There has never been more interest in kink, fetish, and BDSM than there is right now. As a result, the range of available products in these niches has becomes much bigger and much more diverse. The Play brand is also at home in this segment, however, it sticks out from the crowd, as Sasha Sobolevsky, the founder and head of Play, explains in our interview. And as always when we talk about kink, fetish, and BDSM, we also have to ask what role 50 Shades of Grey played in creating this massive interest.
On your website, it reads: ‘Play is the first kink lifestyle brand.’ What is this statement based on? Sasha Sobolevsky: As far as we know, currently all of the companies in the kink / BDSM space are either kinky people selling kinky products or non-kink people trying to make money in this space. Play stands out because it is the first (and only) holistic kink brand, made by real kinksters for real kinksters. We care about the community because we are part of the community. Kink is a very special, intimate, and emotional thing for us, and we want to share that with our customers. This involves education, transparency, advice, feedback, as well as, of course, selling products. We work very hard to ensure that the products we have are supporting the various lifestyles that people in the kink community embody.
Before we talk about Play, please, tell us a bit about yourself. For instance, what did you do professionally before Play?
I’m from Los Angeles, California, and was a master’s student in business at the University of Southern California (USC) when I came up with the idea for Play. After graduating, I moved to Seattle, Washington, to pursue full-time employment, and I still work my day job for a tech company. It’s definitely a challenge working full-time while also working on a start-up, but I decided that it was the right move for me.
What is it about the subject of kink that fascinates you? How did you get the idea to launch a brand in this niche? Was there something missing from the market that made you decide to go and close that gap?
I’m an active member in the kink community, and while in Los Angeles I discovered a business gap in the market. Specifically, according to an article in The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, over 50% of people in the United States are somewhat interested in kink, but less than 13% have ever tried anything kinky. This is likely because many people who might be interested in kink still view it as underground, alternative, and/or scary. I, along with the help of my business partner Sir Rucifer, a professional male Dom, decided to demystify kink and bring it to the mainstream with a healthy dose of fun.
What is your definition of the term ‘kink?’ And what sets kink apart from other niches such as fetish and/or BDSM?
I have always taken kink to be defined as unconventional sexual practices, concepts, or fantasies. What constitutes ‘unconventional’ can be discussed and questioned ad nauseum, but I always say to my friends: if you like your hair pulled/to pull hair or your ass slapped/to slap ass during sex, you are kinky! Kink is an umbrella term that includes fetish and BDSM. Fetish is getting arousal from something that is not typically a sexual thing: either an inanimate object or part of the body. I like to expand the definition of BDSM to include bondage discipline (BD), domination submission (DS), and sadism masochism (SM). So aspects of BDSM can be a fetish, and aspects of a fetish can be BDSM, but they both fall under kink.
More and more people are getting into kink. What is your explanation for this increase in popularity? Did 50 Shades of Grey play a role in normalising this type of pleasure?
Ah – the age-old Fifty Shades question. The short answer is yes. The popularity of the books and subsequent films helped usher in a normalisation of kink and BDSM. However, I think that the books and films came out at a time that the United States was primed for sexual exploration. I believe that we are in a neo-sexual revolution, if you will, and it’s hard to imply causation from correlation, but I believe that if Fifty Shades would have come out in another time period, it wouldn’t have caught on as it did; the public was primed to receive it. It also helps that in 2013 the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the American Psychiatric Association’s definitive diagnostic manual, finally removed BDSM and fetishes from its list of mental disorders. Yes, you read that right: in 2012, BDSM and fetishes were considered mental illnesses by the American Psychiatric Association. I do need to disclaim all of this with the fact that Fifty Shades gets a couple things right, but it gets a BDSM relationship completely wrong. The relationship depicted in the books and films are abusive and one-sided. Being a submissive does not mean (unless it has been previously consented to) that you endure emotional and physical abuse at the whim of your Dominant.
According to your website, your mission is to take kink to the mainstream. How do you intend to achieve this goal?
The first and most important way is by publicly talking about it. It’s a unique prospect to have a female founder/CEO of an adult company talking openly about her sexuality. I have never been afraid to be who I am, and I make a large effort to surround myself with people who are supportive. Additionally, we strive to be fun and playful, hence the company name Play. I think that one of the things preventing kink from becoming more mainstream is the misconception that it’s all black and red and leather and pain. Sure, those can be a part of kink, but they don’t have to be, and kink doesn’t need to be intimidating or scary. Education is a very important part of what we strive for the company to become, and we currently offer opinion pieces on our blog about all aspects of kink from a very personal perspective.
Now, let’s turn to your products. Your collection is centred around the Playbox – a box filled with various different products. Why did you choose to go with box sets instead of individual products?
The box set allows people to have options and to have a complete kink experience. Instead of getting one piece that may or may not work for you, you get a curated experience in each box. One customer did ask for an individual piece, and we made that available to them as well.
What can the users find in these boxes? What can you tell us about the products you picked for the Playbox?
Currently we offer five themed boxes on the site: Intro Playbox, Temperature Playbox, Impact Playbox, Anal Playbox, and Bondage Playbox. These are based on some of the most popular types of kink. We chose these at first and will expand as our customer base expands. It is very important to us to support local small businesses, so the majority of the items in the boxes are hand-crafted by local craftspeople in the United States.
Where do you manufacture the products that are part of the Playbox?
Most of the products are manufactured in the United States. We work with a local glass blower, leather smith, woodworker, metalworker, etc. to create custom pieces for each Playbox.
If one looks at the different boxes, it becomes obvious that you are not just aiming for newcomers to the world of kink. How would you define your target audience?
You are correct. We wanted to give an easy, non-intimidating entry-point into kink for the beginner, but we also wanted to engage people who were well-versed in kink. We believe that no matter how familiar you are with a certain thing, there is always room to learn and grow. So, we define our target audience as newcomers to kink, but also wanted to have something for the veterans as well.
Do you sell your boxes exclusively on your website, or do you also use other channels of distribution?
Currently they are available solely online. We are thinking about having a pop-up shop as well, probably somewhere local to Seattle, Washington.
Is it correct that you are working on a ‘Play App?’ What exactly will this app do?
Yes, thank you for asking. We have found that current options for meeting people in the kink community are limited to Fetlife, in-person meetups, and a handful of poorly designed messaging apps. As the kink community’s unofficial motto is safe, sane, and consensual, we wanted to represent these traits in a tech solution. The most important part of the app is that it will have safety benefits for users, such as peer-to-peer ratings, pre-negotiations in the app, and a silent alarm (wherein you can send a friend your location). The app will also have matching criteria other than just kinks. As one of my friends put it – just because we both like bondage doesn’t mean we would enjoy each other’s company. You can get more info on the app and help fund it by visiting our Indiegogo campaign: https://igg.me/at/get-play.
What are your plans for the future for the brand?
Great question. Our efforts are focused on the app currently, but we also are working on growing our content: blogs, videos, etc. I want our brand to be the kink ambassador of the world, so obviously world domination is the final frontier.