Introducing Shari Bollers, founder of Self Love Club
Self Love Club (SLC) was founded by Shari Bollers in 2019, it’s a platform dedicated to supporting, empowering and educating BAME women on their mental and sexual wellbeing as Shari believes that mental wellbeing and sexual wellbeing are linked. Let’s hear more from Shari...
Can you please tell us a bit about your business and how it came into being?
Through the platform I educate, bring attention and awareness to these taboo subjects by creating a resource of information (around sex tech and sexuality), to get people started on their journey and showcase that it’s more than about sex. It’s not just vibrators and sex robots, but toys, products (lubes, creams, intimate hygiene, bush oil, contraception to name but a few), apps, books, virtual reality, porn, platforms, services etc. Sex tech is on its way to being a billion-pound industry but it doesn’t represent all womxn, whether in the products, algorithms, data, ads etc? The industry is not diverse enough (yet) and this is my action to change the industry.
Female sex tech is a diverse and rich industry with some amazing women leading the way. It focuses on education, pleasure and intimacy but also on essential women's issues such as menstruation, endometriosis, fertility, and menopause - the whole life cycle of being a woman.
SLC aims to create safe and sex-positive spaces (online and IRL) to have conversations free from guilt, shame, embarrassment and awkwardness. I am Intentional in the spaces I create and use feedback from the community to create events, marketing and strategy around it.
I facilitate these conversations by holding workshops, check-in and talks, covering topics like self-care, anxiety, self-love, intimacy, fetishisation of black and brown bodies, misogynoir etc.
I also look to work in tandem and collaborate with allies, not to exclude them, because diversity shouldn’t be divisive.
Why did you want to start up a business? What was your motivation?
I had an idea and I wanted to see if it had legs. I couldn't be sure if it would become a viable business or if anyone would be interested in it, but I was driven by a deeper purpose and curiosity, so I had to take the chance.
Not only did I want to remove the stigma around discussing mental and sexual wellbeing and normalise these discussions but I wanted to see more diversity in the sex tech and sexual wellness industry.
My motivation was based around going to events, meeting all these great people, finding out about all these amazing products but not seeing other BAME women in these spaces. I didn’t know where and I didn’t want to presume, I just wanted to improve it. I had to give people a choice, the knowledge and resources to find out for themselves, so I started SLC.
How did the SiLL project help you in setting up your business?
The workshops, in the beginning, were really helpful. They helped me understand how to build a business and what was needed - it helped to manage my expectations.
I was given a great advisor who I was able to turn to for advice and keep me on track.
I am not always great at asking for help so I had to ensure I used SiLL for support where I felt I needed it. My advisor was able to suggest resources, events and networking opportunities for me to utilise, which I did.
What was the most helpful part of the SiLL project for you?
Having an advisor was helpful. Running a business on your own can feel encompassing, isolating and you are wearing many hats. It was brilliant to have someone else to turn to, who also had useful suggestions and time for you.
Thank goodness he was understanding and supportive of my idea even if the theme was uncharted territory for both of us.
What was the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on your business/plans to start up a business? How did you respond?
I originally intended my business to take place in person, where I would facilitate real-life workshops, discussion and events. I’m thankful that I managed to get a few workshops in before the pandemic hit but once we found ourselves working from home, I had to pivot to working online.
It wasn’t a major shift but I had to change how I saw the business and create a marketing and social media strategy because I was seeing my business as more of a project. The pandemic made me consider it being a business.
I started thinking about how I could be intentional about creating safe spaces online. How I could incorporate my facilitation skills online and what I could do to engage people without being there in person.
The pandemic brought a shift in the importance of mental health, so I decided to create an online check-in once a week, where BAME women could join and discuss their mental wellbeing. Over time as things adjusted, and from feedback from the community, the sessions were once a month.
Around the time of George Flloyd’s murder and the BLM protest I made another pivot and went back to doing workshops, one of which was an ally workshop around allyships in friendships, as allyship is always spoken about in work or community settings but not those close to you. We worked with BAME women and white allies, and it was a timely and necessary event.
What advice would you give anyone looking to start up a business?
Everyone is different and motivated by different things, therefore it's important to remember:
- Take care of you mental health and incorporate self care into your routine
- You win and you learn, there no such thing as failing, it’s just another opportunity to develop
- Ideas can change and evolve, you might go into solving a problem and you could end up creating something that fulfils another need
- Be prepared to spend your free time and your time for free on this
- Don’t compare yourself to anyone else and what they are doing. Focus on you and your goals - be patient and what is meant for you will be yours at the right time
- Have a board of trustees (people whose opinions you trust and value) - who can test, critique, give feedback and opinions on your ideas/pitches/work etc.
- Also, not everyone is going to understand your vision, that’s on you.
- Don’t talk about your business, do it - talk about what you are doing and what you have done, not what you haven’t started yet.
There are tonnes more but I think that’s a good start
What are the key things you have learnt while starting up your business?
- To practice what I preach, so make sure I take care of my mental health and be self-aware enough to not take too much on. I take regular breaks from social media when I need to and I have learnt not to feel bad but thankful for doing it.
- To ask for help when I need it and not be afraid to reach out to friends, peers and people in my community for advice or collaborations
- To have patience in the process and remember progress over perfection
- To keep learning and being curious, it’s gotten me this far. Use what you learn to feed into my work and to remember not to neglect my sexual wellness and sex tech journey.
- Nothing is free, it will come at a cost, one way or another
- Have respect for the journey, every day you learn more, you become more and you do more
What would you say to anyone thinking about starting up their own business?
The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now. What I am saying is don’t look back in regret for not having started sooner, take action now. Today is always better than never.
Yes, it is your business but always think about your user/customer/community, get their buy-in and ask for their feedback. Their feedback is invaluable, you are making it for them so you want to make them feel included in the process.
Try to be inclusive and authentic with your brand, build it into your strategy and if you don’t know work with people who do - from ethnicity, race, nationality; gender & sexuality; health & disabilities; religious affiliation; socioeconomic status etc.
People like and want to see themselves reflected in products, services, pictures, media and so on - representation matters. It’s not just a tick box, be intentional and thoughtful in your approach.
And of course take care of your mental health, all roads lead back to it ; focus on you mind, body and soul, find what works for you whether it be meditation, workouts, walks, hydrate, eat well etc.
What would you say to anyone looking to go to a SiLL workshop/talk to their local SME Champion?
Do it, what’s the worst that can happen. There is no real financial risk to you but an opportunity to learn, get support and develop your idea.
I love what I do, even though people might not always understand where SLC is coming from and it’s still taboo. This is not about invasion of people private lives but a way to have better conversations around sexual wellbeing and sex tech (it's way to becoming a multi-billion pound industry in the next few years). Access to better mental and sexual wellbeing can come as a privilege but we try where we can to make it accessible and it starts with the tools and resources to have these conversations.
Most people have never heard of sexual wellbeing, but you can buy products in Boots and Poundland. It’s not just vibrators and sex robots, but toys, products (lubes, creams, intimate hygiene, bush oil, contraception to name but a few), apps, books, virtual reality, porn, platforms, services etc.
For more on Start-ups in London Libraries and how to register for our upcoming workshop, visit www.bl.uk/SiLL.