Czech designer sex toys in production following successful crowdfunding campaign

Photo: archive of Anna Marešová

Designer Anna Marešová first made headlines several years ago when her sex toys won the main National Student Design Award. Since, she has gone professional. Just recently she oversaw a crowdfunding campaign which raised almost 40,000 US dollars for the product line.

Anna Marešová,  photo: archive of Anna Marešová
I asked her about the project - then and now.

“The project was my dissertation so one of the goals was to successfully complete my studies. When the project won the National Award for Student Design it was a big surprise and I realized it had affected many people. Two years later I brought one of the designs to life and these were the Venus Balls.”

I guess that it caught some people off guard that sex toys could be designed differently or that they won the main prize. But I read that your professors were very understanding.

“They understood that when I do something I take the subject seriously. Before I had focused on a number of subjects, including a new design for a Prague tram, and they knew that this was a subject which interested me deeply. It is not some extravagance or something frivolous. I didn’t, for example, ant to spend a year ‘with a chair’ and this was something I felt strongly about. Erotic toys were such a topic.”

Vibrator,  photo: archive of Anna Marešová
I was describing your designs to a friend who didn’t know about them or what they look like so I used this as shorthand: imagine Steve Jobs had designed a vibrator. Of course he didn’t, but your designs remind me of a company like Apple in terms of design principles: the use of simplicity, contour and line.

“Thank you, that’s very nicely said. For me it is important to have products which communicate. For them to be functional; and for me, the user is of primary importance. That is an important point and I really want to provide top-quality and to be able to provide products which make women happy.

It is not only about reaching selling points but for the product to have a purpose.

“My designs are usually very simple visually, because I don’t like multi-functional products. From my perspective, I like for the purpose to be simple and for the design to be sleek.”

“My designs are usually very simple visually, because I don’t like multi-functional products. From my perspective, multi-function doesn’t work. I like for the purpose to be simple and for the item to be simple and elegant and sleek and to have a very clear function and to serve the purpose well.”

And the initial designs were pure white?

“The first was just white because white is very basic when it comes to design: when you make something in white you can really see the shape and it is clean and I think that is important for something like a love toy. Later, I made the Venus Balls in red silicone because the factory where the items are produced presented me with a prototype and I thought it looked great. So we came out with a red variant, while in the crowdfunding recently we also offered a limited Noir edition of our erotic toys. I really like that as well but if I have to choose I prefer white.”

Vibrating egg,  photo: archive of Anna Marešová
We will talk about how your crowdfunding project went in just a moment… but first how big a jump was it to go from a prototype to a functioning vibrator or other sex toy?

“It’s pretty big! I didn’t fully imagine how difficult be. Usually, the way it works is that you come up with a prototype and you have an agent in China where functional prototypes are produced and eventually who get to a working product. But we are really developing Whoop de Doo here – everything is in the Czech Republic. It is a bit of an adrenalin rush. So we hold meetings at the factory or manufacturers’ which last for many hours and go down a list of problems which have to be dealt with. I like it but the process can be very exhausting.”

My understanding is that you won’t accept less than top quality…

“I don’t like compromises and there are a few things about our products which are not open to it. One is the basic material, medical-grade silicone and another key feature is that everything, all mechanical and electronic elements have to be embedded and invisible. And that can be quite complicated to do. But that I think is one thing which sets our products apart: some others search for the cheapest way to produce something and I think that is our advantage.”

Photo: archive of Anna Marešová
To build on what you are saying there, your vibrator features three motors instead of just one…

“It features three but the crucial thing is that the vibrator still remains flexible. And technically that is not an easy thing to do. We have the final prototypes now and I hope everything will go well.”

You have had a lot of customer response, a lot of feedback, could you tell me about some of the response?

“Part of our mission is to break taboos. It is not just about products but about communication.”

“We heard from one Mum who bought the Venus Balls for her daughter and helped save her relationship which was in trouble. And that was very nice to hear. There is also a group of women in their 60s – I really love them – who have written to us thanking us for opening discussion on the issue of women’s sexuality. That is part of our mission, to also break taboos. It is not just about products but about communication. I feel it is a little bit like a lifestyle.

Venus Balls,  designed by Anna Marešová,  photo: archive of Anna Marešová
“As for the competition, it is a little bit different than five years ago. Now there are more companies offering designer sex toys but still many of the designers are men. So that is another thing I think we have addressed.”

The vibrator and some of the other toys were offered for sale in an ambitious crowdfunding campaign, with one of the basic options selling out. Buyers pledged the equivalent of more than 38,000 US dollars…

“I am very happy that we reached our goal although admittedly we had to lower the initial target. But we still raised a lot.”

And the campaign is over…

Photo: archive of Anna Marešová
“It is over now although there are still parts where you can pledge for some items. For a little while. Forty thousand dollars is pretty good. Around 40 percent of the contributions came from the Czech Republic and the rest from other parts of the world. The project of course required a lot of PR. In a way, I see it as a first step abroad. In the future I would like to launch the product on other markets including Great Britain and the US. I also have distribution agreed, for example, in Switzerland.”

You have a team dedicated to the different aspects, including New Media…

“It is a small team of people I work with and many are former classmates from Ustí nad Labem. It is really important to have good creative people who can make a video and so on. Sometimes, I have moments when I feel like we are back in school and I say this is one of the reasons to be doing this: I really want to work with people who I like. The videos which were part of the campaign were shot by my friend Klára and I was very happy with the result and she is getting better and better. Then, I have two designers and a graphic designer.

“I am still looking for good business people, who understand the project and the philosophy. Finding the right people can be the most difficult aspect of running a firm. It took me a year to find a good assistant at my office and it can be difficult. Right now, I no longer feel like a designer because I am doing a business. I don’t feel like a businesswoman either but I have to do it! So I am really looking for someone who could that better than me!” (laughs)

Photo: archive of Anna Marešová
Crowdfunding has become very commonplace over the last few years… Do you think that your business would have progressed as it has without it?

“I would have been a little different. If you are running a crowdfunding campaign you have to contact a lot of people and you also have to ask for a lot of help. It is a big difference from when you simply find an investor who puts the money on the table. It is very alive and very exciting.”