Retailers Rejected This ‘Taboo’ Product — Now It’s Worth Millions

by Derick SullivanJanuary 25, 2023


What do you think about a pubic haircare brand?

Courtesy of Fur

That was the question Fur co-founders Laura Schubert and Lillian Tung were asking back in 2015, as part of the qualitative research the duo conducted on family, friends — even strangers at cocktail parties.

Schubert and Tung were on the cusp of launching an innovative body-care brand at the time, but it meant taking a big chance.

Both Harvard grads who’d been friends since seventh grade, the soon-to-be co-founders had already established themselves in the corporate world. Schubert was a management consultant at Bain and Company, while Tung oversaw marketing at Maybelline — and was “super jaded” by the increasingly crowded beauty space.

Still, Schubert was ready to tackle the then-untouched pubic haircare market, and after some persistence, she convinced Tung to join her. Now, their natural body-care collection is a major hit, including the Fur Oil that started it all: “gentle enough for pubic hair and skin, but effective from head to toe,” which retails for $52 per bottle.

Entrepreneur sat down with Schubert and Tung to learn about the mission behind their “taboo” beauty line and how they transformed it from an idea to a cult favorite that counts actress Emma Watson among its many fans.

Related: 100 Things You Need to Know to Succeed in the Modern Beauty Industry

“[Pubic hair] was a taboo topic that people didn’t feel comfortable talking about.”

It all started in 2014 when Schubert asked her sister and friends what they were doing in terms of body hair care.

“I was getting waxed religiously at the time,” Schubert recalls, “and just thinking about, What do I want to wax? How do I want to wax? What do I do between sessions? I get terrible ingrowns — what are people doing about that?

The information available on the subject was scarce, and when Schubert searched for products that might help solve her problems, she came up empty-handed. Ultimately, she concluded that some serious stigma was at the root of the issue.

“[Pubic hair] was a taboo topic that people didn’t feel comfortable talking about,” Schubert says — and she wanted to change that.

“We all grow body hair,” she says. “We all choose to groom or not groom our body hair. And I just really got the feeling that people would want products like this.”

There was only one choice when it came to body hair maintenance, Tung adds: removal.

Schubert wanted to partner with Tung on the venture, so she got creative at her holiday party in 2014. She handed Tung the still-unnamed blue bottle of formula that would become the company’s groundbreaking oil, poured her a “really stiff drink” and asked her to give it a try.

Tung, a lover of product formulas and development, was immediately impressed by the oil, which counts grape seed, jojoba, clary sage and tea tree oils among its key ingredients.

“I tried the formula, and I thought it was amazing,” Tung recalls. “It did what it [was supposed to do] on the pubic hair area: softens your hair, makes your skin better, but also it’s just an amazing experience. And that was when I was like, Well, this could have legs.”

Image credit: Courtesy of Fur

Related: The Future of Innovation in the Beauty Industry

“Either people immediately got it…Or people would be like, ‘That’s disgusting. I didn’t think women had body hair anymore.'”

When Tung joined Schubert in the qualitative research process, asking a range of would-be consumers what they thought about a pubic haircare brand, she saw two camps emerge.

“Either people immediately got it and loved it and said, ‘Wow, I can’t believe we never thought about this. I can’t believe a product like this doesn’t exist — that’s brilliant,'” Tung explains. “Or people would be like, ‘That’s disgusting. I didn’t think women had body hair anymore. Why would you do that? That’s gross.'”

But from a marketing perspective, the polarized response intrigued Tung, who says that “strong reactions, positive or negative, mean that there’s something memorable — something for you to hang your hat on in terms of messaging.”

That gives someone having an initially negative reaction to the idea the chance to engage with the conversation and potentially become open to it.

“It allows them to at least think about it, and if they’re thinking about it, you can encourage them to talk about it,” Tung says. “If you can encourage people to talk about it and keep it a comfortable, safe space, people can express a variety of opinions and have the opportunity to change their minds, including myself.”

When Schubert served as the brand’s “first salesperson” and took the product into stores, she often faced similar resistance. She recalls being kicked out for solicitation and told to go on Shark Tank (and they did in 2020, even striking an on-air deal with Lori Greiner).

And even those who did express interest in the product had reservations about leaning into Fur’s unapologetically authentic branding: One major retailer loved everything about the oil but just didn’t think having the word “pubic” on the box would resonate with its customers.

“We went pretty far down that path of evaluating,” Tung recalls, “Is pubic really a dirty word? Should we be removing it from our branding? But of course we knew we had to stay true to what we wanted to do and where we came from.”

As co-founders who’d built their business from scratch and are still self-funded, turning down the request was tough — but essential.

“It was a really big relationship,” Schubert says. “But we knew, being a mission-based brand, that that was something that we could never do. And so to this day, ‘pubic’ is on the front of the Fur Oil box. It will always be on the front of the Fur Oil box because this is what we’re here to do: to encourage conversations around pubic hair and body hair.”

Image credit: Courtesy of Fur

Related: Why You Should Do Everything You Can to Self-Fund Your Business

“As a mission-based brand looking to destigmatize the taboo around body hair, it’s so important to be in places where everybody is thinking and shopping.”

Fur’s dedication to its original mission continues to pay off big-time, attracting an enthusiastic fanbase that includes Hollywood A-listers like Emma Watson.

It was 2017 when Fur’s website started “going crazy;” the co-founders discovered Watson’s Into the Gloss interview, where the actress and activist shared that Fur Oil is an essential part of her beauty routine.

“She really understood our product,” Schubert says, “and we sold out of two years’ worth of product in three weeks. That was definitely a moment that put our brand very much on the map.”

In the years since, Fur has stayed on the map (and expanded its territory) by rising to meet unforeseen challenges as they come up, especially as they pertain to growth and scale.

Despite being “thrown for a loop” during Covid as many brands were, navigating changes in the market, digital platforms and, of course, the supply chain, Fur weathered the storm — and even thrived.

The brand has quintupled its staff over the course of the pandemic and is on track to see more than $20 million in revenue this year.

Part of the secret to Fur’s success lies in its prioritization of omnichannel growth.

“It’s so important to be in places where everybody is thinking and shopping and has the ability to get to it,” Tung explains. “And if you were to look at our revenue breakdown, we’re very evenly split across all of our partnerships and our channels — that’s so important because in this day and age, people shop everywhere all the time.”

Naturally, a lot has changed in the near-decade since Schubert first set out to solve the pubic problem no one was talking about, but when it comes to founders who might have an idea today (taboo or not), some lessons learned remain just as relevant.

First, don’t wait to figure out the whole path, Tung suggests — just get started.

And Schubert’s best piece of advice? (Also the very reason Fur exists.) “Every ‘no’ is a ‘not yet.'”


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