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How It's SFMade: Sex Toy Story

Caleb Pershan | May 6, 2013 | Lifestyle Story Shopping

If America is driven by a consumer culture, then San Francisco is driven by a smart consumer culture. You know: local, sustainable, savvy. That also describes SFMade, a non-profit organization of over 400 city manufacturers that’s the next coolest thing to a guild. From today to Sunday they celebrate SFMade Week with special tours and events, and we observe with daily profiles of need-to-know SFMade brands.

Crave: Of all the products you might own, what’s the one you want to know the most about (and be the most comfortable with)? Probably your sex toy. That’s why Crave, the lovechild of designer Ti Chang and entrepreneur Michael Topolovac, achieves its sexiness through transparency. "Traditionally, people might not know where sex toys are made” says Chang. But Crave's products, which include a line of "erotic jewelry" (like a vibrating necklace), are made in the city with safe materials from local suppliers. To be sure, you can check out their factory for a tour this Thursday at 4pm. "Transparency helps de-stigmatize what a vibrator is all about,“ says Chang.

The Buzz: Covered from Gizmodo to the New York Times, Crave’s products are library-quiet, fully waterproof, USB-rechargeable, and (memorably) can double as flash drives with up to 16GB of storage. Creating a product out in the open— the San Francisco crowd-funded way— has had a lasting effect on the brand. “We originally did a Kickstarter project, but they kicked us off,” says Topolovac. “They didn’t believe in vibrators, which was really disappointing. So we ended up on another site where we did really well anyway." For design, too, Crave relies on its customers. “We don’t come into this thinking ‘hey these products should look like male anatomy,’” says Topolovac, “that seems a little silly to us and isn’t what we find customers want. When you start with a clean slate and a good designer and ask customers about the user experience they want, these products can come to life as sexy, beautiful objects.”

Testing: Building smaller means better feedback, says Topolovac. “For any product that we have as a concept, we’ll build 50 to 100, every single part under our roof, and then we’ll get them to our group of product testers who give us amazing feedback." Those are some lucky testers. "That’s in contrast to products where you sketch it out on a napkin here, send it off abroad, and get back a thousand products in a crate that aren’t that inspired.”

What’s Sexy About SF: Chang cites “The sex-positive openness [of SF] and the ability to deal with fun great suppliers and work with people who actually make products in the city.” Topolovac confesses they looked hard at NY and LA, “but were drawn [to SF] by the culture of innovation and entrepreneurship and the nascence (but now I would say almost renaissance) of manufacturing here. There’s an ecosystem in SF that makes it a great place to be a manufacturer."

Tuesday: The presidential iPad case.

Wednesday: Be a custom wood cartographer.

Thursday: Messenger bag capital of the world.

Friday: Bi-Rite for you pet.

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