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Making a business of love
Local businesswoman Wendy Strgar works to change society's view of love and intimacy
Wendy Strgar is a working mom. She runs her own business, selling products she once formulated in her own kitchen. She loves pilates and has been married for nearly 25 years.
But Strgar is also a self-proclaimed "loveologist." And those products she sells? Personal lubricants, body oils, candles and body desserts from her company, Good Clean Love.
Strgar began mixing "love oils" - oil-based lubricants - in her kitchen in early 2003. Many women have allergies and sensitivities to mainstream intimacy products, she says, and she found that she was one. Furthermore, she says, there are many women who would prefer not to put the chemical ingredients of traditional personal lubricants in their bodies.
She says that most personal lubricants are formulated from ingredients that were originally intended for industrial uses. For example, according to Good Clean Love's Web site, the popular lubricant ingredient propylene glycol is found in brake fluid and industrial anti-freeze, and is used as a solvent in paint and plastic. Methylparabens and propylparabens, other ingredients in many traditional personal lubricants, are used as preservatives, the Web site explains, and are under scrutiny because some studies have linked them with breast cancer tumors.
Though these ingredients are generally recognized as safe by the Food and Drug Administration, Good Clean Love avoids controversy over the safety of its ingredients by using only natural ingredients. Strgar says that her products' ingredients are organic whenever possible.
Soon after she first began mixing essential oils for herself, Strgar began giving them away to friends. They loved them, she says - and by August 2003, she had realized the market potential of her creations and opened her business.
"I always started everything naive in life," says Strgar. She didn't realize how difficult and expensive creating a business would be, she says. Popular brands dominate shelf space, and it was a fight to even get her products on local shelves. "Distribution is an animal in this country," she says. "I didn't know any of that."
Laughing, she says, "I suddenly wished I had gotten an MBA."
Strgar grew up on Long Island, N.Y. She married her husband, Franc, a psychiatrist, when she was 20. "I knew from the day I met him that I was going to marry him," she says. "I told him that in the first three weeks. I think I freaked him out."
She followed Franc from place to place as he completed his schooling. The birth of her first child fueled her interest in homeopathic and alternative remedies - her daughter had seizures and learning disabilities that didn't always respond to traditional treatments. As her daughter grew up, Strgar threw her energy into education reform. The education system, she says, wasn't fully equipped to handle children such as her daughter.
Each new city they lived in, Strgar had another child - it was unintentional, she says, but that's how it went. When the Strgars moved to Eugene in 1997, she discovered she was pregnant within six days of arriving. Her fourth child was born in Eugene.
When she started experimenting with love oils in 2003, Strgar had been trying to create an elementary charter school, a peace school. However, the Eugene School District didn't take to the idea, so she was facing a struggle.
That's when she had the vision for Good Clean Love, she says. Originally, she thought that money generated by her new business could be used to support her peace school, but her side project quickly became a full-time endeavor. She put the peace school proposal on the shelf - literally - it still sits on a bookcase in her office.
After years of following her husband from universities to jobs all over the country, Strgar says, "I had always longed for something about me."
That something turned out to be a business that has just as much to do with love as it does with sex, she says.
Good Clean Love came out with water-based lubes (safe for use with condoms) in 2005, after a year of laboratory experimentation by experts, Strgar says. Since then, these products have been the company's top sellers. They are sold in local stores such as Market of Choice and Sundance, and they are also sold online through Web sites such as www.drugstore.com. In 2003, Strgar's company's gross sales were about $8,000, she says. Now, she says, Good Clean Love's gross sales are about $270,000 a year.
Good Clean Love began as Sacred Moments, and became Naked Scents when Strgar briefly attempted to enter the adult industry. What she found there disgusted her, she says, and she backed out of it quickly.
The adult industry dictates how sex is supposed to look and feel, Strgar says, and its message is diametrically opposed to hers. They separate sex and intimacy, she says, and dictate that "girls should be sex symbols and they should be stupid."
So Naked Scents was rebranded as Good Clean Fun. However, that name unintentionally infringed on the copyright of another company with the same name, she says, so to avoid a lawsuit, she decided on Good Clean Love instead.
Good Clean Love's Web site promotes the company's products, but it also serves as a message board for Strgar to discuss healthy relationships.
She wasn't looking to offer this kind of service, she says. It just happened.
The longer Strgar sold intimacy aids, the more she realized that many people don't know how to truly be intimate, she says. K-Y Jelly commercials make it seem like lubricants solve all your sexual problems, Strgar says, but in truth they only fix very specific problems.
So her effort to solve specific sexual setbacks turned into a quest to solve broader issues. Strgar says that after being a victim of her own parents' rough divorce as a pre-teen, part of her mission is to help more couples stay together for the benefit of their children.
"It's a rare, special thing to be part of an intact family," she says.
Society tends to view love in only two ways, she says. Either love is romanticized and idealized to a standard that can rarely be reached beyond the honeymoon period of a relationship, or it is seen as something undesirable, a distraction that causes harm and sadness. Instead, Strgar stresses that long-term relationships are difficult, but they're worth it, because love is ultimately the most important thing in most people's lives.
Strgar updates her Making Love Sustainable blog several times a month, and she sends out a weekly newsletter. She's also just launched a podcast, and she's at work on a book about sustaining relationships.
"I feel like I am inventing a language to give intimacy back to the people, take the fear away and open a space for physical love to serve as the glue that holds relationships together," Strgar writes on her Web site.
She doesn't know it all, she admits. She's constantly walking the line of privacy to keep the details of her own love life sacred, and she says her children - now between the ages of 10 and 20 - have at times been embarrassed about her career choice. But, she says, "My children understand what I think about love." They appreciate that their parents are still together, she says.
Her eldest daughter, now 20 and a student at the University of Oregon, seems to have taken to her work, Strgar says, and she helps her mother promote the business.
From its modest beginnings as a solution to a basic problem, Strgar's work has become a daunting task. She's learning as she goes along, she says. "Just because I can say all these things doesn't mean I'm good at them," she says.
"I'm just trying to be this small voice of sanity."