A few years ago, Riannah Burns was chatting to a few friends at a dinner party where conversation was flowing well. When the topic of sex came up however, she felt the room freeze. “Everyone visibly shrunk into themselves,” the Brisbane-based entrepreneur told me. “That sparked a lot of questions for us. Why is talking about sex so hard? Why do we use the words ‘sex’ and ‘intimate’ interchangeably?”
Fast forward a few years, and now Burns, along with her company’s partners Alisha Williams and Nissa Ryan are running Rosewell, a women-founded line of “obscenely aesthetic, monochromatic, minimalist devices” for self care and pleasure.
According to the trio, the sexual wellness industry in Australia consists of brands reliant on gender stereotypes, with graphic visuals and hyper-sexuality.
“The conversation, whether conscious or unconscious, is outdated in terms of gender and accessibility, and full of damaging stigmatisation when it comes to the nature of the individual using sexual products,” they told Fashion Journal last November. “This has created unrealistic expectations, pressure and shame surrounding sexuality.”
It’s this very issue that the team seeks to dismantle, so Women’s Agenda sat down with Riannah to ask how:
How did you meet each other?
Alisha, Nissa, and I met at a former workplace – a finance firm of all places. I have a finance degree and while I was exploring alternative avenues to the traditional corporate finance path, I joined their marketing team as a financial copywriter.
What were the first few non-negotiables when it came to working together?
Alignment on things like – a willingness to be open and honest, valuing sustainability and inclusivity. If we didn’t align on those things, Rosewell wouldn’t exist.
How did the idea for Rosewell come about?
Alisha was at a dinner party with close friends, and after spending hours talking about skincare routines, the table topic turned to sex and intimacy. Everyone visibly shrunk into themselves. That sparked a lot of questions for us. Why is talking about sex so hard? Why do we use the words ‘sex’ and ‘intimate’ interchangeably? Why does the category look the way it does? When we dug deeper, we realised that each of us fundamentally believe that conversations about sex and intimacy should be as natural and normal as skincare. That shared belief is really what brought us together.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced as entrepreneurs?
One of the biggest hurdles we continue to face is that we operate in a space where a lot of the traditional avenues for growing awareness – like advertising on instagram – are unavailable to you. Every major Buy Now Pay Later – unavailable. There are important protections, of course, but much of these decisions are steeped in history.
What has been some of the most surprising aspects of being a female in a male-dominated space?
In the finance world, the fact that it’s traditionally male-dominated is well known. You can go to any fund managers website, look at their about page, and you will see the gender split. In the sexual wellness category, the obfuscation has been the most surprising. It’s hard to know who the founders are. It’s never immediately obvious. When you look deeper you find that most of the brands in this space were founded by or are owned by men. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself. But for the brands that focus on female empowerment, where the founders are male and choose to remain hidden, well, it makes you question their motives. Arguably, male sexual wellness products are equally as taboo.
What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs?
Not knowing everything, or having an ‘outsider’ perspective, could be your biggest superpower. If you did know everything, it would be much harder to start.
What are some of the most stringent ideologies around sex and sexuality you hope to challenge through your products?
Sex and sexuality continue to be steeped in historical shame and ‘taboo’, while at the same time, promoted as the key to vitality. It creates a lot of pressure on both sides, you have to be sexual enough, but also not too sexual. At the centre is this notion that sex is always important to our lives, always central to our wellbeing. Yes, sex has health benefits, but the reality is that it’s not sex, but intimacy, that is central to our wellbeing. Yes, sex can be an important part of intimacy, and certainly is for many people. But that’s not true of all people. There’s no one size fits all experience. Rosewell has always been about reframing this narrative. The more we talk about, recognise and celebrate the diversity of experiences, the better sex will get – for everybody.
What do you see as the future of sexual empowerment tech-space in Australia?
I see a more diverse, accepting, inclusive category where everybody who wants to explore this space can find a brand that represents and caters for them. In my opinion, the future of technology in the space is that which helps us connect in more meaningful ways, and particularly offline.
What or who inspires you in your work and in your personal life?
The chance of you or I existing as we do at this moment is infinitesimally small. It’s virtually zero. With that in mind, my personal and professional inspirations are one and the same – making the most of each day. For me that means, working with people on things that leave the world in a better place than what we inherited. The people who inspire me the most are the people who, as the ancient proverb goes, plant trees, whose shade they know they will never sit in
What’s next for Rosewell?
We’re exploring new ways that Rosewell can advocate for better everyday intimacy, and in line with that, we have some exciting new collections launching later this year.
What do you do for self-care?
In general, we don’t take enough time for self-care, as we don’t take enough time to deepen intimacy. So the biggest thing that I do for self-care is to schedule time for myself. I literally block out time, and make myself as unavailable as if it were an important meeting. What I do varies, but is usually some combination of taking breaks, reading, and spending quality time with loved ones.