Business Briefing: Couple crafts kink lifestyle for clients

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday April 17, 2024
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Polyamorous couple Mel Andre, left, and Jo Blossom have co-founded a company to cater to kinksters. Photo: Courtesy The Communal Toy
Polyamorous couple Mel Andre, left, and Jo Blossom have co-founded a company to cater to kinksters. Photo: Courtesy The Communal Toy

Mel Andre long had worked in the building trade, serving as a contractor in their professional capacity. As for their personal pursuits, Andre is a daddy top in the kink scene.

Two years ago Andre, 38, who is gender fluid, queer, transgender, and nonbinary, met their partner, Jo Blossom, 33, a queer woman who is a switch, as they both top and are a power bottom, a little, and a sub in the kink scene.

A San Jose native who has "always been kinky," Andre told the Bay Area Reporter they became more involved with the local scene in their 20s. Blossom, who grew up in Chicago and moved to the Bay Area a decade ago from Washington, D.C., started getting into the kink scene about seven years ago.

Jo Blossom is the name she goes by in the scene. A nonprofit executive, she did not want her given name published due to her keeping her professional and personal lives separate.

As the polyamorous couple cemented their own relationship and established contacts within the local kink and leather scene, they saw there was a need for a business that catered to people's desire to outfit their homes with furniture geared toward their sexual fetishes or could rent for events. Thus, last June, they launched The Communal Toy.

"What we are wanting to provide is kink furniture that is available to everyone," said Blossom. "For us, myself as a femme, queer woman and Mel as a queer, nonbinary, trans person, we are not the center of the kink scene traditionally. For us, we wanted to really be focused on what does it look like for queer bodies, femme bodies, fat bodies to be able to access kink furniture that felt high quality, felt safe, and felt modeled to our bodies."

Added Andre, "You can really see there is a lacking of space and access and so I wanted to, instead of saying, 'I wish this thing existed,' I realized we could just go make it ourselves."

Not to mention the need for furniture that could safely be played on, said Blossom.

"As a bottom I played on a lot of really bad, unsafe furniture that was duct taped together and rickety," she recalled. "I am not calling out anyone specific. It is just there is a need for us to feel safe and held in our play."

The couple publicly debuted their company at last year's Dyke March event at Mission Dolores Park on the Saturday of Pride weekend. The couple set up a play space with several pieces of their kink furniture.

"We wanted to really showcase our furniture. It felt important for us to really bring kink back to Pride," said Blossom, noting it marked the first time their furniture "was in the world."

Andre serves as the builder for the company, which currently markets two pieces clients can order. There is a st. andrew's cross that allows the submissive partner to be restrained by their wrists and ankles, and a spanking bench for the bottom partner to kneel on.

"We were very well received and quite surprised by just the overwhelming response and excitement to have an opportunity to have kink back at Pride in a way that was on display, accessible and available," said Andre. "A lot of people said they'd never seen kink furniture before or had an opportunity to play with it. It was a nice bit of feedback for us."

A key feature of either piece is they are built to support up to 600 pounds "with ease," as notes the company on its website. Andre said they purposefully designed each piece with two full-bodied people in mind.

"As the builder I found that a lot of furniture available as ready made stuff, the maximum weight limit on those is often 250 pounds. Lots of people don't feel safe, secure, or available to be on that furniture," noted Andre.

They have refined their designs based on the feedback they receive from customers and seeing what issues arise from wear and tear on the furniture after use. For instance, they changed the type of foam cushioning they were using to one that lasts longer.

"If I send a piece out in the world and it comes back wobbly, I know I need to add some braces," Andre said. "I try to use high-quality material that has high rigidity to it."

Blossom interjected that Andre was being too modest and noted as "a great example" revisions they made to the spanking bench design. They wanted to ensure the platform was secure enough for use by someone with a wide body.

"Our bench is how many bolts, my god?" she asked.

To which Andre replied, "40."

"What I have seen Mel thinking about from the very beginning is what does a big body look like?" noted Blossom. "How does it sit on a piece of furniture? What would be comfortable?"

