Sex Toy Kings: Rural Sri Lanka’s Saviours?


Rural Sri Lanka prospers from global high end Bondage Dominance and Sadomasochism (BDSM) culture. The link is not obvious. Yet it has gone on quietly for decades. As with anything to do with BDSM, the relationship is bound in hidden complexities.

It began years before “50 Shades of Grey” mainstreamed a closeted world. When a Sri Lankan family firm seized control of the world’s high end BDSM apparel and apparatus market. It transformed two cultures which are worlds apart. At one end, the secret bondage dominance and sadomasochist whims of the global elite. At the other, the lives of small hold rubber growers in Sri Lanka’s rural lowlands.

The firm is run by the Desawe brothers. They keep a tight grip on their market lead from a nondescript office in outer Kiribathgoda. With relentless innovation, the quiet trio of brothers tied a secrecy obsessed culture to their distinctive brands.

“Our proven confidentiality is a big selling point to our clients” says CEO Marcus Desawe. Called “The Markie” by his siblings, he setup the company in 1984. His contacts from selling U.S medical equipment to exclusive Middle Eastern clinics gave him access to the region’s elites.

He remains tight lipped about his clientele. Recent Wikileaks releases hint at who they might be. Sheikhs in gulf countries remain major buyers of the Desawe’s high end bespoke products. Penetration of the China market is rumoured to continue at a red hot pace. The same is said of their popularity with the western world’s ultra exclusive dominatrixes.

Selling remains “Markie”’s preserve. The company is compartmentalised into sections. Each run by a designated brother with a specialised skill set. Youngest brother, Justine designs the firm’s vast array of BDSM products. They range from heart stopping attire to complex restraining apparatuses.

Justine joined the family firm after a stint in the Paris fashion world. His design talent flowered into the creative engine of the Desawe brands. He is modest about his work. Which he claims is in “perpetual evolution”. Cutting through them all is an optimum balance of form and function. Graced by his signature style of subtle, intricate traditional Sinhalese motifs.

Bringing these designs to life is Kilesa, middle brother. He is a gruff, pragmatic Soviet trained medical engineer. His expertise building psychiatric restraints and interrogation equipment in the US has found its perfect place in the family firm. He runs all aspects of manufacture down to designing production workflows. It is he who floated the idea of using nano fibres and organic rubber. Thus ensuring the prosperous bulks of high powered persons are supported while they are bound and whipped.

Despite the compartmentalisation, the brothers operate as a tight knit team. Industry insiders say they project a unified Steve Jobs like personality. Which comes out as uncompromising focus on design and quality. This focus has made the Desawes’ the Apple Computer of the BDSM world. The success of their mass produced Libertine brand is the ultimate proof of this analogy. Its products caused a paradigm shift in the BDSM world the way Apple’s “i” products changed personal technology.

The Libertine brand is the public face (if there can be one) of the Desawes’s success. Aimed at the bottom of high end market, it’s financial success benefited from the 50 Shades of Grey. According to Suburban Bondage USA (the lead industry magazine), Libertine brand products are a staple of upper middle class bed rooms in North America, Europe and emerging economy Asia. It’s success is proven by profits and a growing base of loyal customers.

The Libertine brand is also a monument to changing customer values and expectations. The vegan Desawes removed all animal based material from their products. Nano fibre supported organic rubber is the sole primary material. The change caused a total conversion of the world’s Leather culture and the BDSM elite to veganism. All by the sheer quality of the products and simple direct marketing messages.

This conversion demanded a steady supply of high quality organic rubber. The brothers picked a radical course to manage production costs and ensure a reliable supply of quality organic rubber. They built a unique community based system of production. It involved harnessing Sri Lanka’s dwindling small hold rubber growers. The details of the arrangement is steeped in what the brothers call “traditional village temple centred community values”.

The result is a social contract. An intricate flexible web of mutual interdependence between growers and the company. Game theorists marvel at its balance of inducements. Which give grounds for all parties to cooperate. The relationship covers all aspects of rubber production. From planting to processing. As a result, the high quality of the rubber continues rise at a sustainable pace. Growers see consistent increases in their real incomes. Smart use of robust distributed technology keeps production costs low.

“It was all very hard at first” says “Markie” Desawe. The system evolved as many robust systems do, with much trial and error. Problems were dealt with honest and open communication. Making each surmounted obstacle a building block of mutual respect and trust. This relationship thrived despite the upheavals of Sri Lanka’s history.

Some have hailed the system as Sri Lanka’s economic holy grail. THE key for rural Sri Lanka to globalise without compromising its uniqueness. The Desawe brothers are skeptical. What they have built is a unique niche in a niche market. The system requires a high level of personal commitment and integrity. Something not easily possible in Sri Lankan life. What do you think?

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