The Kinktrepreneurs

Seattle's Other Urban Craft Uprising

The Kinktrepreneurs

Jennifer Richard

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT Monk (rope maker), Tonya Winter (makes clothing, hoods, and gear), and Scott Paul (inventor of the Humiliator Gag System).

Somewhere in New York City this weekend, a guy will tie up his girlfriend using hemp rope dyed a deep, dark red. Somewhere in Ohio, a woman will buckle her husband into his new Darlex straitjacket. And somewhere in San Francisco, a man will set his beer on a small tray snapped onto the gag that he buckled over the mouth of his kneeling slave.

What all these people have in common—besides being kinky motherfuckers—is that the sex toys they're using were all made by kinky craftspeople in Seattle.

A lot of Seattle's local kinky craftspeople got their start at vendor fairs hosted three times a year by the Center for Sex Positive Culture, which founded the Seattle Erotic Art Festival, the eighth annual installment of which goes down at Seattle Center this weekend.

"Seattle's a special place," says Allena Gabosch, executive director of the Center. "We're a strongly sex-positive and kink-positive community, and kinky people have social opportunities here and business opportunities. Seattle has everything from folks doing small-scale 'cottage industry' work to people who are making a living creating kinky toys and fetish wear."

Let's meet three of Seattle's best-known kinktrepreneurs.

"I did not set out to become a bondage-rope mogul," says Monk, 39, who lives in West Seattle.

Monk grew up on a farm outside Spokane. His family was conservative, evangelical Christian, and Monk got his nickname—now his professional name—at age 16, a time in his life when his future plans included entering a seminary and becoming a missionary. Instead, Monk moved to Seattle in 1991 with his wife—his high-school sweetheart, a girl Monk met when he was 14 and married the week after he turned 18—to go to the University of Washington. After getting his degree, Monk worked as a tech consultant for Microsoft, Boeing, and some of Seattle's first dot-com start-ups.

Monk says that he had always been weird, but never realized he was kinky until a family crisis. A member of Monk's extended family left her husband and came out as kinky about 10 years ago. To thank Monk and his wife for their support, and to help them better understand her, the relative gave them a book about bondage, The Seductive Art of Japanese Bondage by Midori, the SF-based sex educator and writer.

Midori recommends hemp rope for bondage play, and there were instructions in the book for treating hemp rope. Hemp is the rope of choice for bondage enthusiasts, but in its raw form, hemp rope is rough and coarse. Monk got some hemp rope, followed Midori's instructions, and used it to tie up his wife. Her response, says Monk, was, "Make more of this!"

When Monk took his rope to a bondage class at the Center for Sex Positive Culture—then known as the Wet Spot—someone asked about buying some of Monk's rope. The Center hosts vendor fairs three times a year, and Monk decided to make a big batch of rope and booked himself a booth.

He sold every piece of rope he had.

Monk cashed in the 401(k) he'd built up working for tech firms and went into the rope business. Seven years later, Monk has six employees (four of them full-time) and last year sold a half a million feet of rope through his website, www.twistedmonk.com.

When I visit the large space in an industrial warehouse in Sodo, there are spools of rope sitting on pallets, rope dying in vats, rope being run through a large loomlike machine to "break" and soften it. In one corner of the space, rope dries on racks in a walk-in kiln that Monk constructed. One of Monk's employees is shipping orders to customers all over the world, while another uses a blowtorch to burn away the sharp plant stems that protrude from the raw hemp rope.

"Basically, before I came along, if you wanted hemp rope for bondage you had to process it in your basement by yourself, and it's very, very labor intensive, as you can see," Monk says during the tour. "So not a lot of people bothered to do it."

Monk's rope quickly became the rope of choice for fetish pornographers and models, who tend to gush when asked about it. "I need to be concerned about not only the look & feel of the ropes I put on my models but the quality & strength as well," Lochai Stine, a professional bondage-porn director/rigger, wrote in an e-mail. "I use Twisted Monk's jute & hemp rope exclusively."

Monk has had difficulties—like finding a bank willing to work with him. Most banks took one look at Monk's website, which is tame by sex-toy-merchant standards, and told Monk that they don't work with porn companies.

"We're selling fiber," says Monk. "I took a bundle of rope to every brick-and-mortar bank in Seattle—Wells Fargo, Chase Manhattan, Bank of America. I have a growing company, we're going to do well over $250K in sales this year, maybe $500K, and I need payroll services, merchant services, credit services. I said, 'This is what I sell. Tell me I'm running a porn site.'"

Monk eventually found a bank willing to do business with him. "But I got kicked out of a lot of banks first."

The other difficulty was his family back in Eastern Washington. "I don't hide who I am on my blog or marketing materials, and my conservative Christian family freaked and I was disowned by part of my family," says Monk. "It's one thing to sell rope, it's one thing to be kinky—it's another thing altogether to be an evangelist for kink."

