I see that she owns it and I own it, it’s a support system.”
A year later, the brand is entering its next phase with Her Scent, a line of bodycare products featuring “aphrodisiac” essential oils including tuberose, peppermint, and ylang-ylang. Products include a body oil gel, everywhere spray, and a handheld bar soap, the latter of which is molded to form to the body’s curves.
With sexuality as a core brand pillar, the launch comes at a pivotal cultural moment. “Somehow timing-wise, it worked out, because right now, there’s [increased] interest in sexual wellness,” Lee says. “But at the same time, oh, my God, there is [the potential repeal of] Roe v. Wade.” (The week we speak, news about the leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court that indicates the landmark case may be overturned breaks.) “It’s very disturbing. So we’re internally thinking about what we can do.”
With open-mindedness (as well as a partnership with the menstruation nonprofit PERIOD), Lee’s intention with Her Place is to break stereotypes for women of all backgrounds, particularly the AAPI community. But with Her Place, she thinks there’s a market “from everyday woman to dominatrix. I want to hit the whole spectrum.”
Now 42 and pregnant with her first child, Lee is building more than a brand; she’s creating a community. Here, Lee chats more about launching Her Place, the underlying sensuality behind her products, and what’s still to come.
How did you come up with the concept for Her Place?
It started three years ago [through a] conversation with my friend. That’s the year when I turned 40. I was going through egg freezing—there’s all these unfair biological things that women have to go through, but we don’t necessarily talk about it because of a lot of challenging reasons. And it’s a very lonely and challenging space.
It’s a very scary place, to talk about sexual wellness. I’m still not 100 percent comfortable, but that’s exactly the reason why I need to do it. The more women I talk to, they empower me and motivate me even more. I mean, I’m no expert—I’m also learning that that’s what differentiates me, maybe, in sexual wellness. I want to collaborate with experts, and then create communities. So I think my job is to open a platform, so we can have the safe conversation, a safe space; that’s the number-one thing.
The brand story centers around empowering Asian American women and breaking stereotypes when it comes to sex in particular. Can you share a bit more about what that means to you?
From my personal experience, there’s extra layers, extra pressure of how we should be. Like, for example, I was an on-and-off Christian—I’m trying to be Christian, I am. Believe it or not, until, like, [my] early 20s, I was saving myself. I thought that was a good thing. But later realized that it’s not necessarily … I mean, it’s good if other people believe it, but for me, I realized that I would not do that. If I have a daughter, I would never [raise her to] do that. So I think that sex education is important for woman to experience, but obviously in a safe, trusted environment.
The reason I launched it in last May, in a rush, is because of the heightened anti-Asian hate crimes. Of course, the Atlanta shooting also speaks volumes to how women are sexually objectified, especially Asian women. There’s a crazy stereotype and taboo. It’s because it’s deeply rooted in our history. So I think it’s our job—for our community to share more stories, and then, of course, for our allies to put extra effort in to learn why [that is].
So you moved up the launch in support of the Stop Asian Hate movement that was happening last year?
Yeah, I wasn’t ready to launch. But it was May, AAPI Heritage Month. And that was around the time of the peak of anti-Asian hate crimes.
You originally launched with accessories. What does Her Ribbon symbolize?
The ribbon, for me, represents womanhood. I think it’s universally understood. It’s like tying us, holding together. And then, it could represent [anything] from a child’s dress bow to bondage in the bedroom. So to me, that explains that a woman is never one-dimensional. There’s a whole spectrum of women—you can be sweet, innocent, but you can also be sexual, and that’s not wrong.
And then, it’s also a soft restraint. I love that [concept of] women in power in the bedroom. So you can have control in your bedroom or your partner [can]. I love that freedom. It’s also easy accessibility—you wear it during the day, and then you never know where you end up. From the fashion perspective to the concept and functionality, I thought it was easy for everyone to know what the ribbon is, but you don’t know how it can be used. There are a lot of meanings, layers.
How did you land on the signature Her Scent?
My intention from the get-go was to create sensory experiences that are pleasure driven. I wanted to create something that’s differentiated from other products already out there. And then, something I want to use and clean, safe, and with premium ingredients. Because the whole point is for women to have this pleasure product next to your nightstand, proudly. Some people might be like, “Oh, I wanna hide it.” I didn’t want it to do that.
It was important for me to use some essential oil that has aphrodisiac effects, but it’s subtle. It’s slowly introducing sexual wellness. Because not everyone is comfortable with their sexuality. So I wanted to have that be the bridge.
Foremost, I always emphasize the most important relationship is with yourself, so you don’t have to use it with your partner. You could just feel good when you go out with your girlfriends.
Then, I love the story of tuberose. Apparently, there’s a story that when the tuberose blossoms in France, they used to not let young women go outside, because it would make them aroused.
The design is such an important part of the brand. Can you share more about the packaging?
For Her Bar Soap, Her Everywhere Spray, and Her Body Oil, we worked with designer Jean Lee from Ladies & Gentlemen Studio. I showed her a mood board and all the models I love. I wanted to make sure it was frosted glass, so it has a sensual, sexy element. Then also, it’s the woman’s curve that’s represented, and [the top] is like the belly button. She came up with [the idea], like, “Oh, I think fruit is very sensual.” And then, what it represents in the biblical story, Adam and Eve, and fertility—all this representation. We also wanted to make sure it’s not plastic, and the wood is very close to nature. And for me, romance is very important, so it’s love-letter themed, handwritten.
We wanted the products to be both beautiful and alluring, much like a woman’s body. It looks as good as it feels. And adds a little romance to your nightstand or wherever you choose to display it. We aim for her, him, or them to recognize the overall quality.
What’s next for Her Place?
Her Sex Life. I want to continue to create pleasure-driving/oriented products for Her Place, such as Her Scent candles and Bookmark paper incense. We are also in talks with fashion and designer brands for a potential collaboration. My goal is to partner across all categories from beauty and fashion to home—bedding, lighting, furniture—lifestyle, and beyond.
Also, as I’m becoming a new mom, I want to expand to the mother and baby categories in the near future, focusing on the content first. I don’t want to create any products if they are not needed, which is our philosophy.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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