Flamboyant feather boas adorn the windows and displays. Organic massage oils and lubricants are stacked up on shelves near the door. Toxin-free dildos and vibrators of all shapes and sizes line the walls.
Owner Christine Barksdale is standing behind the counter at Sustainable Passion, a unique sex shop in downtown Ithaca. Without the products lining the shelves, the store’s atmosphere wouldn’t imply anything “adult”. Then again, this is not your average sex shop.
Sustainable Passion is an eco-friendly, women-centric adult store. It has a cozy feel to it, with carpeted floors, soft lighting and even a couch. The space is off the beaten path of downtown Ithaca, located on Cayuga Lake near the Boatyard Grill. Barksdale said she wanted to make her store a destination for people.
“My store is sex-positive and women-centric,” she said. “It’s about sustaining your love life and the environment.”
The “passion” part is easy: the shelves are stocked with sex toys, lubes, lingerie, adult games and erotic chocolate. The difficult part is locating products that align with the store’s sustainability standards.
Barksdale said she uses strict policies regarding the types of products that she carries. Everything she stocks is as environmentally-friendly and locally-made as possible. Most of the shop’s lingerie is made in the U.S.
“If it’s from the U.S., great. If it’s green, better.”
Buying close to home not only cuts down on shipping costs, it boosts the local economy and cuts down on emissions from transportation. She said she is trying to find a local place to purchase her erotic chocolate from.
The lingerie selection at Sustainable Passion is full of all-natural fibers, and Barksdale even stocks polyester lingerie for vegan customers. The oils and lubes are all organic, and according to Barksdale one of her vendors for hemp-based lubes is an Ithaca College graduate.
Not only are the products themselves eco-friendly, but she also tries to buy from vendors who use green business practices and pay good living wages. She said that it requires a lot of research; Barksdale goes to trade shows in New York City, Florida, Las Vegas and more to meet with distributors and vendors. The industry is exclusive, so going to these trade shows is one of the few ways to learn about and buy products that suit the store’s niche.
Barksdale said that her store has a steady stream of customers, with some regulars. According to a study done by Indiana University in 2009, 52.5 percent of over 2,000 female respondents use a vibrator. Considering those numbers and the uniqueness of her store, Sustainable Passion is poised to become an increasingly popular local destination.
Sustainable Passion has been selling sex-positive and woman-centric items since its beginning in 2008, when Barksdale started selling erotic products at private events called Passion Parties. They quickly became very popular and she started receiving calls from women asking her when the next parties were.
Sustainable Passion opened in Ithaca in 2009. The space was originally designed for women to comfortably browse adult products, but she soon discovered it was not just for her original target audience.
“I get a lot of couples that come in, – lesbian and heterosexual,” Barksdale said. “A lot of guys come in here looking for gifts.”
The space is also comfortable for men, almost like a Victoria’s Secret for sex toys. There is a small section near the front door that features sex products for males, right next to oils and lubes.
Her store has an interesting focus that seems like it should be a no-brainer: toxin-free toys.
“The industry is mostly unregulated,” she said. “Sex toys are sold as novelties, so many are toxic.”
According to Barksdale, the only materials that are really safe are silicone, wood, stainless steel and glass. She has done a lot of research to find suitable products that will not harm her customers, and found a local glass shop to make her custom dildos.
PyreXions is a functional erotic glass art shop run by Aaron Verity in Brooktondale, N.Y. He confirmed the lack of regulation in the sex toy industry and swears by his solid glass products.
“It’s a billion dollar industry,” Verity said. “That alone is worth looking at the environmental aspects. And the health concern is even more important; sex toys are not held to any testing or standards.”
Verity said he does custom work as well as wholesale for high-end boutiques around the country. PyreXions is a green practice – the glass is hygienic and when properly handled it can last a lifetime.
Sustainable Passion’s unique merchandise and atmosphere attracts customers from Rochester and regulars from Syracuse, and even visitors from as far as Rhode Island. Not only are the items safe, they are environmentally friendly and help support the local economy. As a result, Sustainable Passion fills a niche in the Ithaca community that allows customers to shop comfortably for a private part of their life while supporting their values.
Kellen Beck is a sophomore journalism major who finds saving the environment very, very sexy. Email him at kbeck1[at]ithaca.edu.