HONG KONG — Time Magazine's “Scenes From the Asia Adult Expo, Where the Sex-Toy Industry Cannibalizes Itself” details a reporter’s first-hand experience of the Chinese novelty market, where he finds knock-offs are accepted by premium brands as a part of the game.
Author Dan Kedmey turns to original and premium toy manufacturers to shed light on the strange phenomenon of innovators and “copycats” existing mostly harmoniously, sometimes only booths away from one another, at AAE.
Will Ranscombe, general manager of sex toy manufacturer Je Joue, says that while copycats irk him, they won’t dissuade his company from expanding into the Chinese market. He explains that the top socio-economic slice of China, the wealthiest 10 percent, totals more than 135 million people, and prefers to shop for top-tier brands. Should Je Joue market to that group alone, the company believes it can spin a satisfying profit.
“They’re not just saying, ‘Let’s buy a vibrator;’ they’re saying, ‘Let’s buy a Je Joue,’” Ranscombe tells Kedmey.
Meanwhile, one week after Je Joue debuted its never-before-seen Kegel-exercise training kit, designed over five years with a team of medical professionals and engineers over five years, a wannabe version is being sold on a Chinese Ebay-esque site for a fraction of the price.
The author points out that while Je Joue and Ranscombe might make out OK, independent designers might not. He offers up the wares of Kota Kuramoto’s Burger sex toy booth as an example, which he says proffers some of the “zaniest,” but most easily replicated products, including ice cream cone-shaped vibrators and a condom “carrying case” modeled after a fast food to-go box.
Kuramoto admits that he ran into a near-perfect copy of one of his non-sexual products, an iPhone case, in New York City. The packaging even sported the real company’s exact address.
Still, the young designer makes light of the situation, and, flipping through business cards from “big” companies he has collected over the course of AAE, says he is still hopeful his line will succeed.
“It’s a hope buoyed by the rising affluence of China’s consumer class, and not even the most diligent copycats can deflate it,” Kedmey concludes.