But Monk has no regrets.

"I'm keeping roofs over my crew's heads and bringing a lot of people joy," says Monk. "Sometimes I can't quite believe it."

"I guess I'm breaking the rules," says Scott Paul of Scott Paul Designs. "I create all my designs in-house, and I hire people to help with the manufacturing. We do all our leatherwork here in Seattle, instead of doing it as cheaply as possible in China."

Paul has two signature lines—the Humiliator Gag System and the Click-a-Cuff Bondage System—but he also sells cages, cuffs and collars, sensation toys, spreader bars, and more, all designed by Paul and manufactured in his Seattle studio.

Paul is originally from the Midwest but moved to Seattle more than three decades ago. "When I was 18, I sold my car and half my drugs," says Paul, "got a lift to the on-ramp, and hitchhiked west." He would eventually go into construction. "I used to build custom homes, luxury bathrooms and kitchens," says Paul. "I was a good designer and a skilled craftsperson. But about eight years ago, I had a change-of-life situation. I got my heart broke, I was sick of my job, and I had some money in the bank. So I decided to build cages."

Paul booked a booth at a vendor fair at the Center and was randomly assigned to share a booth with this tall guy selling hemp rope. He brought a basic version of his Click-a-Cuff Bondage System (leather shackles and wrist restraints attached to metal tubes that can be "clicked," Snap-on-Tool-style, to each other; spreader bars; fixed mounts; etc.), a collapsible cage, and some bamboo spankers.

"I made some sales, less than I hoped," says Paul. "Monk and I have both come a long way since."

After that first vendor fair, Paul went on to create dozens of product lines. He primarily sells his products through his own online store—www.scottpauldesigns.com—but he wholesales to a select few online sites (Mr. S Leather, JT's Stockroom, eXtreme Restraints, and Leatherpost.com, a leather and bondage-gear website for gay men that's based in Seattle).

Paul's best-known product line is the Humiliator Gag System. It's a molded leather gag with a short metal tube that sticks straight out from the mouth. A number of attachments can be snapped onto the post, instantly transforming a submissive play partner into a serving tray or a feather duster or a toilet-paper dispenser.

"Scott makes absolutely fantastic toys," says John Reissenweber of Mr. S Leather in San Francisco. "He has this ability to get into the minds of the people who are using his toys with things like the Humiliator Gag System. That whole line is very distinct, found nowhere else. We hardly have to sell them. They have great word of mouth." (Can we pause here to contemplate the irony of a gag that has great word of mouth?)

"Seattle is unique," says Tonya Winter.

Winter makes latex, spandex, stretch PVC, and Darlex clothing, hoods, and bondage gear at a workshop in Sodo, not far from Monk's studio.

"There are a lot of people making kinky stuff in Portland, too, and pockets of kinky craftspeople in other cities," says Winter. "But there are more of us in Seattle because we've always had a really strong support network up here. When I first became kinky, there was C-Space, then SKIN [Seattle Kink Information Network], then Beyond the Edge Cafe. Now there's the Center for Sex Positive Culture. There's a real community here, a community that supports play, vendors, craftspeople."

Seattle didn't just make it possible for Winter to make a living creating kinky products for kinky people. Seattle helped Winter realize she was kinky in the first place.

"I wasn't even aware that I was kinky when I moved up here," says Winter. "Which is kind of crazy because I was tying up my boyfriends in my early high-school years."

Winter, born in San Diego, was 20 and living in San Jose in 1990, working as a graphic artist. A friend who had moved to Seattle kept calling Winter to tell her how cool it was up here, begging Winter to move up and join her. Winter remembers being impressed by one detail in particular: Seattle had a used bookstore with "cat highways" connecting the tops of the shelves.

"I turned 21 when I got here," Winter says. "And I opened The Stranger and read about this fetish night at a place called the Vogue. I went two or three weeks in row before I spoke to anyone. Then I fell in with the crowd that hung out at the back, spanking people, whipping people, doing electrical play. And that's all she wrote."

Winter first started creating fetish wear—dresses and corsets—because she wanted something to wear to the Vogue. But it wasn't until she made her first piece of bondage gear that Winter realized she had stumbled into a career.

"A friend came to me and said, 'Hey, I have this thing I bought years ago, but it's falling apart and you can't get them anymore.' I took a look at it and said, 'I can make you one of those.'"

Winter made her friend a new sleep sack. (Picture a skintight sleeping bag that someone else zips you into and that you can't get out of until they let you.) Her friend was so impressed by Winter's work that he showed his new sleep sack off to some other friends in San Francisco.

"His friends worked at Mr. S," one of the biggest bondage-gear stores in the country, "and they called me up and said, 'Hey, we want to carry this product that you've made.'"

