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Entrepreneur Whips Up Bondage Gear for Vegans

Business: Utah man develops custom-made, animal-friendly items he markets online. Rights group lists him as a 'compassionate retailer.'

September 08, 2002|SHERRI C. GOODMAN | SALT LAKE TRIBUNE

SALT LAKE CITY — A vegan's life is anything but easy. What to eat, what to drink, what to wear.

What to use to tie up, blindfold, gag and whip your partner.

A young Salt Lake City entrepreneur is working to take the "cow" out of cower and make bondage play safe for vegans with a line of animal-friendly, cruelty-free human restraints, collars, harnesses, whips and belts.

Eric Ward, who runs the business online, crafts custom-made gear on request out of a "sinthetic" micro fiber called Lorica that looks, feels and acts like leather.

"One of the major aspects of the fetish of leather is the look of it. It just looks so sexy," Ward said.

The online store's dedication to vegan products earned it a spot on the "compassionate retailer" list of the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Ward, who has not eaten or used products derived from animals in four years, runs the online store as part of Reach Out Publications, a company that makes buttons and T-shirts for activist and nonprofit groups in Utah.

Ward, 22, insists that his main motive is to make life easier for vegans. He volunteers with the Utah Animal Rights Coalition and helped publish a guide to local vegetarian restaurants.

Reach Out also runs a vegetarian food-buying club.

But he admits that a personal interest in leather fetishes and bondage also played a role in the creation of his online store.

"I like helping open people's sexuality," he said.

His career as a PETA-sanctioned erotica outfitter started with a fateful trip to Europe, where he discovered a wealth of affordable vegan condoms.

When he returned to the United States, he decided to start an online store to sell the vegan condoms priced to compete with traditional ones.

The condom line, produced by the German company Condomi, raises the question: What makes a typical latex condom unvegan?

According to Ward and other animal activists, latex processing traditionally involves the use of a milk protein to soften the material, which violates the philosophy of veganism.

Condomi uses milk-free cocoa powder instead.

His condom sales have been brisk, spurring him to toy with other vegan erotic tools.

He searched for durable vegan bondage gear and found fabric restraints and rubber whips, but not a lot of well-crafted "pleather" gear, he said.

He researched alternative materials and settled on Lorica, a synthetic micro fiber used to make shoes and other vegan products.

Ward bought a roll of the black material, some leather-crafting tools and hardware, and an alternative sexuality guide, and started whipping out custom-crafted designs.

"The most important thing to me to get on the Web site immediately was the ankle and wrist restraints," he said. "While your average couple may not be interested in bondage, many of them would like some nice padded restraints."

He has since added custom-made belts and harness designs as well as whips and slappers.

"Of course, this may not be something your average couple will want, but there is a market," he said.

Lisa Franzetta, a campaign coordinator for PETA, agrees.

"PETA has received inquiries from people independently trying to find those types of products, " she said. "In general, more and more people are looking for items that are cruelty-free."

Ward isn't exactly raking in the dough. He has sold about 5,000 condoms, but has had only five orders for bondage gear.

But at least one of his customers is so pleased with her purchase that she plans to buy more.

Amy Leventhal, 32, of Berkeley, said she and her boyfriend visited street fairs and sex shops and surfed Web sites looking for a vegan collar.

"I'm not really a bondage-type person, but I wanted a collar and my boyfriend wanted one," said Leventhal, who is a vegetarian and does not wear leather products.

The selection of "cutesy" vegan collars dismayed her. Then she found Ward's Web site.

Ward asked for her neck size and customized the collar.

"It was really well-made and comfortable," she said. "It feels great and it looks like leather. It was just what I was looking for."

Now her boyfriend wants his own collar.

Meanwhile, Ward continues his vegan crusade. His next charge? Animal-friendly gear for Renaissance faire players.

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