Dolls are a big topic right now, and not just in the erotic market. Louie Love, who runs the online shop SiliconeLovers.com together with his wife, explains that part of the fascination with this topic has to do with man’s innate curiosity about replicating what Mother Nature has created. Like many others active in the doll segment, he feels that it would be dead wrong to reduce dolls to simple sex tools. There are other elements at play here as well: creativity, fantasy, wish-fulfilment, all of which are reflected in the ‘Custom Love Doll Builder’ feature found on SiliconeLovers.com. This service allows users to create their own, individual doll, customisable down to most subtle details.
When was the first time you stumbled upon the topic of sex tolls? And what was it that fascinated you about this topic? Louie Love: In all honesty, I can’t remember the very first moment that I stumbled across the topic of sex dolls, it would have been some years ago. I remember seeing Sophia the robot (head) at SXSW about 2016. Of course, I was aware of the blow-up style but like many others, I was completely oblivious to the more recent advances and that a huge doll subculture full of people from all walks of life, even existed, I think it’s safe to say- even the more reserved people find the topic intriguing, whether they agree or understand it is another topic altogether, but most will admit to being curious about the topic to some degree.
As humans we have an innate fascination with the idea of replicating the works of Mother Nature, to see how our skills compare or if we can even come close. It’s evident in all aspects of art and design, we’re obsessed with it as a species and I think dolls are another medium for self-expression and exploration in that same realm. When you go onto huge forums like TDF (The Doll Forum 60,000+ members), you quickly realise that many people are talking about the design of these dolls, the way they are put together, their individual specifications and the owner’s choices that contribute to the dolls unique characteristics and personality.
You quickly realise that it’s NOT just about sex, but it’s about being creative and imaginative. It is a hobby just the same as classic cars and in the same way that you have car shows where people stand around and admire the way a machine has been perfectly designed and built, the exact same thing goes on with dolls. In fact, they do occasionally have doll meets to do exactly that and it’s quite awful that most feel like they have to be a bit clandestine about it all due to harsh judgements from outsiders. In a way, these dolls become de-sexualised to an extent and simply appreciated for their curves, their shape, their design, their quality and their unique customisations and that is what fascinated me.
Sex dolls have pretty much gone through the roof these past months, even getting attention in the mainstream media. What is your explanation for this sudden surge in interest?
Love dolls have been creeping into the mainstream for quite a few years now thanks to companies like Abyss Creations. WM dolls have also been a pioneer, who started out with regular shop mannequins and evolved to more complex dolls but all that had been relatively underground. I think there are quite a few factors that dictate the popularity and attention in the mainstream media of late, for one, we are so globally connected now that it only takes one Youtube video (like a comedian talking about Jasmine, the WM163 H-CUP model) or a particularly funny sex doll meme to go viral and suddenly a whole demographic of people who wouldn’t ordinarily be exposed to dolls in their day to day lives, have their eyes opened (and mouths wide open too!) to the whole concept.
Generally, people are blown away and enthusiastic at how realistic they are so of course, they are going to want to impress or shock their friends with their new found knowledge. Others are totally freaked out and think it’s just plain wrong and can be equally as vocal in social media. We all have our opinions, there’s nothing wrong with that. There have also been a few widely publicised documentaries that have educated people that would otherwise be in the dark…
Another reason (for the attention) is that it gets pulled into communities who are already in the spotlight for other reasons e.g. with the ‘4th wave feminism’ and MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way) movements, sex dolls have become quite a hot topic for debate – and interestingly, there seem to be people who are for it and against it within each community.
Thirdly, there is, what I would say, an innate human curiosity we have with anything humanoid. There is this fascination with AI and robotic technology which is huge and because of this intrigue, whether or not dolls even have AI, they get lumped into this category because they’re the closest thing we have to a fully functioning humanoid sex robot.
When did you decide to start a business around sex dolls?
We knew for many years that we ultimately wanted an online business to have the flexibility to pursue our creative ambitions, and a lot of the skills we’ve learnt over the years seem to have prepared us perfectly for this business. Despite my partner and I having careers focused on film, fashion, music and the arts, we’ve actually been dipping our toes into e-commerce one way or another for the last 10 years. I used to sell all sorts of things on eBay to support my brief music career and my partner was managing an e-commerce studio for luxury brands at the time.
