Lovehoney’s Bonny Hall on the firm’s Fifty Shades collection – and why more brands should do sex toy collabs

Bonny Hall – Global Product Director at Lovehoney – talks us through the new collection, which includes a limited edition Fifty Shades of Grey Greedy Girl Rabbit.

Back in 2012, sexual happiness firm Lovehoney debuted its Fifty Shades of Grey collection, spanning sex toys, bondage and lingerie.

The huge success of that first collaboration spawned multiple ranges over the years, some tied to the launch of the big screen adaptations of the Fifty Shades books. Now, to celebrate 10 years of Fifty Shades, Lovehoney has launched a brand-new anniversary collection.

Caroline Mickler, whose independent licensing agency has worked with the Fifty Shades of Grey brand from the outset, told us: “Thanks to the intelligent and appealing way that licensing partners like Lovehoney have built on the success of Fifty Shades, the brand is today as strong as ever in the licensing space – ten years after the first book appeared.

“The partnership with Lovehoney in particular has been a very important one for the Fifty Shades brand and it will no doubt offer many more opportunities in the future.”

We spoke with Bonny Hall – Global Product Director at Lovehoney – to find out more about the design of the Fifty Shades range, and why more brands should look at doing collaborations in this industry.

Bonny Hall, Lovehoney, Fifty Shades of Grey

Bonny, it’s great to connect. To kick things us, how did you find yourself working in the sex toy space? I can’t imagine there’s a traditional route in!
I happened to be in the right place at the right time! Back in 2002, two of my good friends – Neal Slateford and Richard Longhurst – had the bright idea to launch Lovehoney and I joined them in 2003 as their first employee. Their original goal 20 years ago was to create a safe and fun shopping experience for those looking for sexual pleasure products, which I hope we can say we achieved!

From employee number one to Lovehoney’s Global Product Director. What does the role involve?
Over the past 19 years my role has changed considerably. I’ve been very lucky to have worked in lots of areas of the business and have built a lot of valuable knowledge and expertise. I now head up a team who work on the sourcing, selection, design and development of products across all of our categories, from Sex Toys, Lingerie, Bondage and more.

“The interest that Fifty Shades generated in sex toys was huge. There was literally a global shortage of Jiggle Balls!”

We look at global trends and innovations, as well as design, to curate a unique range of products for our customers. My role also involves working with licensing partners like Fifty Shades of Grey to bring brands to life in the form of products.

Yes, and before we talk Fifty Shades of Grey, I’m interested in the design process at Lovehoney. What do those first few creative steps look when designing a new toy?
All new product ideas start with the customer. Who is the product for? What is the gap we have identified? Are there any products that already exist that fill that gap? If we believe there’s the need for a new design, then we create a brief that will specify the customer, the materials, technologies, specifications, target price point and so on. This brief is then used to generate 2D and 3D designs for approval before we proceed. During the development process we also go through a stage of human testing ensuring the product works in the way we had envisioned.

Now, Fifty Shades celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, and your collaboration has been a big success. How did the partnership come about?
At the time the first Fifty Shades of Grey novel was released, Lovehoney was very quick to spot the trend and stock the novel. It flew out of the door and Neal Slateford reached out to E L James’ team about the licensing opportunity. Neal was already very interested in licensing and was actively looking for a new partnership for Lovehoney to work with.

Talk us through some of the key design decisions behind some of the range. How do you ensure that items in the collection feel authentically Fifty Shades?
What I have found key is that everyone at Lovehoney working on the Fifty Shades of Grey brand needs to have read the novels and to understand the story. I love the story and because of this, I’ve found it easy to bring it to life through product.

The first collection we launched was very true to the story, specifically taking scenes from the book and recreating the products described. For example, the Silver Kegel Balls featured became an overnight success. We have also used product names and quotations that are all directly from the books that help to bring the products closer to the story.

Bonny Hall, Lovehoney, Fifty Shades of Grey

As well as the Kegel Balls, the Fifty Shades of Grey Greedy Girl G-Spot Rabbit Vibrator is one of Lovehoney’s most popular items. How does it embody the Fifty Shades brand?
The Fifty Shades of Grey Greedy Girl was a later addition to the range as the books do not specifically mention a Rabbit Vibrator. The idea for the product came about during a dinner with E L James where we were discussing the best-selling shapes in Sex Toys.

“We’ve designed a beautiful bondage range for the anniversary called Sweet Anticipation that uses new reversible technology inspired by the Red Room.”

