While Pakistan’s leather and steel industry is renowned the world over for its high quality produce, little is known, both by locals and foreigners, about some of its sauciest exports – that of adult toys and sexual aids.
Within the confines of a small factory in a provincial city in Pakistan, two young men huddle over a grinding wheel. They believe, according to The Economist, that they are making surgical instruments. But like many of the small, local firms manufacturing steel and leather goods for export, their employer has a new sideline.
“It’s just another piece of metal for them,” says the firm’s owner, as he picks one up to show how his ‘worldlier’ foreign customers can easily grip the gleaming device. The nine-inch steel tubes are, in fact, dildos.
For Pakistan exporting ‘anal beads’, ‘gimp masks’ and ‘padlockable penis cages’, among other kinky wares, would shock locals as much as the Westerners who end up using the final products.
Secrecy is required for such production. In a country as religiously conservative as Pakistan production of such items could stir a religious backlash. Employers are well aware of such hazards, which is why only the most trusted workers are allowed to put on the final finishing ‘spikes’ and ‘studs’ on the items. In this way the majority of staff is unaware of what is being actually produced.
But many companies working in the domain do not advertise their products on their websites fearing backlash from religious hardliners. This sort of advertising, instead, is done through Alibaba, a Chinese e-commerce giant that acts as a middleman for many businesses in the developing world. While some officials demand bribes to allow the exports to flow, others are simply unaware of the potential for mischief in, for example, a Wartenberg Pinwheel—a spiked disc that can be run across the skin.
A local maker of leather goods, one of 64 sex-toy suppliers based in the city that list on Alibaba, says that only a small proportion of its sales comes from ‘fetish gear’. The company can earn as much as 200% profit on a ‘kinky corset’ or policeman’s uniform, compared with just 25% on mundane jackets and gloves, its original business.
When asked if the items the firm makes might not encourage fornication among unmarried or gay people —an illegal activity in Pakistan—the owner’s son has a ready comeback. “What if a gay person wears a [normal] jacket that was also produced by us?” he shot back. He added that the firm does not know, and has no business knowing, how customers use its products.
Due to the highly profitable nature of the venture, firms that do not produce such items may be losing out on a big opportunity. Lifted by an increasing amount of erotica, global sales of adult toys have reached about $15bn a year.
With local companies being dependent on China to import heavily-taxed latex, they cannot compete in rubber toys.