We’ve also had two other online (less successful) businesses in the past that we cut our entrepreneurial teeth on, which I think has played a role in this business being reasonably successful so far… We both independently learnt a great deal from our previous jobs in both Sydney and London and we were sick of working for ‘the man’ or being freelance and having to chase work. I’ve personally been involved in the Art industry for most of my working life.
It’s bizarre for me, because I used to handle paintings by masters like Van Gogh and Picasso whilst wearing white cotton gloves, and now I’m handling sex dolls in the same white cotton gloves, it spins me out sometimes… and my partner has gone from working on fashion shows with models like Bella Hadid and Naomi Campbell or film shoots with Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) to actually selling dolls shaped like them! We didn’t expect to be here, but we’re certainly happy we are.
Being open-minded types, we didn’t have the same assumptions many do, before we got into this business. I already suspected that it was a lot to do with people craving companionship, but I hadn’t really anticipated how involved in customisations people get – there is this side of dolls that appeals hugely to hobbyists, artists, photographers, fashion designers and all types of creatives that get obsessed with the creative side of customisations and photo shoot production.
I get it because I’m an artist myself, I’ve painted most of my life and I painted miniatures for years when I was younger, I also got into custom building motorbikes for a few years before I turned my hand to renovating houses and building exhibitions spaces for galleries and museums all over London – dolls are actually a great creative outlet. So, after the initial fascination, came this huge immersive learning of the creative side within the community which we find incredible and I know a lot of other doll lovers do too.
What can you tell us about the corporate philosophy of www.SiliconeLovers.com?
Our general philosophy is simple – to treat customers how you would like to be treated yourself and provide the best quality products and service we can. We have an incredibly strong work ethic and a passion for helping others which we know comes across in our work. We are huge on education in the sense of arming customers with all the knowledge they need to know before selecting a doll and also how to take good care of their dolls when it comes to cleaning and maintenance to increase the longevity of their dolls.
We believe that sex dolls will lose their negative connotation and eventually become much more socially acceptable and known simply as dolls not ‘sex dolls’. We’d love to play a part in helping to educate the masses that it really is just about having healthy fun and being creative. Ultimately, we want to help normalise doll ownership and educate people so that everyone understands it can be an amazing creative outlet and really positive for your mental health and that your sexual health doesn’t need to be the primary reason but it’s certainly great for that too. It makes us happy that people are getting louder and prouder about doll ownership and so they should.
“We believe that sex dolls will lose their negative connotation and eventually become much more socially acceptable and known simply as dolls not ‘sex dolls’.”
You present your shop as the ‘Apple Store of the sex doll world.’ What do you mean by that?
That was a bit of a joke to be honest because I’m notorious in our studio for being overly obsessive about a clean website interface. I’m not sure how Apple ended up being the comparison, but I guess if Apple is known for bringing ‘user-friendly’ computers and phones to the masses, in a way, we are trying to do that too, but with sex dolls. In our initial research stages, we found many of the websites out there selling similar items, often had a seedy feel about them and often felt really overwhelming to navigate, had loads of pop ups and the products pages made it difficult for you to customise. We wanted our site to be the antithesis of that, feel fresh and welcoming, be easy to navigate and feel really user-friendly so that even if you can’t speak a word of English, it’s very intuitive.
One the thing that sets your online shop apart from the competition is your Custom Doll Builder. Could you tell us more about this service?
Our whole site is very consciously geared towards customisation, but you can always take the easy route and buy it pre-configured which is the ‘same as photo’ option.
The ‘custom doll builder’ however, allows for the ability to customise any doll to your exact specifications. You start with your favourite body type, add your face and then work through the other options like hair, skin tone, eye colour; nipple size and colour – it is literally head to toe. We can colour match skin tones for you if you want to deviate from what is on the usual colour chart. If you’re inventive you can create an ex-partner or celebrity just from what’s available or we can also work with our sculptors to help you create a truly bespoke doll from your photographs.
Bespoke heads are cheaper than a full body, so we’d suggest this if you’re on a budget. We also sell heads as ‘clean skins’ a little cheaper so people can create their own make-up from scratch. TPE is more friendly in this regard and semi-permanent make-up can be removed relatively easily. Our entire site is designed to make it as easy as possible to customise any doll you want, just the way you like it. You can create what are affectionately known as ‘hybrid’ dolls and interchange heads or bodies between compatible brands. It is pretty much the best thing about sex dolls for me personally, the customisation element.
