Longtime friends Kris Fretz and Joe Vela entertained many business ideas when they went to college together. But it wasn’t until two years ago that the pair cofounded and launched a unique sex toy in the shape of what has become the universal emoji for sex — the eggplant emoji.
The Emojibator “grew” just two years ago and since then the company has also introduced a few other fruit- and veggie-inspired vibrators designed to make users laugh, feel good and inspire positivity around masturbation and sex.
Dreaming up the idea for veggie-shaped sex toys is one thing — putting the idea into fruition (pun intended) is a whole different game.
The company, with Fretz leading marketing efforts as CMO and Vela running the ship as CEO, also sells unicorn and cannabis leaf shaped pasties — more products designed around humor and fun.
When Vela, a drummer for Philadelphia band Tweed, first pitched the idea of the Emojibator to Fretz, whose background is in politics, she jumped on board. In college, Vela and Fretz had always bonded over music and entrepreneurial ideas, but the appeal for Fretz was being able to incorporate her passion for female empowerment into the company and product.
“Kristin and I met through my ex-girlfriend,” Vela said. “We instantly connected on music and our hustle-everyday style. We have always worked well together. When I had the idea for Emojibator, I knew Kristin was the right person for the company.”
Dreaming up the idea for veggie-shaped sex toys is one thing — putting the idea into fruition (pun intended) is a whole different game. Both Vela and Fretz admit they pondered the idea.
“I was the last person on Earth anyone expected to be behind our emoji vibrator business,” Kris admitted. “I waited a month and let the early press and sales prove our success before calling my Mom. She didn’t realize you could swipe right to get more emoji’s on her iPhone! Yet, her incredible response was, ‘I’m so proud of you! You’re so entrepreneurial!’ Of course, I get the shocked and slightly disturbed responses. Those challenges keep me going just as much as the admiration and praise.”
Vela’s family has always been 100-percent supportive of the company, but he admits he had different reactions from some friends.
“At first, I’d get mixed reviews from my friends who didn’t fully understand it, and I occasionally get that reaction from new people I meet,” Vela said. “But I think those reactions come from a culture of sex-negativity and masturbation-negativity, or low self-esteem.”
Negative attitudes about sex and masturbation are some of the elements that Emojibator was created to combat.
“Masturbation is healthy and natural,” Vela said. “And when done in a responsible, and respectable way, a loving sexual act. I think it’s ironic that the media glorifies a culture of violence but is afraid to talk about sex positively.”
“Our society must elevate and support women to explore their bodies just as early on and often as men are told to,” Fretz added. “Be it through entertainment, schools, or friends and family, we must help our sisters feel in control of their sexuality, their bodies, and ultimately their lives.”
The idea of helping to foster positivity around female masturbation was a no-brainer for Fretz who admits that growing up there was little or no talk about female orgasms or sex.
“My school and my mom only warned me about STDs and pregnancy,” Fretz said. “No one told me that I know how to orgasm. No one told me about vibrators, or that masturbation is normal. It took my college friends gifting me a candy chance vibrator on my 19th birthday for me to learn how amazing and powerful I am from within. Before then, I thought I needed a partner to orgasm. Clearly that’s not the case!”
“I think education is a major part of breaking down the walls of sex-positive communication,” Vela added. “We’ve done a lot of learning and research over the last few years so that we can inform people based on scientific studies. Anecdotally, I think men aren’t as comfortable using toys, so there’s an opportunity to start a conversation there.
“I remember discovering old Playboy magazines in a friend’s basement and being introduced to videos online from friends,” he said. “I’d get the scoop from older friends and my friend’s older brothers as well, which probably wasn’t always the best advice, and there was a brief sex education portion of middle school health class, but I’m sure it didn’t include masturbation.
“If memory serves, I had no problem discovering it on my own. I had the birds and bees talk with my parents when I was 15 or so, but I was already prepared for it having grown up on MTV’s ‘Real World.’ ”
The company is serious about encouraging women to feel comfortable with masturbation and have fun with their products.
Last year the company created a series of PSAs aimed at helping to educate women about masturbating that highlighted their products. The Now This Her page features the PSA on its Facebook page and can also be viewed on YouTube. The videos are humorous and progressive and feature the tagline, “Let’s Close the Climax Gap.” And though the ads are spoof-like in nature, which tie in with the company’s theme of humor, they highlight a real issue within sexual experience from a woman’s perspective — some men just don’t know how to get a woman off and via vibrator or other means it is within a female’s own power to take care of her pleasure and own it completely.
For Fretz, who stars in one of the PSAs, the issues resonate on personal and professional levels and being a part of the adult novelty industry has created a new way to influence and encourage positive mindsets around female sexuality.
“The old school sex toy industry is similar to our federal government, in that they’ve operated for decades with an unequal representation of women in positions of power,” Fretz said. “Through Emojibator, Vela gave me an opportunity to create a brand that meets (many) women where they are today: Ashamed of their natural desire to masturbate, uneducated on orgasm benefits, and using emoji to communicate. The power we have to change women’s lives through emoji vibrators is more impactful and inspiring than the political dysfunction I encountered living in Washington, D.C. I love the wide range of opportunities we’ve had to normalize female masturbation.
“From talking about sexting culture at San Francisco’s Emojicon, to mentoring participants at the first NYC Sex Tech Hackathon, and being featured at Venus, one of Europe’s largest erotic conventions, I love creating safe spaces for these intimate conversations in various communities that all share the same ability to orgasm.”
And as newcomers to the adult retail industry, Vela and Fretz admitted they have thoroughly enjoyed embarking on their journey.
“The sex toy industry, like the music industry, is filled with open-minded, adventurous people,” Vela said. “It’s no coincidence that the sex industry often pioneers innovation in technology. Think about VR [virtual reality], robotics, and the classic example of VHS tapes.
“I knew that I had a strong interest in sexuality, but it wasn’t until I had this idea that I had considered a career in adult toys. I feel like everyone in the industry is seeking to raise everyone else up. It’s not about competition, it’s about pleasure and compassion.”
Soon after the company’s launch, the media took the product viral with features in Cosmopolitan, New York Magazine, Time, Bustle, Huffington Post and several other publications. With their newfound success and mainstream attraction there are still area of adult retail that both say they would want to see change as well.
“I do not agree with how shunned out the sex toy industry is from leading social media advertising networks (Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat),” Fretz said. “And necessary business vendors like credit card payment transactions (PayPal), bank accounts and accounting software (Intuit). They are afraid of who they are: humans who have sex. Their fear leaves our legal business (and hundreds of others) with a dramatically unequal opportunity to succeed in today’s economy.”
For Vela, who still spends most of his time writing, producing and on tour with his band, the adult industry lacks more female-orientated product and entertainment.
“I’d like to see the porn industry evolve in a positive and profitable way,” Vela said. “A lot of the videos you see are degrading towards women and focused on a male audience, when in reality, the audience for porn is equally male and female.
“Additionally, a lot of women end up in porn for the wrong reasons, by manipulation or family issues,” he said. “There are some producers like Erika Lust who is pushing more sex-positive and cinematic content. I think that if we can change some of these things about the adult film industry, we might be able to get some money back into it.”
As far as the near and far future for the company, Vela said there is just one thing he knows for sure the company will do, “Shock and inspire curious people!”