By 1998, Winter was selling her own line of clothing and gear online. In addition to selling her work via her own website—www.winterfetish.com—her products are available online at Mr. S Leather (www.mr-s-leather.com) and eXtreme Restraints (www.extremerestraints.com). They're available locally at Wild at Heart, the woman-owned sex-toy shop in Ballard popular with the kink community, and Lovers Lair in Lynnwood.

Winter recently rebranded her website and moved into an expanded studio, and with the assistance of her boy and business partner, Jake Markow, she's hiring more stitchers.

And her boy? Just another good thing that came into her life thanks to a friend.

"A friend introduced us six years ago," Winter says. "We hit it off. He lived in California, on a tiger farm, basically a retirement home for performing cats, but we talked over the internet constantly. Finally, he just moved up."

Winter didn't know it at the time, but her new boy was also a customer.

"It turned out that before we even met, he bought a Darlex straitjacket from me and sent it back for some custom alterations," says Winter. "He had a couple of my hoods too." recommended


Comments (27) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
What a cool article. Thanks
Posted by Iconostential on April 28, 2010 at 11:50 AM · Report this
Lovely, just lovely.
Posted by discodolly on April 28, 2010 at 12:28 PM · Report this
Wanted to add that Scott Paul's products are also available at Wild @ Heart!
Posted by MissBrittany on April 28, 2010 at 2:44 PM · Report this
I purchased lots of really fabulously kinky speciality BDSM supplies from Lovers Lair. And, they have a dungeon!
Posted by petlover on April 28, 2010 at 5:08 PM · Report this
I've found some new shopping sites.
Posted by kitchendomme.wordpress.com on April 28, 2010 at 10:29 PM · Report this
Nice article, Dan. Always nice to see friends doing well.
Posted by Nursie on April 29, 2010 at 9:23 AM · Report this
Good to see my pals and fellow kinksters getting the recognition that they deserve. I personally own numerous products made by each of them.

Libido Events
Posted by Jennifer_S on April 29, 2010 at 11:28 AM · Report this
Thank you Dan! This is great info... more please.
Posted by faggot on April 30, 2010 at 8:58 AM · Report this
Tonya Winters has AMAZING craftsmanship. Really beautiful, flattering designs in PVC.
Posted by Karla http://underthewagon.com on April 30, 2010 at 11:57 AM · Report this
It's especially nice to see people whom I know and like, from my own community doing so well at what it is that they do. Thanks for the article Dan!
Posted by bondela on April 30, 2010 at 1:13 PM · Report this
jezzbel 11
Fine article, but just so unaware folks know: Monk's humble-tude is a put-on. Dude is insecure as phuck - and comes equipped with the type of ego that condition engenders. Jacketed in ill-fitting bravado he, seemingly paradoxically, uses 'humble' talking points for ingratiating PR moments; these article quotes, painting an unassuming guy, are part of his shtick and a carefully groomed, chosen facade.

You know, like the guy reading a book in the corner of a bar to pick up chicks. Yeah.
Posted by jezzbel on May 1, 2010 at 12:09 AM · Report this
What I love most about this article is how these people found their way into having their own businesses, it's inspiring.
Posted by redmondite on May 1, 2010 at 8:08 AM · Report this

And just what exactly does that have to do with rope? Maybe you should just stick to the Home Despot for your knotty needs?

-No axe to grind
Posted by no axe to grind on May 1, 2010 at 4:10 PM · Report this
jezzbel 14
@13: The H. Despot? Yuck-o.

Nah, I prefer to make my own. It's lovely.
Posted by jezzbel on May 1, 2010 at 6:02 PM · Report this
jezzbel 15
@13: Oops. Rephrase: It [attempting to signify, 'the process of finishing my own rope'] is lovely.
Posted by jezzbel on May 1, 2010 at 6:06 PM · Report this
Tack 16
Just wanted to acknowledge the excellent photography for this article. The color continuity wasn't lost on me and I'm not even a pro photo person. Thanks for the great shots.
Posted by Tack on May 2, 2010 at 4:29 AM · Report this
@11 Oh yeah, and you are so personally secure yourself, posting personal attacks you wouldn't dare say to anyones face. Sour grapes much? Nice touch registering with the name of one of Monk's partners. Who are you, her jealous ex?
Posted by Larkshead on May 2, 2010 at 8:09 PM · Report this
jezzbel 18
@17: No sour grapes, just /very/ much not a fan of his M.O. & the (hypocritical) discrepancies between persona and person.

And a jealous ex? Nah. Just a kinkster that feeling a tad fed up.
Posted by jezzbel on May 2, 2010 at 8:49 PM · Report this
You're sure as hell jealous of something, jezzbel. A woman scorned, maybe. Or a business competitor. Its very obvious.
Posted by Larkshead on May 3, 2010 at 12:36 AM · Report this
jezzbel 20
@19: Your entitled to your misimpression, Larkshead. At this remove, it's easy to recognize that there's very little probability of 'convincing' you otherwise.

