“If you turn 19 upside-down, it becomes 61. Just like this number, we at Sixtyone want society to reverse its perception of the sex culture.” Choi Da-eun, a twenty-six-year-old Chief Marketing Officer, is one of the three founders of the online adult toy shop Sixtyone (sixtyone.co.kr). While the sex industry is often regarded as a breeding ground for objectification, exploitation, and vulgarity, not a single picture of a naked model in provocative poses is found on Sixtyone’s homepage. As Korean’s first artnography-a portmanteau of art and pornography-brand, Sixtyone aims to reconstruct the image of sex as a natural, healthy, and artistic form of desire that deserves to be respected and enjoyed.
Looking around, people can easily find their friends uploading posts of what they ate, where they stayed, and whom they were with. It is so common nowadays for everyone to share their various lifestyles, but not their sex life. In Korea, sexual desire is still seen as shameful, something that should be hidden. However, hiding what is natural only spoils it with warped perceptions, exploitation, and disgrace. Love is sacred, but why not sex?
GT: How did you decide to launch an adult toy shop?
Choi: Originally, I was a Youtuber and fashion blogger who used to hold exhibitions with fashion brands and artists. Then, I came across sex toys while searching for something new to display. Seeing condoms and dildos out on display was awkward and embarrassing at first. However, as I set them on the display table just like any other fashion items or art objects, people eventually came to take a closer look. I realized that sex toys themselves are not such a vulgar object, but the layers of perceptions surrounding them are what make them vulgar. There was no reason, I thought, for adult toys not to be fashionable objects.
GT: Sixtyone’s three founders vary in their background. How did a fashion Youtuber, a designer, and a salesperson come to meet and establish an adult toy shop?
Choi: We found one another through a start-up community. Some worried that our differences would make communication harder, but we have found the diversity to be a good business opportunity because our characteristics complement each other. We actually formed a team first then chose a business to work with later. Adult toys came up in one of our meetings; I just shared my experience with sex toys and suggested we make something of them. Then our designer found it interesting, while our business director thought it would be profitable. That is how Sixtyone was born.
GT: Seeing a fancily designed website that is adorned with vivid colors, the products from Sixtyone resemble nicely decorated desserts or even an artwork. As Korea’s first adult toy shop to intertwine pornography with art, why did you choose art as a new communication method?
Choi: Sixtyone was born from the idea that those old perceptions make customers guilty about being honest about their desires. So, our goal in designing our brand was to make a website that people can visit even in front of their parents or friends just like any other online fashion malls. This is why our website does not have naked models or sex appealing pictures that people expect from sex toy shop websites. Instead, we use photo shoots with fashion models, fashion bloggers, and artists.
▲ One of the artworks from a collaboration with professional makeup artist Yang Sun-Young
GT: What was the biggest obstacle in launching an adult toy shop?
Choi: The law was the biggest obstacle, but I would say the underlying thought that enjoying sex is lowbrow made it very difficult for us. In Korea, the law just says that objectionable content should not be publicly posted, without specifying what is objectionable or not. This way, judgment often differs case by case even with the same content. The problem is that this ambiguity causes major portal sites to ban our content from shown in the websites. Sixtyone aims to establish a healthy sex culture, which is different from lewd contents. However, according to the law, we are treated in the same way as sex tapes. There have been some institutions that have refused to accept donations from us just because we are an adult toy shop.
GT: In Korean society, sex culture is still not very open. How do the customers react to shopping for a sex toy?
Choi: Above all, I have heard a lot that it feels safer to buy from a woman. Interestingly, there is no specific mention on the website that one of the founders is female. But customers just know it by the design of the website and how the products are displayed. I think this is because our design shows our belief that sex should not be merchandised, and women should not be exploited as in traditional sex culture. While I am grateful that our customers appreciate our efforts, I also feel sad when I find out the existing industry is making so many people uncomfortable about the sex industry.
GT: What is the target demographic of Sixtyone?
Choi: Late 20s and 30s are our main customers, and our brand also focuses on inviting them. In fact, if we seek an instant profit, we should have targeted the late 30s and 40s who buy the most in adult toy shops. However, in order to correspond to our goal to reform the current sex industry, we thought Sixyone should befriend young adults who are expected to gradually change the coming future. When our customers of today turn 30s and 40s later on, the society will be different from now.
GT: What is Sixtyone planning for thefuture?
Choi: We have recently collaborated with an obstetrics and gynaecology (OB&GY) clinic and I heard we are the first adult toy shop ever to associate with a hospital. We believe that creating a healthy sex culture is closely related to developing a safe environment where the users know their body and the products understand the bodies of its users. Rather than just selling products that we purchased from wholesalers Sixtyone also aims to launch products of its own that are safe and medically approved so our customers can use them without worries.