Talking about one’s nether regions has always been an incredibly sensitive topic, where children would be hushed by parents if they should even mention their ‘private parts’, and a taboo was born. But taboos can be dangerous things, if we do not speak of them, and bring into the open the knowledge we need to better deal with it. As a champion of personal healthcare, Cynthia Chua knows this all too well, and has made it her mission to overcome the taboo of proper vulva care, with the launch of her company TWO LIPS, the world’s first luxury intimate care range for the vulva.
While it may seem like an uphill task, Cynthia Chua is more than game for the challenge, having founded Strip – Ministry of Waxing back in conservative Singapore in the early 2000s, and made the virtually unknown form of self-care go mainstream. Cynthia knows exactly how to roll out a campaign for better self-care, no matter how controversial, and for TWO LIPS to take off, she’s combining both information, and even art (through cheekily-titled art show The Voyage To The Vulva-verse) to get people talking. We spoke to Cynthia (also founder of the Spa Esprit Group) to find out the motivation behind this business, how she keeps it all in check, and her hopes for the future of vulva care in Singapore and beyond.
Read the interview in full below:
Bakchormeeboy: What was the spark of inspiration that made you decide to embark on this campaign?
Cynthia: The Vulva Verse stems from the need to open up the conversation about the vulva, to advocate that there is nothing to be ashamed or uncomfortable about this feminine body part and that it should be celebrated and treated with respect. Being in the business of hair removal for the past 20 years, we realised that our friends and clients are still uncomfortable to have open conversations about the issues, their insecurities or questions regarding the vulva area. Many of them confide and seek advice from our therapists and now it is time to normalise this conversation. We started this movement to champion this, to break taboos and change perspectives.
It is also our continuous journey of advocating freedom and personal choice when it comes to vulva care. My goal has always been for women to be completely body confident. I’ve always believed that women need to reclaim our vulvas as an asset that deserves the same amount of love, care and attention as our face and the rest of our body.
STRIP and TWO L(I)PS embody those values of being body confident, by providing cutting-edge products and services that cater to the needs of women, to allow them to be more confident with themselves. Yet, there is still a long way to go when it comes to embracing our vulvas wholeheartedly, and that is where the campaign Voyage To The Vulva-verse comes in. I realised that I wanted to drive a larger conversation about vulva care and get as many people in the conversation as possible. I wanted vulva care to be as commonplace a topic as possible, not something to be embarrassed about and kept under wraps.
Bakchormeeboy: As CEO of the Spa Esprit Group, you have multiple businesses under your wing, ranging from F&B to beauty. Why did you decide to circle back to vulva health again, in relation to setting up Two Lips more recently?
Cynthia: When I started STRIP at Holland Village in 2002, there was no body hair grooming culture, and brazilian waxing was considered a taboo. It was a challenging journey from the start but we persevered and made brazilian waxing fun and approachable through quirky and humorous campaigns. Now, STRIP has groomed over 4 million bushes world-wide, and is available in 12 cities across the globe. We have made hair removal a norm; it is now a basic body grooming regime.
I felt that this is the right time for us to take the next step of vulva care, to elevate the vulva and open up the conversation. When I first started TWO L(I)PS in 2018, the concept of vulva care and having a line of luxurious vulva care products was so new, we had to educate about the benefits and why we should be loving and caring for the vulva area. Now, TWO L(I)PS has been in the market for 3 years, and through customer needs, has expanded its range to 14 cutting-edge vulva care products.
Over the years, in our conversations with our customers and friends, we realised that Singaporeans do see a need for vulva care and want to put in that extra self-care to love themselves more. I believe that the market is ready to celebrate and elevate the vulva. This is the right time to take a step forward for TWO L(I)PS, to open up the conversation further and really uncover the naked truth about women and their vulvas.
Bakchormeeboy: What would you say is the most prevalent myth when it comes to vulva health, and how people can combat it?
Cynthia: One of the most prevalent myths is that the vulva is self-cleaning! That is not true – the vagina cleans itself through discharge, while the vulva is skin and needs to be cleaned and cared for just like the rest of our body. Most people believe that using body soap, which we use to clean the rest of the body, is good for the vulva. However they are not aware that body soaps are mostly alkaline and can be too harsh for our intimate regions. The vulva is acidic and needs a gentle soap with pH 4-6 to keep it balanced and healthy.
TWO L(I)PS products are created as a targeted solution for the vulva — the external part of the female sexual anatomy, a sum of many parts, including the skin of the mon pubis (pubic area), which is not self-cleaning. With that in mind, TWO L(I)PS products are free of sulfates, parabens, petrochemicals and are all dermatologically and gynaecologically tested to be safe for use from your face to vulva.