As for the cost of their furniture pieces and rental services, the couple offers a sliding scale model. To purchase a piece of furniture, it can run from $500 to $800 per item and will take up to eight weeks to be delivered.

"I have built about eight pieces," said Andre, who at the moment has turned their living room into their workspace.

A st. andrew's cross, left, and a spanking bench are items marketed by The Communal Toy. Photo: Courtesy The Communal Toy  

Event rentals are sliding scale from $150-$300 per piece, with a required minimum event rental of $200. The couple will deliver the furniture, set it up, monitor its use and clean it during the event, and break it down and remove it when done.

They also offer rentals for more personal events at a private home. The minimum cost is $150 and the sliding scale range is $150-$300 per piece for a standard 12-hour bloc of time.

At is a fuller breakdown of their pricing scales, which they expect to raise in the future as demand increases. They are also considering charging a staffing fee, which they have yet to do.

"Living in the Bay Area we don't have a lot of space in our apartment for a private dungeon. But a lot of people do want to play at home or do a scene at home or invite a couple friends over," said Blossom. "We are able to deliver our furniture for private events at a home."

Andre is setting up a shop space in the backyard of their Oakland home so they can have their living room space back. Blossom's garage is being utilized to store their rental furniture.

"It is very Marie Kondo expertly organized to fit everything," joked Andre.

As for the business' name, it is a double entendre. It has a sexual connotation similar to a "pass around bottom" and refers to how the company's furniture serves a communal purpose.

"By us offering a rental model, basically any space can be a dungeon or host a play party," said Blossom. "It creates an opportunity for kink to live in untraditional places; that's been really exciting to see."

In addition to the couple's business, Andre has also branched out into building personal dungeons for those involved in the kink and leather scene. They have been working with the owners of Paradox, a new club, event space, and playspace for the sex-positive and BDSM communities set to open in San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood.

"It is a separate thing from The Communal Toy for private clients," said Andre. "I will come to whatever job site it is, if a personal home or private event space, speak with the clients and curate with them what their vision is. From there I will build out a price point from their needs."

The cost is based on the scope of the work involved. Reaping a lucrative payout is not their aim, noted Andre.

"The truth is, what motivates me is accessibility for folks. I want people to have somebody they feel comfortable to work with and trust," they said. "Having a private contractor come into your home, especially if you are a kinkster, can be quite invasive and exposing for folks."

The couple took part last year in the entrepreneur training program offered by the city's Leather & LGBTQ Cultural District based in western SOMA. As the Business Briefing column reported in January, the program provides training and assistance to businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs serving the San Francisco leather and kink communities.

"It is nice there is something centering Folsom and the SOMA district and trying to keep kink in the neighborhood and trying to keep our roots where they are," said Andre about the program.

The cultural district is planning to host a fifth cohort of applicants this July and is currently accepting applications from those interested in the program. Ideally, program graduates will open brick-and-mortar locations within the leather district's boundaries, though it is not a prerequisite to apply.

"It would be a dream to have an event space where people could play on our furniture all the time," said Blossom, adding the couple is also toying with hosting their own pop-up dungeon spaces.

The Communal Toy is planning to take part in the cultural district's Play in the Plaza events it will be holding the second Saturday of the month through October. They will take place from noon to 5 p.m. at Eagle Plaza, the leather and kink-themed public parklet on 12th Street between Folsom and Harrison streets. (It was to have kicked off last weekend but had to be canceled due to the rainy weather.)

The couple has set up its furniture inside the Folsom Street Community Center run by the organization that puts on the neighborhood's annual fetish street fairs.

"I love it is a community center and throwing a kinky party in a community center," said Andre.

The Communal Toy is looking at participating in the Up Your Alley Fair in late July and plans to be back at this year's Folsom Street Fair in the fall. It was hired as a vendor for the fair's after party Deviants last September and volunteered to set up its furniture at the fair's playground.

"At Folsom last year I got to witness folks setting up a fisting train on our spanking bench. It was the highlight of our Folsom," said Blossom.

Got a tip on LGBTQ business news? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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