I had mentioned how the Rabbit Vibrator is one of the most loved toys and that it would be great to have one within the range as it was a gap in the portfolio. By the next morning we had a presentation for E L James that included the Greedy Girl Rabbit concept.

The design is a great brand fit as it’s the perfect balance of power, quality and functionality at a competitive price point. It’s been a bestseller in the range since its launch.

Bonny Hall, Lovehoney, Fifty Shades of Grey

You mentioned E L James there. I would imagine some authors are hands on and others are hands off when it comes to brand extensions based on their work. Did she get involved in the creative process at all?
Yes, E L James does indeed get involved in the creative process. During a new product range proposal, we meet many times to discuss the original concept, the final shapes, materials, colours and also product names and packaging designs. It’s been very important over the years to ensure we meet and exceed the quality standard that is fit for a billionaire’s toy box!

Absolutely! Now I’m interested in the impact the success of Fifty Shades – both the books and the films – has had on your industry. Was there a noticeable uplift in sales when the first book took off?
The success of Fifty Shades of Grey was a big boost for the industry as a whole. At the time the book came out, there was a small slump in the industry and the book release gave it an injection of new life.

The interest that it generated in sex toys, as well as bondage, was huge. There was literally a global shortage of Jiggle Balls due to everyone rushing out to buy them!

The great Jiggle Ball shortage of 2012 – there’ll be books written about it one day! Speaking of Jiggle Balls, you’ve launched a new Fifty Shades collection to coincide with the brand’s 10th anniversary. Talk us through some highlights from the new line.
We have had various launches for the anniversary. We had two limited edition versions of the Best Selling Fifty Shades of Grey Greedy Girl Rabbit in Gold and Silver. We also have the Sensation Collection which a range of beginner friendly, rechargeable toys that are perfect for travel, incorporating the most love shapes in sex toys.

Bonny Hall, Lovehoney, Fifty Shades of Grey

We have also designed and developed a beautiful bondage range for the anniversary called Sweet Anticipation that uses new reversible technology inspired by the Red Room. The customer can choose the red rose pattern or a faux black leather look and feel, allowing for an element of personalisation.

Bonny Hall, Lovehoney, Fifty Shades of Grey

Sex toys, bondage, lubricants… There’s plenty of brands out there that haven’t explored this industry yet. Do you think more brands should look to get involved in this space?
I do believe that there are a lot of brands that could really benefit from collaborations and partnerships within the industry. We’ve definitely seen a shift over the past 10 years where more brands are open to the conversation – but there are others who are still very closed off to the idea.

We are always happy to have a conversation and brainstorm what a product range could look like. What’s quite unique about Lovehoney is that we’re not only developing within sex toys, but also in bondage, lingerie, gifts and games, as well as wet goods and essentials like massage oils, lubricants and condoms.

And do brands need an obvious link to sex to be successful in this industry, or could you see some left-field collaborations doing well?
I personally believe that it’s beneficial to have a brand link to sex in some way with the partnership. This would help not only with the product development, but also with the marketing.

“We’ve definitely seen a shift over the past 10 years where more brands are open to a conversation – but there are others who are still very closed off to the idea.”

There is however a world of ideas that can be brainstormed for brands interested in exploring partnerships. It can be as simple as a feeling or theme like happiness or pleasure. It could be a link with technology or material, or with flavour or scent. Or a link – like Fifty Shades of Grey – with a story that can be brought to life from the pages of a book.

Interesting stuff. Now Lovehoney is a strong brand in its own right. Could you ever see the Lovehoney being licensed out into other industries, like apparel?
We have partnered on a book licence for Lovehoney and are definitely open to exploring other areas and opportunities. I have always loved the idea of homeware, stationery and greeting cards! I would love to work on such a project.

There we go – Lovehoney wants to get into homewares, stationery and greetings cards. Let’s put it out there and see what happens! I have one last question before we let you go, how do you fuel your own creativity?
I stay curious, I stay passionate and I have fun! Curiosity is key as I’m always interested in finding out what is happening out in the world. What are the new technologies? What are customers searching for? What new materials, manufacturing methods are being used? What’s on trend?

Having a passion for the products I develop is also important as I need to believe that the products are going to deliver what is promised. It’s so important when someone trusts a brand that you do not disappoint them.

And last of all fun, it’s really important for me to enjoy my role and to enjoy working with and learning from great partnerships like Fifty Shades of Grey.

Bonny, a huge thanks. I hope the new Fifty Shades range goes down well and I look forward to catching up again soon – hopefully to discuss Lovehoney homewares!

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