You’ve probably heard of Build-A-Bear. But we bet you didn’t know you could also Build-A-Vibe.
Michael Topolovac and Ti Chang are co-founders and CEO and designer, respectively, of Crave, purveyor of “elegant, sophisticated and thoughtfully designed” sex toys. As part of its ongoing mission to normalize conversations about sex and pleasure, the brand has transformed a 1961 Airstream into a mobile vibrator-building factory.
Chang hopes to spend this year taking it on the road and hosting workshops at events, museums and festivals. She currently plans to attend events on the West Coast, but will schedule additional dates across the country pending backing from an Indiegogo campaign.
The workshops have been part of the brand’s identity since it launched in 2012, but the mobile component is new. They not only provide customers with the opportunity to create and personalize their own vibrators (down to customizable vibrating patterns) but also offer an opportunity for people to abandon some of the shame or taboo associated with masturbation.
We know what you’re thinking: Why mobile? How? Will it come to my town? Where do I sign up? HuffPost broke the whole pleasure-filled thing down with the brains behind the project.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What sparked the idea to host build-your-own-vibrator workshops?
Ti Chang: We did our first one at the brand launch in 2012 because we’re product people, we’re designers, we’re engineers. We embrace design. We decided to try it because we thought it was a really cool activity.
So the intention was just to show people how the product works?
Michael Topolovac: It started in a realm of design, and showing people how things are made so more people can trust it. People definitely engaged with that, but what we really found is that it created this space for conversations and sex and pleasure and open dialogue that was harder to get to. It was almost a catalyst for that conversation.
T.C.: Overall, it just made this open and safe space where people can interact with these objects in a nonchalant way and not pay attention to any of the shame or stigma that has been around in our culture for so long.
We also have a waitlist of 200-something people wanting to be product testers.
What is the benefit of meeting people where they are as opposed to having people seek you out?
T.C.: Having something like an Airstream roll into town almost creates an excuse. Like, ’I have to go check it out, it’s so crazy. When is another vibrator factory going to roll into town?’ Another thing is that I think people are ready to talk about sex, and if you present and frame it in the right way, people will engage. Just like when I go to cocktail parties or something and say I design sex toys, people are like ‘what?’ Because I don’t look creepy. The way we present the brand is modern and thoughtful, and that makes it easier to engage.
Have you had experience bringing this to a place where it didn’t go over well? Perhaps in a place more conservative than San Francisco?
T.C.: I’m from Atlanta. As you know, that’s part of the Bible Belt. It’s Deep South. The Museum of Design has asked me to come back a few times, but I remember the first time they asked me, I was honestly really shocked. A few years ago, Georgia Tech, the school I graduated from, had a special night for outstanding designers and they couldn’t even mention my name because they felt at the time it was too edgy. The audience at the museum is a little more open, but I was surprised they were even open to that. So even in the more conservative area, things are changing.
How do you convince people who might be nervous or ashamed of having a sex toy that they should be using a vibrator?
T.C.: For me, even though yes we make vibrators, I’m not saying everyone needs to own one. I’ve always told people: Do you. If you would like to find a nice product, though, you should have access to one that is modern and well-designed.
M.T.: We believe there shouldn’t be barriers, so as a brand, we make products, but we’re really just here to make pleasure more accessible.
What kind of questions do you expect to be asked during this road trip?
T.C.: I find having done these workshops in the past that a lot of the same questions and sentiments come up over and over again. I’m really excited to go across the country and interact with different people and find that there is a lot more that unites us as far as what we think we fear, our fetishes ― everyone kind of thinks they’re the only one who is weird. I’m really setting myself up to be prepared for anything, because we have been in the comfort bubble of San Francisco and I think it’s really worth viewing what happens when we take this cross-country.
As a brand, we make products, but we’re really just here to make pleasure more accessible.
What are the questions you’re most asked as a brand?
T.C.: How do you do product testing? People are always fascinated by that.
So... how do you do product testing?
T.C.: Product testing is absolutely core to our design process because we don’t know what we don’t know. It’s really important to make sure whatever we design is actually satisfying a need and functioning the right way. So during the phase of development, there are several times when we send out products to testers. They are friends of the company or just enthusiasts ― people who support the brand. We also have a waitlist of 200-something people wanting to be product testers. We send them the product at home and then there’s an online survey with a lot of open-ended questions that they can fill out in their own home.
The price of the workshop is currently $99, but the product (a Duet Pro) typically retails for $200. Why the price drop?
M.T.: The spirit is mostly about education and awareness. We want to make it more accessible, so that’s why we made the price even more appealing. We’re probably not going to make money having Ti run around in an Airstream, it’s not the most efficient way to sell a vibrator ― but we think it’s an important thing to do.
Check out the Crave website to learn more.