When Mamadou Barry first arrived in Spain from Guinea, he never imagined he would end up working in one of the biggest male sex toy factories in Europe. He is in charge of sorting the orders at Fleshlight, where a staff of 31 produce between 2,000 and 2,500 artificial vaginas a day in the town of Dos Hermanas, some 15 kilometers from Seville.
Initially, Mamadou felt it might be frowned upon to be working in the sex toy business as a practicing Muslim. “I was scared what people might think,” he says, adding that when he visited his family who had established themselves in Almeria, he took one of the devices with him. “I put it on the table and told my mother it was a flashlight.”
This was not, in fact, too far from the truth. The man behind the product, Steve Shubin, was a former US police officer who had been inspired to come up with the invention by this piece of police equipment.
The catalog features molds taken from the most popular porn stars that year
Mamadou went on to explain to his mother that the light inside the torch had been removed, allowing instead for the molding of a fake vagina. “Being very religious, she was really shocked,” he says.
Although Mamadou says his religion does not preclude him from working in the sex industry, he admits that the temptation that goes with the job can be hard, particularly during the month of Ramadan when Muslims are forbidden to entertain sexual thoughts – quite a feat when surrounded by artificial vaginas. “I try to go on vacation at that time,” he says. “And if I can’t, I try to occupy my thoughts with other things to avoid thinking about it.”
In 2017, Fleshlight Spain had a turnover of almost €9 million. Factor in Fleshlight US, Australia and Canada, and the figure leaps to €46 million, according to the director of the European division, Juan Ziena.
Shubin came up with this kind of sex toy – the world’s bestseller – when his wife had a high-risk pregnancy that prevented them having normal relations. As necessity is the mother of invention, Shubin fashioned a fake vagina from his regulation flashlight and subsequently patented it. Even then, he could scarcely have imagined it would be exported to countries around the world, such as Canada, Germany, France, Holland, Israel, Russia, South Africa, Japan and China.
The main Fleshlight headquarters are in Austin, Texas. But there are other headquarters in Canada, Australia, not to mention Dos Hermanas. “The Shubins were horse lovers,” says Ziena. “When they came to Andalusia to buy them, they fell in love with this place.”
Dos Hermanas offered an economically viable way in to the European market and the Shubins opened the factory here in May, 2010. “We export mainly to Holland, UK and Germany, but also to Turkey and Israel,” says Ziena.
The industrial estate where the factory is located is littered with logos of every description, from Coca Cola to Pascual. But Fleshlight prefers to remain under the radar here. “This is a conservative and religious region, though we didn’t have any problem establishing ourselves,” says Ziena. “Still, it’s not in our interest for people to know exactly where we are.”
Soon, however, Fleshlight is expecting visits from the Dos Hermanas mayor, the head of the fire department and the head of police to congratulate them on the success of the business.
Gradually, Mamadou’s family has also come to accept his area of expertise. He even took his parents and brothers and sisters to visit the factory three years ago, he reveals with a smile. “Since my parents saw I was happy and they themselves liked the factory, they ended up supporting me,” he says.
On the shelves, there are all kinds of products. Besides artificial vaginas, there are also artificial penises, anuses and mouth openings. There are lubricants and dildos and even a virtual device that, when connected to a computer, emulates the movements of the erotic film being aired. “Our market is male, whether heterosexual or homosexual,” says Ziena. For that reason, the molds are taken from porn actresses and gay porn stars who get a commission on sales.
There is also a line of fantasy products including the genitals of the Yeti, Frankenstein and Dracula – in all shapes, sizes and colors. And even these sell like hot cakes.
“During Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas, we sell far more than we produce,” says Ziena, who adds that business wasn’t at all affected by the economic downturn. “Sales have continued to climb in spite of the crisis because our product costs around €70. It’s one payment for a device that lasts years.”
Fleshlight is a market leader but it does have two major rivals: a Japanese company that makes male vibrators in the form of an egg and imitations made in China. “They do us a lot of harm because they bring the price down to around €20, but the quality of their product is not as good,” says Ziena. The inserts of the Fleshlight sex toys are made from a secret formula based on mineral oils, polymers and dyes.
There is, of course, a direct link between Fleshlight and the porn industry, which has a turnover in Spain of around €400 million a year. The catalog, for example, features molds taken from the most popular porn stars that year. “When an actress disappears from the screen, demand for her goes down and we stop making that mold,” says Ziena.
One exception is Jessica Stojadinovich, better known as Stoya, an American porn actress originally from Serbia who is still Fleshlight’s best seller, despite having left the industry.
“My favorite right now is Adriana Chechik,” says Mamadou. In order to familiarize himself with all the products in the catalog, he watches the films featuring the actresses from whom the molds have been taken. After six years working in Fleshlight, he says he feels very comfortable with what he does and used to talking about it.
“Bakers make bread and we make male sex toys,” he says.
English version by Heather Galloway.