Long-standing sex shops in Singapore are often identified by their flashy and sleazy store decor.
So perhaps it can’t be helped that most Singaporeans have the impression that sex toys are seedy or dodgy, and treat the topic as taboo.
So when I reached out to Trina Yeung of Maison Mika, the founder of a sex toy store in Singapore, I thought it would be awkward meeting her as I have no experience in that area.
But she was more chill than I thought.
The 37-year-old turned up casually-dressed while exuding an air of elegance.
Any inhibitions I had talking about sex toys to a complete stranger melted away as she flashed me a warm smile.
The Maîtresse de Maison
When we were talking about how we’ve never really had strong or impactful sex education in Singapore, she nodded in agreement.
Trina’s parents are Hong Kongers who, like most Asian parents, they never talked to her about the birds and the bees.
But growing up in London and having worked in New York in the finance industry had exposed Trina to new perspectives on sex and wellbeing.
“[At that time] when I was in [London and New York], there was a huge liberation of women’s wellness. So when you think Spice Girls and Sex in the City, women’s independence was coming up quite a lot [then],” Trina recalled.
As women were increasingly portrayed as being independent and free, she noticed that more sex toy stores were pivoting to cater to women as a result of that.
She continued, “[In] New York, there is a (sex toy) store right next to the Apple store in Soho. So, it’s not like a shady place. People would literally go browse the latest iPhone, and then go to the store next door and look at sex toys.”
“It was a very normal thing for people to do.”
Sex In The Lion City
A survey on sex in 2015 shared that out of 800 women in Singapore polled, one in five women use a vibrator and 60% of the respondents are open to buying vibrators online or at trusted retail shops.
However, only three out of 10 women are satisfied with their sex lives.
The report quoted Smile Makers, a vibrator and lubricant brand, saying the dissatisfaction was “attributed to the loss of interest in sexual activity and the inability to achieve orgasm”.
A sex toy shop owner said in an interview this year that women who visit his shop come with the purpose “to perform better for their partner”.
The interview also shared that women are getting “more inquisitive than guys” and sales of sex toys have been burgeoning in recent years due to “healthy branding”.
When sex toys first appeared in Singapore about a decade ago, they came in “obscene ‘porn-star packaging'” that put off women.
But now, they’re marketed as a health and beauty product by “clever businesses” who want to reach out to female consumers.
Understanding that there’s a “lack of awareness, understanding and exposure” of the industry in Singapore, Trina and her co-founder spent about six months “conceptualising and positioning the brand”.
They surveyed 300 people who have either used or never used sex toys before and found that 76% of them are open to talking about their sex lives with their partner.
Quashing a stereotype about how the sex toy industry is male-dominated, Trina said that it depends on the target audience and that it is “definitely less male-dominated than banking”.
At a trade show in the US, products there cater to a large audience, from heterosexuals to gays and lesbians, and that trade show-goers are 50/50 men to women, if not more women, she observed.
But at trade shows in Hong Kong and Shanghai, products like the “old school type of outfits”, virtual reality toys, and masturbator cups are toys that are geared towards men.
For Maison Mika, even though they target women, she noted that “men are just as interested in buying products to help in a relationship”.
Patrons of her online store and participants of Maison Mika’s personalised experiences range from the mid-20s to 50s, and the people they “generally attract” are open-minded and are “more willing to talk about these type of things”.
Enter The ‘House Of Beautiful Things’
The thought of even buying a pack of condoms used to make me blush, but as I got older, I realised that it’s nothing out of the ordinary because it’s an essential item if you don’t want accidents to happen.
For Trina, browsing the products in a sex toy store overseas is “kind of like looking at any other accessory” so it’s common to go there with your partner or by yourself.
“I think back then, it was a fairly new concept that people took it as very normal. But for me, I was quite fascinated by that, that is, to be able to have a space that was […] female-celebrated,” Trina recounted.
In 2009, she came to Singapore to further her studies but ended up staying here ever since.
“When I came to Singapore – and my perception of Singapore on the surface was that it’s a very liberated market, a first-world country – [I found that] it’s still conservative.”
“So it was strange to see that difference. I guess I didn’t really appreciate how conservative the market is, and that’s probably a function of why there isn’t a sex toy store here that’s very, very open.”
She then thought, why don’t they start something like this here?
It will be nice and fun, [and] we’ll see how it goes because I do think that sexual wellness is a really important part of a relationship no matter how people don’t talk about it.
Together with her co-founder, she established Maison Mika in 2016 and launched the website in January 2017.
“When we did a survey, we [asked people] where do they buy their sex toys. People are like, ‘Oh, we just buy it on Qoo10,’ she told me.
“And I was like, that’s something intimate that you put inside your body, you know? […] People don’t realise that not all plastics are equal so if you buy something that’s very cheap, the quality of plastics might be very poor.”
So the online store carries body-safe toys and lubricants made of medical-grade material and plastics, which Trina revealed that she personally selects and tests the quality of the products.
They also have curated ‘pleasure boxes’ and lingerie, and unique experiences like hen parties, sex toys workshop, and a masterclass for bedroom fun.
Through Maison Mika, Trina wants to build stronger connections in relationships between two people.
The brand name, which means ‘house of beautiful things’, is made up of the French word ‘maison‘ and the Japanese word ‘mika‘.
“We kind of wanted to celebrate two cultures that really have a different take on sex. [These countries] incorporate sex in their cultures but approach it in a different way and beauty.”
On Teething Issues And Future Plans
When I asked her what her family thought about her business when she decided to pursue her venture, she said her partner was “fairly easygoing” about it because “he understands the concept and the need for tools” to help people build a relationship.
I have two children. When you have children and things get busy in your life, it’s necessary [to make time] for each other [as] intimacy is a very important component of married life.
“My parents are very sensible parents. They’re not so conservative in the sense that they’ll say, ‘You shouldn’t even be doing this’ or ‘You shouldn’t have sex’. They’re actually like, ‘Well, if it makes money, I guess, why not?'” Trina quipped.
She then recounted her meeting with a sex therapist who counsels women who were sexually abused and learned that people are more likely to be sexually abused when they’re poor.
The sex therapist explained to her that just by simply educating people about what is wrong and right, it can bring down the cost to hospitals and the cost of psychological welfare to society among other things.
For me, just by not talking about it is in a way harming our society, because you’re not talking about things that are important, and typically, the poorest part of the population is affected as they don’t have the resources to know.
“The thing about Maison Mika is that we only touch the wealthier people because they have the resources to have access to us. But how do you really provide the right form of education to the people who really need it.”
“And I would love to – aside from Maison Mika because I’ve now gotten into this whole arena – I would love to know how to solve that problem.”
Moving forward, Trina said she hopes to be able to tackle the education issue eventually.
“I’m not sure that hen parties are the easier way to address the masses. I’m also not sure if coming up with a formal education programme gels very well with a sex toy store,” she said tentatively.
At the moment, Trina has a job that allows her to fund Maison Mika and she hopes to grow her small team of five to include a dedicated salesperson.
She is keen to explore collaborations with brands and businesses across industries, and while there are no solid plans to open a physical store yet, Maison Mika will participate in pop-ups and events when the opportunity arises.
Getting to speak with Trina was an interesting encounter and I parted ways with her feeling more ‘woke’, so I’d like to thank her for her time!
Check out Maison Mika here.
Featured Image Credit: Maison Mika, Discover SG