One thing to mention is that ALL of these dolls are made to order (whether customised or not) so be very wary if a vendor offers to send a doll super quick or does not show any workshop photos as it a big red flag. It generally takes 10-15 days to fabricate and finish a doll and all good vendors should allow their customer the opportunity to sign off or makes changes once the doll is complete, before shipping.
Please, give us some more information about your product range. For instance, are all your dolls made from TPE?
Currently yes, all of our dolls are made from TPE which is softer than silicone and a firm favourite for customers partly due to its price point. The brands we carry as of April 2019 are The Jinsan range which includes the brands, WM, YL and OR. We also carry Irontech Dolls, Piper Dolls, Dollhouse 168, JY and D4E. We are in discussion with various manufacturers that specialise in the production of silicone dolls and look forward to adding them to our product line soon.
The general public tends to lump all sex dolls into two categories, blow up or silicone to differentiate and it’s only later they find that there are very distinct differences between silicone and TPE. I think we ruffled a few feathers of die-hard silicone aficionados with our name when we first emerged, but the general population don’t seem to mind.
Where do you get your products? And what criteria does a product have to meet for you to add it to your range?
We source our dolls from multiple, high-end, branded manufacturers as mentioned previously. The products have to meet quite rigid criteria, the very fundamentals being that their relevant health and safety compliance paperwork needs to be up to scratch. There are a lot of inferior dolls on the market made from really poor quality, recycled TPE, using harmful chemicals so that’s got to be number one, that we know the materials used are safe for our customer’s health and made in an environment where staff’s health is a priority as well.
The design is number two. We’re firm believers in only supplying well designed and top-quality products, we want to be able to stand behind the products we sell and feel confident and proud to be offering them. There’s no point in having a flash website and awesome customer service if you are selling an inferior product. Our customers are continually having their expectations exceeded and we want to keep it that way for the full cycle. Repeat customers are way more common than you might expect so it’s a top priority. This also means that the manufacturer needs to have our back and be willing to fix any problems as they arise.
The other criteria that come into play are, if brands demonstrate that they are very customer oriented e.g. brands such as WM and Irontech really have their ear to the ground at TDF and take on board customer suggestions for sculpting new faces or even ideas for photo shoots. Piper Dolls have listened to their customers need for tailored outfits and have worked hard to release their new range of bespoke clothing. Brands also need to have the TDF member tick of approval in the sense that members talk about them in a very positive way and they have a great reputation. In the end, it’s really the customer who decides if the product is amazing or not by testing it out.
What can you tell us about your customers? What is their motivation to buy a sex doll?
As much as the general public would love to pigeon hole doll owners, it’s truly impossible. Our customers are as diverse if not more so than any other customer demographic. For example, we sell to all sexes, couples and collectors, cosplayers and role-players, widows and widowers, young and the young at heart, gamers and gym goers, photographers and fashionistas to name just a few. We also have a couple of very high-profile clients in London who even travel the world with their dolls and the style of flight cases we sell just blend in seamlessly with all their music equipment!
Everyone has their own very distinct personal reason to own a doll. We even have long distance lovers buying dolls as gifts for each other. Some own one, some own 21. Some people when asked, on the forum ‘how many sex dolls do you have?’ will reply ‘None, but I have three emotional support silicone companions’. Or ‘I have a collection of dolls, none of which I use for sex, they are just dolls to me’. Some are motivated by sex, some are not. Some are motivated by one particular thing and it then it changes completely and unexpectedly.
I will say that in regards to their general demeanour, we’ve experienced nothing but the most civilised, polite, open and honest customers and we can form quite a bond with some. It’s a sensitive item to sell, the trust and respect go both ways and as I said earlier, we treat customers how we would like to be treated if the role was reversed – with respect and kindness.
The sex doll market is evolving at a quick pace. Now, we see the first dolls boasting artificial intelligence and robotics. What do you predict for the future of this segment? Which developments will we see in the years to come?
