In 2017, Natalie Annis was ready for a career pivot. She was working in the construction industry as the owner of a manufacturing and distribution company, but after 20 years in that business, she was ready for a change. Both she and her daughter Shae, who had recently graduated from college with a degree in fashion merchandising and design, were on the lookout for a new professional venture — something fresh and inspiring that they could feel passionate about. That was when a product supplier with whom Annis worked offered to help her break into the sex toy manufacturing industry.
“Shae and I decided that it would be a great time to get into it,” Annis recalls. “It just felt like good timing to look at something new.”
Shae and I are just babies in this industry, so we really are proud of what we’ve learned and accomplished in these first four years.
Together, the mother-daughter team launched Like A Kitten, a one-stop online shop for unique sex toys. Headquartered in Alexandria, Minnesota, the brand offers a wide variety of brightly colored products, including vibrators, dildos, anal toys and more, available individually or as part of thoughtfully curated themed boxes. The site also features an array of lubes, apparel, toys, accessories, body care products and bondage gear.
“We took a lot of inspiration from makeup brands like Benefit Cosmetics,” says Shae, describing the brand’s signature cheery aesthetic. “It’s very cute and vintage and pinup, very inspiring and pretty to look at. We use a lot of foil and glitter on our packaging.”
At 22 years old, Shae serves as Like A Kitten’s creative director, planning product photo shoots and coordinating hair, makeup and wardrobe for the models featured on the site. Bright, fresh, trend-savvy branding has also helped boost Like A Kitten’s success and visibility across its multiple social media channels, including TikTok, YouTube and Instagram, where Annis says the brand has garnered a large and fast-growing following.
Annis, the company’s CEO, credits much of the brand’s growing success to her daughter’s creative vision for Like A Kitten’s eye-catching product shoots, which feature a unique personal touch.
“One thing I think that makes us a little bit unique in the way that we approach branding is the photo shoots that Shae creates, and the way that those play into the toy line,” says Annis. “When you look at the packaging, the exterior of the box shows an illustrated version of a woman and the vibrator. And then if you open that, you can see the real girl that it’s based on.”
Now, Natalie and Shae Annis sit down with XBIZ to share more about the background and inspiration for the Like A Kitten brand.
XBIZ: What motivated you to start Like A Kitten?
Natalie Annis: Something that Shae and I both feel very passionately about is empowering women and girls, not only in the bedroom, but everywhere else too. And I think a lot of that starts with sexuality and intimacy, reclaiming our bodies and ourselves and being whole people, and not being stereotyped or pigeonholed in any way.
XBIZ: What inspires the brand’s distinctive aesthetic?
Natalie Annis: When we thought about choosing the toys for our next line, we really wanted to focus on current trends, whether that’s in pop culture or the sex toy industry. So, what’s trending in the sex toy industry right now is a more discreet, non-phallic type of product, almost something you could display in your home without people even knowing it’s a sex toy.
Shae Annis: We used a lot of themes from the TV series “Euphoria” with the eye makeup on our models, and then also some of the clothing inspirations. We tried to use clothing that was all pretty in-style right now, whereas before we’ve done more vintage style. We really just wanted to make this line very current and trendy. That appeals to a younger crowd, or maybe even people who are new to sex toys and might be intimidated at first. Like the Squirrel, for example. You could really just leave that up on your mantle and probably no one would be able to tell it’s a sex toy. We just wanted to make it fun and cute, so you don’t feel gross picking up the package and looking inside.
XBIZ: How does the personal mission that inspired Like A Kitten carry over into your branding and marketing strategy?
Natalie Annis: All of the women featured in our photoshoots are people that Shae knows and is friends with. None of them are professional models. They’re just other women that feel strongly about empowerment and being what they want to be, and who really fit our aesthetic. Inside every package, you’ll find a quote from each of those women, and then you can really see how we carry that message through what they’re wearing, the way their hair and makeup is styled in the illustration, on the cover of the box and then also in our marketing materials. We try to carry that aesthetic all the way through our social media presence, our TikTok and YouTube channels. This really ties it in and humanizes these women. That’s the goal for Like A Kitten.
XBIZ: How do you generate brand awareness outside of social media?
Natalie Annis: We’ve been incorporating some newer marketing techniques and taking advantage of those to try to reach that younger generation who’s a lot more tech-savvy. For example, we use geofencing for local events, where we can put an invisible fence around a particular venue and the hotels in the area. That enables us to do targeted advertising, so when people open up their browser on their phone, ads for Like A Kitten will pop up for that area.
XBIZ: How will you scale in 2023 and beyond?
Natalie Annis: I think that our aesthetic really fits with smaller boutiques. With our nonthreatening-looking packaging, our products are something that people want to pick up from the shelf. We’re also venturing into smoke shops, which are a big area for the younger generation. We’re seeing more stores and smoke shops with a section for adult toys and lubes and similar products, so we’re really looking at trying to find ways to get into the spaces where younger people are.
XBIZ: Is there a business challenge you’ve overcome that makes you proud?
Natalie Annis: When we started, neither of us had a background in the adult industry at all, so it took a lot of trial and error to figure out the ins and outs of the business on even the simplest level. We were very proud of our first line, which was more of the pinup style, but we felt like it fell flat for a while because we weren’t exactly sure yet how to market correctly to people. So that line kind of had to take a back seat until our newer line came out, and then it really kind of gained the recognition that we put into it.
I think one of the coolest things about this industry is how willing everyone is to help each other. Our distributor in LA, store owners or managers we’ve met who have given us so many great ideas — and corrected us when we were headed in the wrong direction, too, which is great. We’re very open to that feedback, and we just feel really grateful and happy and proud to be part of this industry because we just love the inclusivity and everything it stands for.
Shae and I, we’re just babies in this industry, so we really are proud of what we’ve learned and accomplished in these first four years, and just really grateful to the people who are in the industry. Shae and I really love working together, and as her mom, I’m just so proud to have her with me on this journey. It’s been so great to be able to do this and learn it together.