Samantha Sleeper is a designer and installation artist living in Brooklyn. Many of you know her from meeting her at our events. She does so much in the world. As a busy mom, bridal designer, philanthropist and advisor to Rosebud Woman, she's integral to who Rosebud Woman is becoming. We interviewed her in January, 2020.
What’s your role at Rosebud Woman?
Samantha: My background is in design. I went to Parsons, and taught there for four and a half years. So I bring my design sensibility to the brand. I make sure that we stay visually cohesive. I do all the imagery and take all the product photos. I also do live events and women's circles, and work to help our partners understand our brand. And as we evolve, I work on how to keep the Rosebud Woman identity clear and distinct from other providers in the market.
Does your background in fashion design helped inform the look of the Rosebud Woman product line?
Samantha: Absolutely. And being in New York helped me take the aesthetic of our green, plant-based brand and elevate it into something that feels both luxe and design-oriented.
Is there any single part of your work that you enjoy the most?
Samantha: The best part of my job is being able to interact with women on such a personal topic, and give them an outlet to express themselves in a safe place—and to hear how much it's impacted the relationship they have with themselves.
This is not just a product to me; it’s a gateway for women to feel more empowered about their bodies, to have a more positive relationship with their bodies, and to feel comfortable expressing whether or not they are experiencing pleasure. And de-stigmatizing it—so that talking about their vulva or labia has the same normalcy as talking about, say, the fact that it's winter and the skin on their face is dry. It's watching women blossom as they feel more and more comfortable in their bodies, and allow themselves to have a more pleasurable life experience.
Can you share an anecdote or story about an encounter that brought this home for you?
Samantha: Yes. During an event at Verdant Maiden—one of our retailers in Nantucket, NY—we did a small women's circle. There was a woman in the group who was probably in her late 60s. She explained how, even up until menopause, whenever she would buy feminine hygiene products at the store, she would hide them while shopping. She would buy a magazine or a box of granola bars or something, to conceal the fact that she was buying tampons. She had been so ashamed, and it had been such a quiet conversation her whole life, that inside that women's circle was the first time she had ever spoken openly about her experience. You could see how isolated she had been feeling, because she hadn't been able to share. And it was a concerning moment, because it pointed to a much broader problem, about how widespread this attitude is, and how women internalize shame.
But her relief at finally being able to talk to other women—and hearing younger women talk to each about very personal issues—transformed her idea of what is possible. That, to me, is a standout story.
You also work as a bridal gown designer; you've even designed a bridal gown for a breastfeeding bride. I love that. Do you think that there's a greater level of public acceptance now for frank discussion about women's bodies?
Samantha: Absolutely. Yes. I think the #MeToo movement brought sexual harassment, and how ubiquitous it is for women, into the public conversation. And once you start talking about sexual harassment and the objectification of bodies, openly, it becomes easier to talk about women's bodies—their different sizes, their different experiences. As one example, I've noticed a big shift in turning menstruation from a taboo into a celebration. Even the nominations at Indy Beauty this year: There were so many in the feminine hygiene category of cups and new products, which was something that hadn't shifted in many years. Traditionally it's only been a “pad and tampon” conversation, or not a conversation at all. I think that across the board, it's becoming much more accepted.
You've talked to a lot of women in your multiple roles with Rosebud Woman, and in your job as a designer. What are some of the most pressing issues faced by the women you speak with today?
Samantha: I think the biggest issues facing women would be that there's still a lack of education around what they're going to experience—from menstruation through their pre postnatal years to peri-menopause, and menopause. And there’s a lot of misinformation around not knowing their anatomy—like the difference between your vagina and your vulva. And I find that though women are much more vocal about what they're experiencing, it's very anecdotal, because the education is still not there. And that’s because we haven't caught up on an educational level. We need to be having more comprehensive sex education, and more comprehensive conversations about women's bodies and health, with our doctors, at an earlier age.
If you could go back in time and give your 13-year-old self one piece of advice, what would that advice be?
Samantha: I think even with a really progressive mom, we didn't really have open conversations until I was older. I think that goes hand-in-hand with this culture—a culture of not understanding when it's appropriate to discuss sexuality, and being so afraid of it that we delay the conversation until long after girls begin menstruating. There's a period of, like, "What's happening to my body?"
And so, like many young teenage girls, I wasn't vocal enough to ask any questions. I was really submissive to what I perceived to be the greater good; to not cause any more problems in my family. It was to the detriment of my own needs and safety.
So I'd go back and empower my younger self to feel more comfortable about initiating those kinds of conversations, when I was concerned or confused about an experience I was having. You're never too young to advocate for your own safety and wellness.
Do you have a personal favorite Rosebud Woman product?
Samantha: For me, it's Honor Balm, mainly because it's really good for multiple places in the body. It's awesome around your eye area, as well as your labia. The texture's really great, and there's nothing comparable to it on the market. Sure, there's other lotions—but Honor is a unique product that serves super specific needs that I haven't met in any other product, in any other way. It's the one product that women needed, and nobody made it for them.
Samantha, if you could change anything in the world for women, what would it be?
Samantha: If I could only pick one thing to change, it would be ending violence against women around the world. Repression and violence is still a very real fact in a lot of undeveloped countries.
I would include sex trafficking in that as well.
Samantha: Yes, absolutely. I mean the exploitation and commodification of women, especially in the developing world: marrying them at young ages in poor villages, keeping multiple wives sex slaves. In India, there's a huge problem with white families using poor women for surrogacy. There's just a viewpoint around the world, still in a lot of places, that women are—at birth—“less than,” less valuable.
Thank you so much, Samantha!