It’s crazy just how quickly robotics is evolving… Every other day it seems there is a development like the Toyota human support robot (HSR) that can clean and assist at home. This week it’s androids doing 3 point basketball shots, but there are still 20 IT guys standing around facilitating it, so I don’t think it will be quite as fast as everyone may hope in regards to graceful physical movements.
The AI is a different kettle of fish altogether and I’m siding with Tesla on that one in the sense that it’s great but could also be a threat to humanity if we’re not careful. I mean, I don’t have a crystal ball, but assuming technology continues to advance at the same rate as it has over the last decade, I would say it’s only a matter of time before we see fully functional humanoid robots doing all manner of things and sex will just be one of them. There are a few companies leading the pack with this at the moment, but who knows what will happen in time…
There are vocal critics of sex dolls, coming at the topic from a moral or philosophical angle – and these voices will only get louder as AI and robotics become more prevalent in this segment. Do you understand their criticisms?
I have to be diplomatic, I understand their criticisms yes, I wish they understood a little more about dolls before expressing their criticisms though. We don’t want to get up in arms about the fact that people have their own opinion, to each their own, that’s their business but it’s also our business (and not theirs) how we feel about dolls. I think one thing people forget is the old adage that ‘imitation is the highest form of flattery’.
We have nothing but adoration for the human form in all shapes and sizes as do both our male and female customers … we don’t view dolls necessarily as a way to replace humans, they are a celebration of the human form. They are actually very rarely objectified, quite the opposite. Owners often really humanise these dolls in every sense of the word, imbuing them with complex personalities. Some owners give their dolls Instagram accounts, doll forum memberships, even email accounts. They talk, live and breathe through their owner’s vast imagination. It would be an interesting ‘playground’ for a psychologist to study transference that’s for sure and on TDF there are many interesting and in-depth psychological questions that are discussed in this regard.
For some individuals who have lost or lack social connection, dolls can be a really important stepping stone to reconnection and healing. Ironically, the people that are judging and bad-mouthing people for having dolls are the very reason many people seek dolls in the first place. Dolls don’t judge, hurt or abandon you
Many doll lovers have been hurt in some way by others, yet still, crave some form of companionship. Who can deprive a fellow human of this? It would be highly insensitive let alone controversial for anyone to say negative things about people who own silicone ‘reborn’ babies to deal with loss, so you can imagine that doll lovers find it highly insensitive when they are ostracised and labelled ‘creepy’ or ‘crazy’ when sometimes, they too have experienced a deep loss, like the love of their life, and are seeking to replace that ‘hole’ in their life, in the same kind of therapeutic way.
Another example. when you think about it, why should someone who has a collection of 10 baby dolls be viewed so differently to someone who has 10 life-sized dolls, if both owners are collectors and purely paint and repair these dolls as a hobby? For some people sex dolls are simply ‘cuddle dolls’ and studies have shown that cuddling releases oxytocin that gives you a sense of well-being. It’s no secret on TDF that many doll owners credit their dolls with curing their depression. There is one sex doll vendor I’ve heard of that sells primarily to war veterans which may sound odd but when you know that these ‘love hormones’ help with anxiety and PTSD it makes perfect sense.
We have both male and female staff members, all of whom have nothing but positive opinions of dolls and doll lovers alike because they understand how diverse people’s needs are. It really is just a ‘different strokes for different folks’ situation and there should be no more of a stigma attached to owning a doll than there is to owning a regular toy, sexual or otherwise. If you want to look at dolls purely from a sexual, masturbatory angle, then, it could be seen as a ‘healthy body equals a healthy mind’.
What is next for SiliconeLovers.com.? What do you have planned for the upcoming months?
I wish I could say a little downtime for the team as the last few months have been so full on but it’s tough for workaholics to relax! We’ve all been working incredibly hard to both foster new partnerships with brands that we know TDF members love and also to prepare the website to launch those brands very soon. This has inadvertently prompted an overhaul of the entire website navigation in a bid to make the site and custom building even easier.
Next week we are launching our partnership with Payl8ter as an alternative to PayPal Credit, which we also offer. That’s the boring stuff…The more exciting stuff is that we are currently in pre-production with an artist in London to create quite an extreme fantasy doll which we are super excited about. Later down the track…well, we don’t want to give too much away yet but we’ll soon be working with a sculptor to create our own dolls that will be available for customisation. Like all good design, these things take time…and a healthy dose of imagination.