For centuries, if not millennia, jewelry has been a tool of self-expression. From Cleopatra's snake-shaped necklaces to Schiaparelli's surrealist statement earrings, adornment has signified power, creativity, and ambition. But jewelry has also been a tool for subtly communicating an inner life and desires. Such is the case with Crave's line of aesthetic pleasure products, which range from sleek USB-rechargeable vibrators to the new ID and ICON Cuffs, a series of luxury cuff bracelets that double as handcuffs for light, intimate play, available on Kickstarter until June 12.
These sophisticated statement pieces are designed by women and meant to be worn out on the town as signifiers of self-love, personal power, and sexual preferences. Available in two different models–the ID and ICON Cuffs–the leather ICON Cuffs are designed for light restraint, while the ID Cuffs are a silicone band option, with bracelet straps connected by a stainless steel chain with a customizable ID tag. Both can be adjusted onto one wrist as an everyday reminder of self-love and pleasure.
Designing for female pleasure
San Francisco-based Crave was co-founded by Ti Chang, a product designer with two decades of experience crafting everything from bicycles to a line of ouchless hair brushes for Goody. With Crave, she hoped to utilize design to convey female empowerment–"who you are, what you believe in, and what you desire." A traditionally-schooled industrial designer, she attended the Georgia Institute of Technology and later received her Masters in Design Products at the Royal College of Art. After launching a successful corporate design career, which included working as the first female industrial designer at Trek, she searched for ways to align her work with her ideals and interests more closely, and became a critical advocate in establishing the Women in Design professional chapters of the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA).
When Chang initially released a small line of intimate accessories that doubled as jewelry in 2008, she began to notice that most of the products already on the market not only came with a stigma and shame around women's pleasure but were often produced by men with very little female R&D. Her flag in the ground became the mission to design pleasure products for women, by women. FoundingCRAVE with entrepreneur Michael Topolovac, Chang's initial collaborative design, the Duet Pro, debuted on Kickstarter and became the world's first crowdfunded sex toy. In the years since her work has been credited with bringing pleasure jewelry to the mainstream. In 2014, her Vesper vibrator necklace, which came in designer metals like rose gold and plated silver, was released and worn by everyone from Cara Delivigne to Janet Jackson, and was carried at the MoMA Design Store and the Standard Hotel, as well as Saint Laurent and Nordstrom's retailers.
"For the past 14 years, I've focused on shattering the taboo and stigma around female pleasure through design," says Chang, explaining why she seeks to create luxury products that elevate the experience of pleasure. "I think there is a unique experience when people wear pleasure jewelry that is unlike any other pleasure products in that it allows people to openly embrace their desires as an expression of themselves in a subtle yet provocative way, much like fashion." Chang notes that when she started her company, she wanted to dispel the social stigma around sex toys and normalize a conversation surrounding female empowerment. Her innovations come as part of a growing field she dubs "design activist-entrepreneurship." In 2021, Chang also co-founded Design Allyship to provide resources to designers from traditionally marginalized communities, noting that female designers often do not receive the same employment opportunities as men upon graduation and throughout their careers.
Wearing your individuality on your sleeve
With the launch of Crave's ID and ICON Cuffs, Chang hopes to continue to help democratize sensual adventurousness and play through product design. "For the past two years, we have all been at home in sweats due to the pandemic. However, as life moves forward, I see people thinking more deeply about how they want to show up in the world," explains Chang, who envisions fashion-lovers beginning to become more thoughtful about what they wear in public and re-embracing fashion risks. In addition, she hopes to continue to support wearers' outward self-expression of passion.
By choosing to crowdfund her creations, Chang can do product R&D in real-time, including identifying which color selections and materials are most in demand from her community. But more than these critical insights, she can connect to a global community of like-minded design lovers. "With Cuff, I hope to attract new people to the brand who are not familiar with pleasure jewelry but excited to discover its power." She also hopes to stay true to the company's roots. "Fashion can be fickle, and we want to ensure that we put forth what people are most excited about when we ramp up for higher volume production."
Currently, Chang is working on several other pleasure jewelry pieces and bedside products to be released in the coming seasons. But for now, she is inspired by the reaction to her dual-function jewelry. "We have had an amazing community who has followed our journey since 2011 that consists of people of all genders, but mainly women who love the design of our products and the experiences they allow," she says, celebrating Crave's ability to elicit a fervent fan base. A seasoned product designer, she also keeps top of mind that products like the Crave Cuff have a primary function–to be jewelry. Really, really beautiful jewelry. And that certainly hasn't gone unnoticed as the line's popularity soars. "I mean, who wouldn't want to be gifted jewelry, right?"
Crave's ID and ICON Cuffs are available on Kickstarter through June 12.
— Laura Feinstein
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