Next time you see someone in the subway lugging a bulky blue Ikea bag, they might be building their own beauty empire. That’s how it was for Karen Young in the early days of her company, Oui Shave.
“I spent many days trucking my Ikea bag full of orders on the train and getting a lot of nasty stares,” Young recalls.
That was back in early 2016, when she was working full-time at her day job and pursuing her passion project: a line of shaving products designed to disrupt the status quo in razors marketed to women.
“We’re reimagining what the razor would look like if it was made with the best intentions for women,” Young says. Manufacturers didn’t understand why someone would make a new kind of razor when so many were on the market already. To Young, the reason was simple: she wanted a product that wouldn’t cause razor burn, ingrown hairs, or other unsightly shaving by-products. Oui!
“The experience many women had with shaving was that it was impacting their confidence,” Young said. “It’s embarrassing to show up with razor burn.”
She eventually found an interested manufacturer, in a small German town that has specialized in razors for many generations. She worked with them to produce a glamorous take on the safety razor. And yes, she made it gold. Oui!
Once she had a product, Young started to hustle, emailing hundreds of editors each night after work. One morning, she awoke to find a reply from Refinery29. After a glowing write-up a few weeks later, the Oui Shave orders started to pile in, just in time for the holidays. Cue the Ikea bag.
Since then, Oui Shave’s momentum hasn’t waned. Young quit her job, hired two employees, and snagged a $180,000 prize at the NYC Creator Awards. Young, who bootstrapped her company from $1,500 to profitable, plans to pour the new influx of cash into improving the Oui Shave site. Like many other buzzy new products, Oui Shave is direct-to-consumer, so her site is critical to how she tells her brand’s story to customers. So far, the beautiful imagery and luxe packaging have resonated with consumers. Well, that “and the fact that we’re tired of using products that have been handed to us, and often made by men,” Young says.
Finding a new generation
Young first saw a safety razor in action as a little girl growing up in Guyana, South America.
“I was raised unconventionally by my grandmother and my three uncles,” she says. “It was three men, a grandma, and a little lady.”
Many mornings, she had watched her uncles shaving with safety razors. With this image in the back of her mind, she first thought her customers would be women 35 to 45 who had seen their grandmothers or other older relatives using a similar product. Instead, her customers turned out to be mostly millennials, who saw the product as something new, something that hadn’t been done before. “They’re coming up in a time when there’s more products targeted to them,” Young says.
Sisterhood of founders
Products serving these millennial women have popped up in recent years, including brands such as Lola, tampons made without synthetics, and Thinx, underwear that absorbs menstrual blood. Young says she feels a kinship with these women-centric, women-founded brands.
“Right now there’s a movement happening around women,” Young says. “There’s a less rigid conversation happening around female products and the female body.”
Based in Brooklyn, Young has found a sisterhood with other female entrepreneurs, including Lauren Schulte, founder of the Flex Company.
“Karen has deep expertise in new product development, and has been able to give us advice on that part of our business,” Schulte says. “I have experience raising a seed round of funding and have been able to help her think through her fundraising strategy.”
While Young has received valuable advice and made her own way by bootstrapping and enlisting her friends and fiancé to help mail hundreds of orders (with free pizza as payment), she says she’s felt frustrated by the lack of funding options.
“There are a lot of roadblocks there,” she says. “We are considering going the venture capital route. To do that, we have to prove we’re a billion-dollar exit. That’s fine, and we can do that, but what’s worrisome about raising venture capital is that it’s not terribly friendly to female founders and black female founders. Many times women are creating products for an audience they know intimately. But quite often if you’re talking to male investors, that’s not something they really understand immediately.”
In her journey as a founder, Young has seen her idea go from Guyana to Brooklyn, then Brooklyn to Germany. Now she hopes that her razors can become an heirloom product, handed down, woman to woman. Oui!