CHATSWORTH, Calif. - They sit on your retail shelves, hanging off spinners like dormant bats waiting for sundown. What are they, and where did they come from? We’re talking about dozens (if not hundreds) of vibrators, dildos, and their clit-stimulating cousins. They didn’t just drop out of the sky; somebody made them—and before that, somebody thought ’em up. ANB consulted some of the leading novelty manufacturers to trace the creative process of making pleasure toys.
Innovation is innate
Nick Orlandino is a do-it-yourself type of guy. His company, Pipedream Products, makes numerous phalluses, but it’s the novelties that make him – and others – smile. “My passion is making people laugh,” he chuckles. “I’m kind of like a comedian with toys.” After 23 years in the business, Orlandino believes that originality cannot be taught. “Obviously, there’s no school for novelties.” Apparently, Pipedream was built on a daydream. “I was on a boat going from Hong Kong to China for a meeting, and I saw barf bags,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘Someone should make Bachelor Barf Bags, because you want to puke before you get married.’”
“Topco Sales has a designated design committee,” offers Mike Siegel, the company’s senior vice president. “Topco Sales [also] encourages all of its employees to contribute.” Coyote Days graduated from within the Good Vibrations sales team to become senior buyer. “We don’t license other people’s ideas,” she says. “It’s not a formal committee or roundtable; our staff comes up with really amazing designs”.
Andreas Maulhardt, president of Canada-based O’My Products, also relies on customer input. “We actually take into consideration a lot of studies and questionnaires before development,” he offers, although the final designs are created by both an in-house R&D staff and outsourcing (including an electrical engineer).
“We’re a rather particular case,” reflects Lionel Woog of Advanced Response. All of the company’s R&D energies are focused on a single device: the Eroscillator. “All our R&D takes place there,” says Woog, adding that “the Eroscillator is a product of 50 years of research by many engineers and scientists. It’s continually enhanced by a new set of upgraded attachments every year or two.”
An executive with firm roots in the adult business, Al Bloom of California Exotics has seen it all. “Many factories create products and sell them to novelty companies that merely package and sell them ‘off the shelf,’” he offers. “Not so at Cal Exotics. R&D is almost done 100 percent here. The process is a team effort: They come from our [departments of] design, sales, art; plus distributor and consumer input.” Bloom notes that every facet of the prototypes – i.e. features; materials; colors – is scrutinized. Some items take up to a year or more to finalize.
“Tantus does things a little bit differently than most of the large companies,” says Tantus Silicone President Metis Black. “We really consider anatomy. Whether it’s warming you up or learning how to squirt, we make toys that will work for the musculature and the nerve endings of erogenous zones.” Black usually makes a rough drawing, then hands it over to Chief Executive Officer Mike Smith, Jeff Neitzel, and their design specialist and co-owner Kris Victor.
Natural Contours may have the most visible owner and spokesperson of all the boutique manufacturers: the irrepressible Candida Royalle. “I have to take credit for being the first to innovate these new shapes,” she offers. “We have this brilliant Dutch industrial designer. He was not from the adult industry; he worked for Panasonic, Sony. He designed the interior of the flight cabin of the Fokker aircraft.”
After tackling the Fokker, designer Jandirk Groet found it easy to work with the interior of a vagina, Royalle says, adding, “He thought, ‘Why do all these products look the same? Why are they so completely wrong in function and design? A vibrator’s meant to stimulate a woman’s clitoris. Why is it shaped like a phallus?’”
Over at Vibratex, although customer feedback is appreciated, co-owner and Vice President Shay Martin states, “Most of our designs come from [my husband] Dan and myself. We travel to Japan to brainstorm with our manufacturers since they have some pretty unique ideas as well, she adds.
Go East and prosper!
To get more bang for their buck, American manufacturers must be particular about the location of assembly lines, and the Far East is becoming the ideal destination for many companies.
“We would love nothing more than to produce everything here, but we all know that’s impossible,” comments Bloom.
“We do some manufacturing in China – some in Japan and India – but all our dildos are done locally in California,” Days adds. “Anything with a motor is pretty hard to do locally.”
“Back in the day, I used to go to China a lot more,” recalls Orlandino. “I had to spend more time with them because they weren’t sophisticated. I would spend a day on one product.”
Orlandino and others note that is not the case today. “Now, they work with AutoCad, says Martin.
“Material costs are rising all over the world due to high oil prices,” notes Maulhardt. “It affects all the hard PVCs and plastics tremendously. It hasn’t trickled down to the consumer, because a lot of manufacturers try to help absorb the costs themselves, but they cannot do it forever.”
Then, of course, there’s dealing with the time constraints of cheap labor. “Our biggest headaches have been packaging from China,” observes Black. “They have a month off in January, and you have to work around their schedule. By the time the ship leaves there and it clears customs here…” she sighs. “It doesn’t matter how big you are: China is China.”
Bloom scoffs at that notion. “Anyone who blames the Chinese New Year for not being able to deliver is off base,” he says. “The Chinese New Year is only a problem if your company isn’t sophisticated enough to project and lay in enough product prior to the factories’ closing down.”
