A fleshy, heavyweight sex doll with blonde hair is slumped on its back over an air mattress. Behind me there's a large, all-black sex swing by the window. Metal shelving units are filled with double-ended dildos, vibrators, and butt plugs, and manikins are decked out in neon lingerie. One manikin, headless and shaped somewhat like a baby, dressed up in a miniature sex outfit, hangs over cardboard boxes.
I'm on the eighth floor of a Hong Kong office tower at A&H Design Group, a little-known Chinese maker and distributor of sex toys gaining traction in America.
"Some people wear butt plugs to work, or when they're just out and about," said Kat Weiss, one of the team's graphic designers. Weiss was the only employee interviewed at the offices willing to give her name. While the team is open with me about their work, everyone I spoke to at the design group—except for Weiss—requested that their real names be withheld because they fear of being outed to their families for working in the sex toy industry.
But the small team of four millennials is jovial when I meet them, as they're pushing ahead into what they call North America's "anal market." A&H's new flagship product, an anal sex toy called the b-Vibe that launched last month, is made from silicone, comes in different sizes, and has rotating beads inside. It's meant to be the sex toy market's premier anal vibrator; the Apple of anal.
"We're going for something educational, high-end, and techy," Weiss said.
"We're going for something educational, high-end, and techy."
A&H is pinning its hopes on the b-Vibe as it moves away from relying on wholesale distributors—the team has just directly sold the first b-Vibe online without the help of distributors, to a customer in Canada. They expect that more online sales will soon follow.
Inside the conference room where I sit down with the team, each size of the b-Vibe—in a rainbow-like pink, purple, and blue—are lined up before me on the table with their remote controls. I'm taken by the packaging, which features a clean-cut gay couple in what looks like a wedding picture, along with other mixed-sex and same-sex couples enjoying intimate moments.
To help with its digital push, the team at A&H has just hired John* for online marketing. He thinks the market for A&H's products is there, and wants to sell directly to buyers online.
"What we find works really well is people search for 'rimming plug' online, or 'what is rimming,' and we show up—and they think, 'Oh what is this product?' So then they leave our website and type in 'b-Vibe reviews,'" said John. "It's a long kind of journey to the purchase."
During the testing process, the company engaged the help of American sex expert Alicia Sinclair, who used the product and gave her feedback throughout. Sinclair, who is a member of the World Association of Sex Coaches, is today the public face of the company. Sinclair, along with another sex expert, Charlie Glickman, have put together a pamphlet on responsible anal sex that's distributed with the b-Vibe.
"This product doesn't exist anywhere else—there are no butt plugs with rotating beads," said Sam*, the company's design manager.
"What we find works really well is people search for 'rimming plug' online, or 'what is rimming,' and we show up."
Meanwhile, other popular products coming out of the design group include the Drilldo, a large dildo attached to a drill.
"You can use any dildo and any drill you find in your home—we went with a DIY angle," said Sam. The Drilldo comes with plastic goggles and a sexy female construction vest, both of which were designed in the company's Guangzhou factory—just a few hours' train ride from Hong Kong, up on the Chinese mainland. There, in south China, factory production tends to come at a low cost.
The sex toy packaging is designed by both Weiss and Thomas*, who said, "Like a website, it's all about imagery." Thomas is another graphic designer at the company, who was working at a web agency before joining A&H. "I've got to pay attention to color schemes, formats of icons—these are things I'd need to use while designing a website."
A&H is also planning on releasing the Cow Girl, a relatively large sex toy that's shaped in the fashion of a mechanical bull, with a dildo center and top. But it's not all sex toys for the company—sometimes, if it means a profit on Amazon, they're also selling blender kits, coffee makers, and even mattresses, which they purchase out-of-house.
In Hong Kong, where local Cantonese culture is markedly more conservative than in America, sex toys are selling well, regardless. A&H has a chain of seven stores called Pink Pussy Cat across the city, selling their sex toys.
"People are very coy when talking about sex toys because they think people judge them," said John. "People want to experiment—you work long hours in Hong Kong and when you go home you want to have a bit of fun, and relax."
John and Sam, meanwhile, also haven't told their families that they work in the sex toy market. They don't plan to.
"My parents came to the Guangzhou factory and I had them hide the stuff—my parents would not be very cool about it if they find out," said Sam, who's from Bangladesh, a country where speaking about sex is strictly taboo.
"The whole parents issue is because [Sam] and I are South Asian," said John, whose family is Indian. "If I told my dad I were selling anal toys, he'd probably…" he trailed off.
While he said the transition from web design to sex toy and packaging design isn't all too different in principle, Thomas now keeps his job a secret from his traditional Singaporean family. Weiss, while she's told her family, sometimes withholds her job details from people she meets for the first time.
But for now, the hurdle to overcome for online sales certainly isn't cultural—it's getting people to buy a $150 anal insert that they haven't touched, or let alone even seen, as they would as if they were making a purchase from a sex shop.
"Everyone might have an asshole, but to each their own," said John. "That's our biggest challenge."
*Design group employee names have been changed.
Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.