A hankering for Hankeren

Hankeren addresses the growing interest to customize and Do-It-Yourself with Kingston’s first make-your-own sex toy design studio

The sex toy industry can cater to just about anyone. Now, another niche has been filled, allowing arts and crafts and DIY enthusiasts to create their very own.
The sex toy industry can cater to just about anyone. Now, another niche has been filled, allowing arts and crafts and DIY enthusiasts to create their very own.
Credit: 
Photo illustration by Christine Blais

Growing up, I always enjoyed arts and crafts; from finger paint, to forts, to papier-mâché, I loved it all.

Come to think of it, there has always been a market for people interested in Do-It-Yourself: make-your-own birdhouse, turn last season’s jeans into a cool (but actually quite hideous) handbag and even Build-a-Bear. The joy of customization still seems to be an area of interest for businesses. Kingston, in fact, has come out with its own R-rated version of DIY.

The recently opened Hankeren studio actually allows people the chance to make and design their own ... sex toys?

After further research, I found there is quite a large market for lovers of customization and sexual expression.

Melodie Ballard, one of the owners of Hankeren studio in Kingston, said the idea for the studio came from a zine publication her business partner had come across.

“It had a top 10 list of uncommon things you could Do-It-Yourself, and making your own dildo was on the list. She’s a very sex positive person ... she thought, ‘good idea’,” Ballard said.

“She sourced out all the material and made a very homemade looking toy.”

The developments grew from there, she said.

“She showed me the process and I said maybe I could make that look professional. I made a few toys that looked considerably better than the first one.”

Ballard said their business grew from there.

“This started in March and I realized we had a business in June,” she said, adding that they opened at the Artel at the beginning of July.

Right now, Ballard said Hankeren sells sex toys that they design themselves.

“We are offering workshops so that people can design their own,” she said, adding that the next workshop on Sept. 17 will be run through Education on Queer Issues Project (EQUIP) as part of Queerientation.

So what, exactly, goes into the self-creation of a sex toy?

Ballard said there are three basic steps.

Firstly, people use a special type of clay to mould the shape they want from the toy.

“It behaves like plastecine. It’s less oily and feels more firm to the touch,” She said. “You sculpt whatever you want ... as long as it’s physically possible to manufacture.”

Secondly, people brush over their clay design with mould making silicone, she said. This is the mould for the shape of the toy, which is later peeled off the clay shape.

Thirdly, platinum-cured silicone is placed inside the mould and what comes out is the toy, she said.

Silicone is used because it’s very safe for the body, Ballard said, adding that it’s hypoallergenic, free of phthalates and temperature resistant.

“You can boil it, which means you can sterilize it,” she said. “It’s a very durable material.”

You might be able to bend it, boil it and throw it down a flight of stairs but how does one go about designing a toy that’s worth keeping around?

“Sometimes when I’m designing a toy I think about what’s missing ... when I walk into a sex store ‘what do I want to see but it’s not there’,” Ballard said.

“Sometimes I’m thinking about the body, what’s a pleasurable shape,” she said when designing a toy.

“We always try to create designs that cater to different demographics of people,” she said.

“A lot of my designs are based on conversations with people ... on what they want to see.”

Ballard said the ability to design and customize their own toys gives people more control, individually or with their partner.

“It’s for voyeurism,” she said. [It can be] more pleasurable for the person watching than the person using it,” she said of how many people use sex toys.

“We want people to take their sex life into their own hands; we want people to own it and feel happy about it and to learn something about themselves,” Ballard said, adding that making the store a positive space is a big part of that.

“It does get creepy and not sex positive and it shouldn’t be. It’s a misconception that it should be that way,” she said. “Some of the stores quite genuinely don’t cater to a classy clientele.”

Ballard said she’s also noticed differences in sex stores across different cultures, noting Montreal, Brussels and London, England as having impressive stores.

“In England people were shopping for sex toys like they were shopping for cheese,” she said, adding that the doors to the store were constantly open to the public.

Ballard said Kingston is a good city for a place like Hankeren.

“This is a bit of a prudish town ... It’s changing, though,” she said, adding that cabaret shows seasonally come to town.

“There is a sex positive scene growing in Kingston,” she said. “We do have a strong community base of people ... [who are all about] nurturing it and letting it grow.”

Ballard said Hankeren so far has garnered interest from people of a variety of ages.

“I’ve noticed it’s a lot easier for women to understand and be interested,” she said, adding that they have also had a lot of support from the Queer community.

“We do have straight boys that are interested, but on the whole they tend to be more private about sex toys.”

It’s no surprise that Hankeren might make some people a bit shy since the concept of customizing your own sex toy is very unique.

“We are the only people that I’m aware of that do this,” Ballard said. “I think we’re giving back to people what should have been there all along.” Megan Andelloux, a certified sexologist and sexuality educator, said DIY sex toys could definitely be a useful service for consumers, especially given how health conscious many people are in today’s society.

This is a time where consumers are asking more questions and becoming more aware of which materials are safe for them, she said.

“It’s great that that store is publishing the materials they’re using and saying where it’s coming from,” she said.

Andelloux said consumer education is often a cause of tension between sex toy manufacturers, and some companies are starting to aim for full disclosure of the safety of their products to their consumers.

“Some companies just really don’t care,” she said, adding that home sex toy party companies are often notorious for bringing in products that aren’t safe for the general public.

However, consumer knowledge is changing, she said.

“[Consumers are] becoming more savvy about what’s good to put in the body and what’s not.”

She said she thinks the idea to customize sex toys would also be successful in serving a niche market.

“I think it’s really interesting that they’re doing customization,” Andelloux said.

“This is a good way to break the ice and get people to make their own toys. They’re getting the community involved.”

Patti Britton, a certified sexologist, said she thinks sex toy customization will also satisfy a niche market.

Britton said although some people may prefer to pick something out from a catalogue or not have the time or interest in the specificity of the design process, having a market for self-design is useful.

“I think that’s superb,” she said. “I think the idea of using what you prefer such as length or size or shape [is useful to] custom design and tailor to your bodily pleasure.”

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