The Design Business Show 214: Founder Story: Why a Product Developer for Leading Beauty Brands left it all to Create Sexual Wellness Products with Sandy Vukovic

Director : Melissa Burkheimer | February 13, 2023

Sandy Vukovic is best known for spearheading development for Marc Jacobs Beauty, Kat Von D, bareMinerals and Buxom Cosmetics, Sandy Vukovic has created and grown some of the most recognizable and eponymous beauty brands for women today. Realizing that femtech products, including personal lubricants, still lacked the innovation and superior ingredient utilization that can greatly improve a woman’s sexual health, Sandy is excited to parlay her deep product development expertise into game-changing products for modern day woman. Her ultimate passion is to develop Playground into the leading female sexual wellness brand—because every woman deserves to feel great in their body. 
Here’s what we covered on the episode:

Sandy’s Experience in Product Development 

  • From a young age, Sandy was obsessed with beauty and personal care products for their transformative properties and how they made women feel
  • How Sandy started her career at Estée Lauder and then moved to one of their hair care product brands called Aveda
  • In the mid-2000s, Sandy received an opportunity to move to San Francisco and work for the brand bareMinerals
  • After working for bareMinerals for 7 years, Sandy moved to Sephora, where she got to work on their beauty brand incubator, KENDO
  • At KENDO, Sandy got to help create brands that had never existed, create formulas that had never been done, and utilize ingredients that were new and cutting edge
  • As a product developer, Sandy was in charge of formulations, which involved identifying the trends, ingredients, and safety testing
  • Sandy talks about helping to create the Buxom brand when she was at bareMinerals and how they were able to address a younger demographic and create one of the first lip polish formulas
  • Two and a half years ago, Sandy left KENDO due to burnout and started consulting for small, independent brands
  • How Sandy’s co-founder, Catherine Magee, approached her about an amazing business idea involving a category for women that needed desperate transformation and innovation – sexual wellness
  • Despite the sexual wellness industry growing, the products being offered were boring, so Sandy and Catherine were able to enter the category with more modern formulations, better-for-you formulations, and better-for-you ingredients

Creating Playground + Formulating Products

  • How Sandy and Catherine were able to find a female chemist who came from the female lubricant industry to help them create the best personal lubricant possible
  • Sandy explains the lengthy process they went through to create the lubricant formula to make sure others loved it just as much as they did
  • During the research process, they discovered that women didn’t feel comfortable purchasing lubricant because it made them feel gross or like something was wrong with them
  • In addition to creating a formula that felt great, it was important to Sandy and Catherine to brand their products properly – to speak to women in a way that made them excited about using the products
  • Sandy shares the different scents they offer and the science behind them and explains that they aren’t strong, just enough to give you a little scent
  • As women, we spend so much time, effort, and money into what we put on our face, hair, or body, but we aren’t giving the same love or attention to our vaginal care routine, which is one of the most important parts of the female body
  • There are so many different things that can disrupt your pH balance, which is why it was important to Sandy and Catherine to use ingredients that are safe and help with vaginal health
  • Sandy explains the different ingredients they use in their products and all the benefits they have
  • It was important to Sandy and Catherine that their products looked like anything else that you would find on a nightstand or bathroom shelf – it wasn’t something you had to hide, and they were able to find a design agency that understood their mission
  • Sandy’s job right now in the business is to formulate the next generation of sexual wellness products – she shares that they have many new products in development that they will be launching over the next 2 – 3 years
  • Because the FDA regulates personal lubricants, brands have to conduct a series of very intensive tests that prove the formula is safe, which is also a big part of Sandy’s job
  • How they were able to bring on Dr. Emily Morse, who has the #1 sexual wellness podcast as an authority figure, which has been a great asset for digital marketing  
  • If you want to develop a product, Sandy says to immerse yourself into the industry you want to create a product in and look at what’s missing
  • Check out and reach out to Sandy and Catherine directly through the Playground Website and connect with them on Instagram


Links mentioned:

Playground Website 

Connect with Sandy on Instagram 


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