However, I'll try one time. Let me put it like this - folks write reviews of services, congressmen, eateries, etc., via this online forum the Stranger provides. Some agree with others' opinions & assessments re: the latest music sensation, council members & on... others don't. It's clear you don't value my opinion & that's fine. If someone not-you can relate to my input favorably or find it valuable, that's fine, too (& would be my hope).

All that said, when I ran into the horse dookie mill yet again that is the classic Monk talking points - as compared to the values & beliefs he exhibits if given sufficient time &/or cause to show 'true colors' - I felt compelled to voice my $0.02. End of story.

I assure you that although I find great pleasure in conditioning & finishing hemp cordage for personal use, I am no competitor in his market. A missed customer opportunity? Sure. And although I do not have an overall favorable opinion of this particular rope vendor & community member, I don't believe this qualifies me to sit in the 'woman scorned' bucket. I am simply sharing my 'DO NOT WANT' reaction to his PR based on what I know is /not/ reflected there.

Make sense?

Posted by jezzbel on May 3, 2010 at 9:39 AM · Report this
Jezzebel - no, it doesn't. You're clearly someone with a personal axe to grind here, this is not just a impersonal review of a product. Way too much bitterness for that. You're talking shit about the guy personally. So you're either a man who's jealous or a woman who thinks she got rejected. Or I guess you could be a man who got rejected.
Make sense?
Posted by Larkshead on May 3, 2010 at 10:49 PM · Report this
jezzbel 22
@21: I see your point, I simply fail to share it.

This man is the main show pony of his company & its products. If I have an issue with him, it's relevant - and affects - my interest & willingness to buy what he sells - part of which is *himself*, or rather the Monk 'mystique' through his various PR outlets, (this rag last week, his website(s) 24/7, etc.).

If we weren't talking about a local rope vendor within our community, but a restauranteur, say, I doubt you would have taken such issue with my opinion. For instance, if I had wrote a food review (a la Yelp), "Heads up, the guy that runs this joint is a complete asshole. 1 star - don't patronize this watering hole; it isn't worth your time & your bucks are better spent elsewhere," my expectation is that you likely wouldn't take issue with my stance.

But this wasn't the case - my comment touched on a guy selling rope within a minority community and you're attached to that &/or him, so somehow it can feel less okay (to some) to call a spade a spade. I get it. Would you have thought more equitably about my commentary if I'd included product review in my statement?

(Just in case, here you go: Rope's adequate, but for folks with even modest levels of income, space, & physical ability it's easy to make something just the way *you* like it on your own. If it wasn't easy, this vendor couldn't have initially started his experimentation with cordage conditioning out of his residence's garage).

Since the PR article is here, I commented here; this is the spot upon which I was most recently revolted. Hypocrisy does that to a person. (Well, *this* person.)

Hypocrisy isn't always (nay, isn't often) easy to spot clearly without looking beyond 'the shiny'. And not everyone has the luxury, or ability, to gain access to such knowledge before becoming involved &/or purchasing product... which is the brilliance of - and need served by - reviews.

Armed with sub-shiny knowledge, I consider my original comment to have been the latest iteration of (likely impotent) public service announcements pointing out the nekkid emperors I've experienced, as well as the gems. This Monk fellow is simply one in the long line of humanity - *full* of immodestly clothed jerks who triumphantly declare the opposite. Nevertheless, I still prefer to call it when I see it.

As futile as it may be to warn folks off the jackasses, it's worth a try. If they listen & it saves themselves a run-in and unnecessary grief, huzzah! If not, so be it.
Posted by jezzbel on May 4, 2010 at 9:39 AM · Report this
@22 Dude, you are way, way too invested in this. Good luck working out whatever's really going on in your head.
Posted by Larkshead on May 4, 2010 at 11:14 AM · Report this
I am so proud to live in a city with such a vibrant and creative kink community. All three of these people are such great contributors, not only through their products sold world wide but with their involvement locally. Yay! Seattle Kinksters love you guys.
Posted by cat in a sweater on May 4, 2010 at 12:59 PM · Report this
jezzbel 25
@23: Cheers, Larkshead. Kisses.
Posted by jezzbel on May 4, 2010 at 1:35 PM · Report this
Wonderful article, and I love the product so of course I'm biased...

Jezz, I have the same opinion about you as I do about other folks who spew their bile on Yelp: Get A Life. Go Outside. Do Something Positive Today. And I hope I never have the displeasure of meeting someone so bitter and boring as you.
Posted by LaRouge on May 5, 2010 at 12:40 PM · Report this
jezzbel 27
@26: May you, LaRouge, and your opinion live happily ever after. *tips hat*
Posted by jezzbel on May 5, 2010 at 2:53 PM · Report this

Add a comment