Bakchormeeboy: Was there a reason your team decided to work together with Hatch Art Project as an exhibition space? Do you think the location/space has helped draw more visitors in?
Cynthia: Hatch Art Project has the perfect floor space to house the 8 artworks from our local artists, it is spacious enough but yet cozy. Tiong Bahru is close to my heart, we love the mix of people, the old and the new, the east and the west juxtaposition, the architecture and vibe. It attracts a wide array of visitors and to have this exhibition amidst an environment for leisurely cafe hopping, shopping etc makes it more approachable, fun and accessible. It is also in line with the whole vibe of normalising the conversation of the vulva as it is not tucked away in a discreet gallery.
Bakchormeeboy: Considering how taboo or ‘adult’ the theme is, how do you think we can make education around proper vulva health and care more accessible to people from a much younger age? Are there any products that could assist younger people with regards to vulva care?
Cynthia: We can’t deny that the vulva is an extremely important part of our overall health and wellness. Many parents tend to avoid speaking about the topic with their children, simply because talking about the intimate regions is not part of society’s norm. Rather than keeping the subject hush hush, open conversations will equip younger people with the knowledge and tools to better navigate their vulva health and wellness.
Education comes through in different ways, and one of them is through art – this is why I decided to kick off Voyage To The Vulva-verse with an art exhibition. Through my experience with building STRIP and TWO L(I)PS, we find that the best way to broach sensitive or controversial topics is through wittiness, cheekiness and humour. Art is an accessible way to introduce this topic, especially to the younger generation, and get them talking. Through art, we approach the topic through the perspectives of other people – the artists – and learn about our true thoughts and opinions about the topic through our interaction with the art piece. Plus, art has always been in STRIP and TWO L(I)PS’ DNA!
Vulva care products are for everyone, regardless of age – or even gender! All of TWO L(I)PS’ 14 products are gynecologist and dermatologist tested, and suitable for all skin types. If you’re just starting out with vulva care and not sure which products to get, the Prebiotic range of 5 products is a great starter kit. With a gentle cleanser, scrub, moisturiser, sleepover, sunscreen, this forms your basic vulva care routine, and is suitable for use over the rest of your body as well.
Bakchormeeboy: Not every passion can necessarily be turned into a business, but you’ve managed to do all that and more (e.g. campaigns to help people) with the many brands under Spa Esprit. How do you manage to juggle so many brands under the one group, from F&B to health and beauty, and what would you say the Spa Esprit group as a whole stands for?
Cynthia: I’ve learnt that it is important to have a strong team and to empower them so that they are confident to run the brands. For Spa Esprit Group, I focus on directing the group’s vision, communications, succession planning, and also connecting talents. I’m constantly innovating and thinking of new disruptive ideas to become better.
Spa Esprit Group is all about impacting people’s lives positively. From eating well, living well, and caring for your body, mind and soul, and that is embodied in all my businesses. It is also about bridging the gap in the market, to offer creative brands with top notch quality, elevating the cultural landscape as well as to put Singapore on a global platform. For example, some of my F&B brands were built based on the idea of edible gardens, and natural wine. Our beauty portfolio is also about empowering women to be more confident. It’s not about forcing women to conform to a certain beauty standard, rather, it’s about providing the options so that women can have the freedom to choose.
Bakchormeeboy: Would you say that this voyage into the vulva-verse excludes people without vulvas from the conversation? How can these people educate themselves about vulvas, and then use that knowledge to help those around them?
Cynthia: I don’t think it excludes people without vulvas – you don’t need to have a vulva to talk about it. Insecurity, shame surrounding our intimate areas don’t only apply to people with vulvas – everyone can relate to it in one way or another. Moreover, we welcome all genders partaking in the conversation, and in some ways, this conversation cannot happen without talking about it in relation to the other.
Bakchormeeboy: The voyage to the vulva-verse certainly doesn’t end here, with more to come in the following months. What’s your long term vision for this project, and how do you hope others will end up joining you on this journey?
Cynthia: My long term vision is for everyone to love their vulvas more, to treat it with love just like the rest of the body, and to be able to talk about the vulva without shame or embarrassment. Voyage To The Vulva-verse is just the starting point, we hope the public can share their personal opinions through our poll – which refreshes every 3 months with new vulva related topics. We will also have 16 SKUs in the TWO L(I)PS range by the end of the year, complementing each other yet addressing a specific need. You can easily mix and match the products based on your concerns.