Native Las Vegan Karoline Khamis has a long history working on women’s issues. The UNLV women’s studies grad served as violence prevention coordinator of the Jean Nidetch Women’s Center, helped found UNLV’s Campus Advocacy Resource Empowerment line and worked at the Rape Crisis Center and the Women’s Research Institute of Nevada.
With Toyboxx, Khamis is applying that perspective as an entrepreneur. At Downtown Spaces on Industrial Road, her developing shop is gearing up to sell sex toys in an inclusive, sex-positive environment. While she navigates the licensing process, Khamis says the space is already functioning as an offbeat forum for new ways to talk—and think—about sex.
You’ve been researching business models for a sex-positive adult toy store for a while. When did you realize that your dream could become a reality? I’ve been business planning the hard numbers for about a year and a half. I didn’t see a model that I liked here, so I decided to create it. Once I found out this place could be licensed for adult retail, I was like, “Bing!”
Toyboxx's model is “click and mortar.” What does that mean? You have to have a digital presence. There are a few businesses, like Nasty Gal, that started out as Internet entities and now have enough money to launch a boutique. I didn’t know [Toyboxx] was going to take this form, in a gallery; I thought I was going to do crowdfunding first and go after a more traditional, larger, street-facing boutique. That already didn’t happen, so we’re evolving into something else.
Your crowdfunding goal is $10,000. What are you looking to achieve? I need to lawyer up. It’s a difficult terrain to navigate in Las Vegas. For being such a sexualized city, we have a crazy amount of restrictions on where and how and when sexual kinds of activity or retail can take place.
What makes Toyboxx different from other sex-toy stores? The way it’s curated—education and training. When I go to couples conferences, the most popular thing that they do is sex-ed for adults. That’s what I want to make available—sex-ed for adults, and other resources. I’m not a therapist, but I don’t want to end every conversation with a product. I want to find what’s right for people. ... It’s a place for discovery. It’s kind of a revival of the feminist discussion groups that have been formed and abandoned over the years, the Good Vibrations thing. That’s the increasing market and model, and we’re definitely building upon other people’s success
How will toys be curated? It’s going to be the stuff I like, the stuff our team likes [and] has tested, has researched. We had folks out at AVN making connections and relationships with, not just distributors, but actual people in companies. I’m taking ideas for product now.
Does your team share your views on sex positivity and the female experience? We have two and half decades of violence prevention work and social work between a couple of our staff, and we have maybe more than that retail experience between all of us. … I think there’s a few of us that, pretty much anywhere with “women” in the name, we’ve worked. A majority of my writing and learning to facilitate stuff came from that—outreach and learning how to talk about this stuff in public to a variety of audiences. There’s a lot of pleasure that’s sold in Las Vegas, but not a lot of pleasure for women. It’s pleasure derived from women, not for them.
Why hasn’t this model existed in Las Vegas previously? I think it’s because it’s easier to make money in other ways, and the business model that’s existed here so far has been from large company distributors. I don’t have the money to even play in the same field as far as square footage, so I’m addressing the market in a different way. There are a couple of interesting companies like Xandria and Paradise Electro Stimulations. They’ve been around since the mid-’80s, but I don’t think there’s been an opportunity that’s combined different kinds of business models or been flexible enough to address [different] communities. There’s a lot of queer spaces [in Las Vegas], but they’re kind-of male-oriented. There’s not really an address to the female market. Trans women, gay women, it’s just kind of absent. Even gay bars and spaces that are owned by gay men, they’re really welcoming, but they kind of present a male face.
Why do you think sex education among adults is so needed—and wanted—right now? Because they didn’t get it beforehand. It’s important for people to be comfortable in a space so they can get whatever information. In our state particularly, it’s because the knowledge isn’t put out there when people are younger.
Will men—and people who don’t identify as feminist—find something for themselves at Toyboxx? We want to be an inviting space for all kinds of people. Part of our blog is going to answer questions about sex. ... So we’re interactive in that way already. You can be as anonymous as you want and engage us online. And we’re handing out resources left and right. I’ve had two or three straight guys already like, “What is this? Can you tell me what to do with the clitoris?” And I’m like, “Come on in!”
You have an Anti-Valentine’s Day event planned for Friday the 13th. What can people expect? All the galleries are going to be open in [Downtown Spaces]. We’re basically showcasing what some of our workshops will be like. We do have a few samples of stuff we will be carrying as soon as our licensure exists, but it’s mainly showcasing the other part of the business—the workshop, knowledge [and] literary side.
Toyboxx Anti-Valentine’s Self-Love Workshop, February 13, 5-10 p.m. 1800 Industrial Road #130C.