How I learned to build a vibrator at MODA

Georgia Tech grad and Crave founder Ti Chang brought her popular workshop, first held at South by Southwest, to Atlanta
Building the Crave Duet Pro vibrator at MODA’s Build-a-Vibe workshop

Photograph by Caroline Cox

It’s a warm Friday evening in August, and I’m sitting inside the beautiful Museum of Design Atlanta, listening to Atlanta native and Georgia Tech grad Ti Chang teach a sold-out workshop on how to build your own vibrator.

Once a taboo subject reserved for hushed conversations and seedy adult novelty shops, it’s safe to say that sex toys are more mainstream now than ever. The reasons are manifold: The accessibility and discreet process afforded by online shopping, and large retailers stocking these items, means it’s easier for those skittish to enter an adult store to experiment with accessorizing their sex lives. Plus, television shows from Sex and the City to Broad City have kept the conversation in the zeitgeist for the past few decades. (The latter even launched its own toy line.)

Recently sex toy companies have also been designing sleeker products, and many are marketing exclusively toward women. Increased access and expanded marketing have likely factored into making the once niche sex toy market into the reportedly $5 billion-dollar industry it is today.

San Francisco-based Crave is one of these companies. Their luxury products are well-designed, made with quality materials, and intended to enhance a woman’s sexual experience. (They also created the world’s first crowdfunded vibrator in 2012.) Their offerings include a “bullet” vibrator the size and shape of a lipstick tube (a photo on their website shows it sitting on a shelf, camouflaged among perfume bottles) and jewelry that you’d never guess doubles as a sex toy. Prices range from $35 for leather tassels to a $219 Duet Luxe vibrator plated in 24-karat gold. Crave was co-founded by Chang, who received her BS in industrial design from Georgia Tech.

Ti Chang leads the Build-a-Vibe workshop

Photograph by Caroline Cox

“Ti is an Atlanta native who is committed to designing beautiful products that meet women’s needs, and she’s doing so in a field that has been traditionally dominated by men—industrial design,” says MODA’s executive director, Laura Flusche. “She’s changing the world by creating gorgeous, wearable sex toys that eschew the shame and stigma that traditionally surround such objects.”

The Build-a-Vibrator class fits in with MODA’s other progressive programming, which has also recently included a “Subversive cross-stitch” workshop, 3-D printing classes, zine-making workshops, and the Lemonade Project, a monthly discussion on race, gender, and social justice inspired by the Beyoncé album.

Chang—who’s one of the few female industrial designers working in the sex toy industry—first held this workshop at the Austin-based music and technology festival South by Southwest. Outfitted in a white jumpsuit with “vibration technician” emblazoned on the back, she begins the Atlanta session with a brief history of vibrators, which she says were invented in the 1880s to help physicians treat women who were diagnosed as suffering from “hysteria”—arguably a weird, blanketed term that just meant “horny” or “sexually frustrated.” Nearly a century later, after vibrators became one of the first electrified gadgets, some devices remain on the market under the guise of “massage wands” or “muscle relaxers.”

Assembling the pieces

Photograph by Caroline Cox

On each table are small screws, a screwdriver, glue, a USB drive, three dual-tipped silicone sleeve color options (we forego the black and purple for a trendy merlot shade), and various metal and plastic odds and ends. There’s also a pressure gauge to ensure the product is completely sealed and waterproof. Along with Chang, expert technicians walk each table of participants through the step-by-step process of assembling the company’s new programmable Duet Pro vibrator, which Chang explains hasn’t yet been released on the market. The vibrator retails for about $199, but participants will get to bring home the one they assemble for half that price. (Workshop tickets were priced at $99 per couple.)

The device charges via USB.

Photograph by Caroline Cox

As my friend and I affix, screw, and glue pieces together, Chang explains how this vibrator is programmable and rechargeable—it can be charged in any USB port and, when the silicone tip is removed, it looks just like an ordinary thumb drive. Users can take advantage of the Duet’s pre-existing factory setting programs or customize it with any of 16 different vibration patterns that vary in intensity and frequency.

After assembly is complete, the finished product fits into my palm, and comes complete with a chic black case. Everyone begins turning on their vibrators, pressing them to the back of their hands to test the feeling and intensity. “Whoa,” says the woman across from me. “That’s some serious power!” Holding a piece of technology I assembled by hand, which was designed by a woman specifically to make women like me feel good and take charge of our own pleasure, I’m inclined to agree.

The finished product

Photograph by Caroline Cox

When separated, the charge port looks like any other USB thumb drive.

Photograph by Caroline Cox

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