Picture this: you’re a gorgeous, Black, female-identifying, self-proclaimed dildo wrangler. You’ve just arrived in Vegas for your first big sex toy trade show. You check-in at the registration, put on your badge, take a quick walk around the manufacturers’ booths to get a vibe. As you’re taking in everything you see you think….
Where are all the Black people?
Although there are more Black people in the sex toy industry today, 6 years ago I hardly saw any. I wondered why there were so few of us working in this area. (You might have guessed by now, that the gorgeous dildo wrangler was me.)
Let’s get balls deep into just one of the melanin-deficient sectors of the sex toy industry. I’m talking about the sexual product manufacturers.
The Unpopularity of Black Sexual Product Manufacturers
When I think of sex toy manufacturers, the main players come to mind quickly. It seems as though most of the toys on the market come from 3 or 4 major brands. I believe this is mostly from two factors:
A Small Group Of Power Players
From what I gather, this industry (like many) has been something of a white “good ol’ boy” network for a very long time. It doesn’t lend quite a warm welcome to Black founders.
One Black sexual product manufacturer I talked to about this issue is Lidia Bonilla. I met her in 2019 at a Women in Sex Tech event in Washington, DC. Lidia is the founder of House of Plume, which produces very modern sex toy storage options. Her entrance into sex toy manufacturing was a “happy accident” when her home organizer found her pleasure products. The horror!
Anyway, to the point of the power of gatekeepers of sex product manufacturing, Lidia commented: “The sex toy world is a billion-dollar industry. However, in the U.S., it’s still a small pool of decision-makers and mainly everyone knows each other, so it’s hard for an outsider to get a fair shot right off the bat.”
In so many areas of business, climbing the ladder is about who you know. When the community of decision-makers is so non-diverse, breaking into the business is a near-impossible task.
Availability of Funding
The systems that support entrepreneurship are set up to disproportionately give an advantage to non-Black/minority business owners.
Forbes reported that Black entrepreneurs, in general, lack capital when starting businesses and trying to expand. The challenges for black-owned companies in securing financing is well documented. Black people are less likely to be approved for lines of credit. As a result, often the largest source of capital for black entrepreneurs is their own personal savings and loans from friends and family to fully or partially fund their companies, according to a survey by Guidant Financial.
Raven V. Faver, CEO and founder of EngErotics, a Black woman, says her biggest roadblock in this industry is funding. “We’ve been bootstrapping for nearly four years now. It’s been highly successful, it’s certainly built character, but it’s definitely been a grind. It can be very challenging to move forward when you don’t have the money to do it.”
Raven and Lidia are not the only two Black sex product entrepreneurs that have suffered these hardships. Jason Panda, CEO of B Condoms, added to the point of why Black sexual product manufacturers aren’t as well known in the industry. “Unfortunately, black entrepreneurs are tremendously undercapitalized, and we also lack the mass market distribution channels that allow us to generate the revenues to be known like the mainstream companies. To gain shelf space or sales, many times you need buy-ins from distributors that are not accustomed to seeing Blacks engage in the sex space.”
Jason started his company because there were no condom brands representing the Culture, or working to decrease the impact of HIV/AIDS and teenage pregnancy issues in the community. It’s obvious that representation in this industry is important and needed. Entrepreneurs like Raven, Lidia, and Jason are key to diversifying the sexual wellness world. Along with them, the world’s current events have also lent a hand to the cause.
The “Buy Black” Surge
In recent months, the sex toy industry has been booming. At the start of the pandemic, I was financially nervous, eating ramen noodles. A few weeks in, I had the luxury of Super Sizing my meals! The ‘Rona led people to take advantage of alone time or quarantining with a partner to explore their pleasure options.
Then, after the outrage of George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter movement, there was another big surge of support for Black entrepreneurs. People wanted to hurt the powers that be in their wallets and shift consumers to buy black. Raven agreed with my reasoning for the increase in business. “We’ve most definitely seen a huge surge in business over the last month. I would attribute that surge to both the movement to support Black businesses and also to people continuing to lie low during the pandemic.”
Black people and white allies were putting their money where their mouths were. BOB (Black Owned Business) lists popped up all over social media, directing buyers to where they could support Black entrepreneurs. I chuckled every time my store, Hart’s Desires, was on a BOB list because vibrators are also BOBs (Battery Operated Boyfriends). I love puns! In one week we gained over 1,000 followers and were shared by numerous large white-owned sexuality brands.
Lidia has also seen a surge in business and people interested in her brand also. As far as the buying black movement she makes it clear that: “It’s always been here, it just didn’t have as much traction outside of Black people. This is the first time that white allies have dealt with it, but they’ve been dealing with it from a place of shame.”
Lidia snatched all of my edges with that last line! The buy Black surge is a great starting point for change. But what now?
Are Black Sexual Product Manufacturers the Future?
If only I had a crystal ball. What I do hope is that we keep up this energy of uplifting current and future Black-owned manufacturers. We can make them household names. Breaking into the sex industry is hard enough, and doubly hard for Black folks. The future of this industry MUST include more POC, specifically Black people.
There needs to be more Black people in decision making positions at white companies, put an end to the culture of whiteness in this industry, and get people accustomed to seeing Black people in the sex space. The industry needs to recognize that Black people make up a large consumer base and demand products that reflect us and are made by us.
It’s a shame that the recent spotlight of Black founders was born out of tragedy, but we’re gonna make it do what it do! I look forward to this momentum of visibility continuing for Black sexual product manufacturers so that the next budding dildo wrangler doesn’t walk into their first trade show and ask, “Where are all the Black people?”
Shani Hart is a certified sexuality coach, sex educator and co-owner of Hart’s Desires, a premiere erotic boutique company. She is sexual rule breaker and a relationship healer, empowering Black women to take charge of their sex lives one orgasm at a time. When she’s not going on about sex you can find her soaking in her bathtub mellowing out to 90’s R&B. Follow her on IG @sexstuffwithshani.