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Carmen Ely is the founder of Play With Me, a premium adult brand that serves a greater purpose than simply sourcing and selling quality sex toys. (Though it does that really well too!) It’s about accepting who you are, as you are.

The Play With Me vision ticks all our self-love boxes: “To understand where our clients are coming from emotionally, to look at the root causes of intimacy issues and unfulfilling physical and emotional relationships.” To have fun. Get intimate. Learn to love yourself again.

She tells Go Hustle writer Ondela Mlandu about her journey, one that involves all things vibrating, pulsating, titillating and pleasing. Fasten your seatbelts…

Perceptions on pleasure… they’re a-changing!

In the context of family, parenthood, relationships, the workplace – self-love always starts with you. Knowing that your sexuality is not shameful and most of all that you’re normal – just the way you are, with no apology needed – is important. Carmen feels the perception of the adult industry is shifting and says it’s an honour to be a part of the movement that says it’s okay to talk about it and it’s okay to feel the pleasure you so rightfully deserve.

“I understand that products remain secondary to how you feel about yourself,” says Carmen. “A product in isolation of a healthy sense of self-worth serves little purpose. We can continue to seek out this level of instant gratification, but until this is understood, it will remain just that – instant gratification.”

Often when we are faced with an intimate issue, it can be isolating. Carmen enjoys helping others overcome their own stumbling blocks to pleasure.

READ MORE: How To Overcome Setbacks When You Start Your Own Business, From Brodie Meyer

The adult industry, exposed

“The industry I operate in is less formal than most, but this is fast changing. Affiliate programmes remain a great way to enter the sexual wellness industry,” says Carmen. Interest groups are a good place to start. Carmen started her business in eCommerce and she belongs to a number of eComm forums in SA. “When I started out, I identified people in the industry who I believed could add value and insight to what I was trying to achieve and made contact with them for advice,” she says.

“I operate in an industry that has always been known to be male-dominated, but this is fast changing [too]. There is a great need for more women in this industry as we break down the barriers that have always been prevalent in this space. The industry has profited from shame-based thinking for the longest time [but] this is rapidly changing,” says Carmen.

“Things I wish I knew before starting a business…”

Starting from scratch is a time-consuming – but liberating – experience, says Carmen. “The challenge here is that everything is up to you. I accessed free marketing resources online and researched what works best in this industry extensively. I also outsourced what I could, where it made sense, so that I had time to focus on delivering elements of my business that aligned to what my strengths are. This helps keep me inspired,” she adds.

Carmen’s top-five leadership lessons:

1/ “I am enough and I am deserving of success, happiness, joy and pleasure.”

2/ “Self-limiting beliefs and crippling self-doubt have no place here.”

3/ “You have the power to change business for the next generations to come and this is your responsibility.”

4/ “There is little place left for our egos in today’s business. Accept that you don’t know what you don’t know and work on relationships that matter.”

5/ “Ongoing collaboration with fellow entrepreneurs and brands that bring synergy to yours is very much what the current South African landscape calls for and this approach will be greatly beneficial to you. When I am successful, you are successful, and vice versa.”

READ MORE: Your Ultimate Guide To Marketing A Niche Business Or Product

A must-read book for every woman?

Two books had a big impact on Carmen. “[First] Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes is a lesson for breaking out of your comfort zone, of understanding that your fears are self-imposed and need not exist,” she says.

The second book relates to the fact that Carmen operated from a scarcity mindset for most of her life, which didn’t serve her. Many of us can relate. “Arian Simone’s Broke Doesn’t Scare Me reminds us not to be fearful of money and gives us tips on how to improve on our personal relationship with it,” she says.

How Carmen practises self-care

“I start my day off with positive affirmations as I visualise exactly what it is my heart desires, then I play a kick-ass song at full volume,” says Carmen. Dancing around the house gets her energy levels up.

“Your mental wellbeing is paramount,” she says. “I monitor my thoughts throughout the day. When I’m faced with a challenge, I prefer to look at it as thrilling as opposed to stressful. This keeps me calm and focused on achieving what I’ve set out to do.”

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