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SF sex toy designer debuts “build-your-own vibrator” parties on Zoom

Ti Chang of Crave turns her popular build-a-vibe parties into virtual events for six total strangers.

SF sex toy designer debuts “build-your-own vibrator” parties on Zoom
Ti Chang [Photo: Crave]
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With a tiny screwdriver, some tools, a bit of lubricant, and a few silicone parts, it was pretty clear this wasn’t going to be a typical Zoom call.

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I was on a video chat with Ti Chang, vice president of design and founder of Crave, a San Francisco-based sex toy company, to literally build their newest product, the Duet Pro. It’s a customizable vibrator with vibrations you can program yourself through its associated app. That’s not the most intriguing part, though. The challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to order the vibe as a kit of parts and join a Zoom session—with strangers and a Crave technician—to build it together.

[Photo: Crave]
Crave was conducting these Build-a-Vibe sessions in person at design conferences and events before the pandemic hit. Now, it’s taking them to Zoom. This tracks with recommendations about sex in a pandemic: Both the Mayo Clinic and the City of New York say the safest sex you can have is with yourself. (People seem to be heeding that advice—sex toy sales have increased since the pandemic hit.) “The whole reason we’ve decided to do this build and intro this product is because of COVID,” says Chang. Turning the in-person experience into a virtual one made perfect sense, Chang explains, because “the product itself is about being at home paying attention to your needs and wants.”

[Photo: Crave]
After I got my kit in the mail, Chang gave me an overview of the parts and led me through the build, which involved about a half-hour of fitting together components. And faster than I could say (or build) Ikea furniture, I had a vibrator I built myself. I was ready to go around my apartment and see what else needed repairing. Crave started offering its first Zoom build sessions this week.

[Image: Crave]

In a typical IRL session, the Crave technician, who specializes in manufacturing the vibe, works with a small group of six people to assemble the vibrator and answer all your questions. While it might seem uncomfortable to build a vibrator with strangers at first, that’s the point, according to Chang. “It created a space where people can just talk about their experience, whereas it was previously taboo. That experience normalized what people may have thought was weird.” This tracked with the experience of Ahnalisa Miller, a California-based designer who’s developing an intimate skincare line and who went through an IRL build session before lockdown. At first, Miller says people avoided eye contact and giggled, but by the end of the process, the group was more comfortable and conversational about sexuality and the product itself.

The Duet Pro is currently the only build-it-yourself vibrator at Crave. (A previous model that users could build during in-person workshops is no longer available.) The company is running a Kickstarter for the product, which costs between $99 and $179; the Zoom sessions became available this week and will start up in September.

I couldn’t help but wonder what the point of actually building a vibrator myself was—I mean, it’s no Henry Cavill building a PC from scratch. Turns out, it comes down to a sort of extension of the Ikea effect—that users get more value out of something they build themselves. Miller took it a step further and saw it as a form of empowerment. “I believe when someone puts attention and time into making something, even when it’s preset for you, you create ownership—ownership of the piece, ownership of your own pleasure, and what you like and don’t like,” she says.

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[Photo: Crave]
The process also speaks to a broader “own your pleasure” mantra of women-run sex companies trying to reclaim a space previously dominated by men. One of Chang’s goals is to use the designs themselves to open up conversation. That’s likely true—but after spending months in isolation, it was also a lot of fun.

About the author

Lilly Smith is an associate editor of Co.Design. She was previously the editor of Design Observer, and a contributing writer to AIGA Eye on Design.

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