Q&A with Babeland Co-Founder Claire Cavanah

The sex shop pioneer talks changing times, female sexuality and toys!

Since 1993, Babeland has been one of the most popular women's sex shops in the country. Co-founder Claire Cavanah took the time to answer some questions about one of GO's favorite places to shop for all things naughty. 

You clearly opened the shop with lesbians and queer women in mind. Why did you decide to enter such a historically male-dominated industry?

Rachel Venning and I opened Toys in Babeland when we realized there was no sex toy store in Seattle where we would shop. When we lit upon the idea there was no stopping us. We knew how much dykes wanted dildos and harnesses and knew the benefits of using vibrators for sex, and saw an opportunity to hook people up with the toys that could really change their lives. Our friends all got together and helped renovate the space we rented and helped us furnish it. It was a community effort.

What was the catalyst for the expansion into New York in 1998?

We both grew up on the West Coast and went to college on the East Coast. After a couple of years, we knew our shop would thrive anywhere that people were open-minded enough to think in a new way about sexuality. Each of us felt the pull of New York personally and knew Babeland could be huge here, and it turned out to be the best move we made as business people.  

How has the industry changed since you opened your first store in 1993, and how has your brand changed with it?

Vibrators have moved steadily toward the mainstream. Women now expect to orgasm more than they used to. As people of all genders have started incorporating sex toys into their lives, the manufacturers of those toys have responded to that expansion of their clientele by designing way better toys! It’s been a phenomenal shift in product quality. We rebranded, dropped the “Toys in” and updated our colors and fixtures. We got sleeker and prettier.

In my experience, Babeland shops and staff always provide a wonderfully welcoming environment. As a queer woman, that can be hard to find. What sort of training does your staff undergo to help cultivate that environment?

We hire carefully with an eye toward being helpful and enthusiastic about sex toys, then the new hires go through about 40 hours of training on products, sexuality, customer service and the way we do things in general. New hires also spend a few shifts “shadowing” a seasoned Babeland sex educator as they work with customers.

It often seems to be public opinion that women are less sexual than men, therefore any business geared toward female sexuality would have a hard time surviving. Obviously Babeland’s success counters that theory, but do you think there is any validity to women being less sexual than men?

I think women and gender-non-binary people have a lot more obstacles in our culture to enjoying sex and their bodies, and women in particular live with the expectation that they want less sex, and live up to that expectation sometimes. Libido is hard to measure, really.

Babeland puts on some excellent workshops. When did that idea come about?

From the beginning we got a lot of the same questions from customers about their bodies and the toys, so we started holding talks in the evenings that addressed those common questions. We started with Sex Toys 101 and quickly expanded into teaching a whole class on one topic. That was before the internet, of course! Even with the internet, our workshop program still works because learning in real life with other people about sex feels empowering.

Let’s talk toys. What are some of your favorite products on sale right now?

The new rechargeable Magic Wand is awesome! I just love it. It’s as powerful as the original and has different speeds and vibration patterns that are so much fun to play with. The Womanizer also ranks among my new favorites. It makes a sucking feeling that’s more like oral sex that any other toy I’ve tried, ever.

http://www.babeland.com/Magic-Wand-Rechargeable-/d/4617

http://www.babeland.com/Womanizer/d/4642

The community is obviously very grateful for all you've done. What can we look forward to from Babeland in the coming year? Anything in the works?

Let’s see – I want to say we are going to open a string of stores right away, but we grow pretty slowly. We are looking into growing soon. We are always looking for new fun ways to get our message out and get our toys out into the world. Right now we are readying ourselves for the Valentine’s Day wave.