Nice and easy
In this business, some things just come naturally. “The easy stuff for me is the gag gifts,” says Orlandino. “It’s second nature. I can crank out 15 gag gifts in one day and have 15 winners.”
Bloom introduces a relevant point: “Anyone can develop a product, but unless they understand the market the way we do, the product has a pretty good chance of failing.”
“The most difficult project would probably be the one we’re releasing right now called Lover’s Cocktail,” says Orlandino. “It’s a lotion product in a martini-shaped bottle. We had to break four molds before we were able to produce the bottle, and the guy who was making the bottles for me can’t even get them out to me in time. We’re oversold [by more than] 100,000 pieces.”
Easy isn’t the high road at Topco. “Anyone can go out and buy an existing item; however, to develop one is an entirely different story,” Siegel says. “All our products require extensive research and testing.”
A butt-plug is probably one of the hardest,” says Black. “We specialize in making things safe, particularly for beginners. You want to make certain the curve, not just the tip, is gentle going in. It must be the correct ratio, or you’re shocking the muscles. These are things that almost no manufacturer even thinks about.”
“One recent example of an innovative way to use material is the Adam & Eve Silicone Taffy Tickers,” states Siegel. “The silicone drops completely coat the vibe for a truly unique sensation. Another recent product is the Grrl Toyz Spray Lubricant, which far surpasses any others on the market. The process is totally different between a new vibe and a new cosmetic product. Our in-house laboratory has a staff of degreed scientists whose 100 years of combined scientific experience cover everything from the most advanced anti-aging skin-care technology to the most basic cosmetic products.”
It’s what’s inside that counts
It stands to reason that new materials constantly are being discovered and/or created. Since crude plastics and latex are guaranteed to trigger allergic reactions, the reigning substance still is silicone. It’s inert, hypoallergenic, and it won’t degas—aka smell like a burning tire.
However, silicone is more expensive to refine. Manufactures face two choices: dump their non-silicone lines entirely or try and expand the niche market for upscale goods. Everybody seems to be favoring option two; hedging their bets until consumers abandon rubber and PVC, which contain phthalate softeners. Some companies are exploring thermoplastic elastomer plastics, a silicone-mimicking elastomer, as an alternative to silicone.
When queried about the technological frontier (motors, interactivity, etc.), toymakers typically were vague. “I wish I could tell you more, but I can promise that you won’t be disappointed in January,” says Siegel, referring the upcoming AVN show.
“California Exotics is working on some new controllers that will revolutionize the way a woman controls her toy—and that’s all I can say at this point,” says Bloom.
Martin thinks hi-tech products are veering away from phallic designs. “Organic shapes that are smooth, slick, and sexy are popping up on the radar,” she observes. “Rechargeable devices that look like small sculptures and interactivity with computers are attracting attention.”
“Fifty million American women suffer from some sort of sexual dysfunction,” says Woog, adding that new colors and shapes won’t help them. “The stimulation provided by today’s toys has barely changed since the vibrator concept was invented. A weight attached to a rotational motor is it. We concentrate on different kinds of motors and stimulation.” He cites Advanced Response’s use of a “rare-Earth magnet motor that delivers an amazing amount of power.”
Royalle’s reaction is blunt. “I think it’s the design; it’s not chips,” she states.
“There is a wall we’re going to hit where people want technology and variation, but they don’t necessarily want something that has a prep time of a half hour to make it talk to the computer,” Days adds.
Now that some vibrators can even “speak,” the phrase the industry has entered new territory. So, how does the novelty industry keep reinventing the wheel?
“O’My just changed over from TPR to introduce a whole new line of 100-percent silicone toys,” says Maulhardt. “The end consumer is getting more and more educated on the raw materials you are using.”
“We’re excited about the future of our inflatable/bondage Fetish Fantasy series,” says Orlandino. “It’s been a humongous success, so we’re expanding it to about 300 items total.”
Good Vibrations will be dabbling in the dark side with prostate toys. “Anatomically designed for men, the new Nero has the functionality of a roller ball that can be used to add sensation and pleasure to the perineum area while being inserted anally,” says Days.
“Cal Exotics is out in the field more than any company I have ever been affiliated with,” relates Bloom. “We see and hear about the latest sales trends first hand. California Exotic Novelties has over 400 products in various stages of development.”
The power of an orgasm, and the way it is achieved, is the driving force that keeps the wheels moving at California Exotic Novelties, says Bloom. The fact that it’s a woman-owned company has a lot to do with the mindset involved in the creation of the tools necessary to achieve the ultimate “O.” “The few guys at Cal Exotics add to the mix,” Bloom adds. “But, it’s the gals who know what they want—and, dammit, they’re [almost] always right!”
345 W. 58th St. #11A
New York, NY 10019
California Exotic Novelties
P.O. Box 5108
Chino, CA 91708
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San Francisco, CA 94103
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Chatsworth, CA 91311
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