On the contradictions of running a community- and education-oriented sex shop

How can a non-profit association own a sex shop that generates profit? Can a business genuinely aim to be “community oriented,” and to refuse certain capitalist logics? In 2021 we transformed Other Nature into a workers’ collective because we believe that it is possible—though not easy!—to embrace these contradictions. By shedding light onto our financial structure and making transparent what goes into our pricing decisions, we want to give you insight into what your money supports when you buy from us.

Let’s face it:

High quality, body-safe sex toys are often expensive and unattainable to many. This particularly affects those in our communities whose pleasure and sexualities we want to center in our work—low-wage earning, migrant, disabled, or Black and brown people.

Redistribution of wealth and resources to allow more access to groups with less resources is a fundamental aspect of our decision-making processes. We aim to stock a range of toys that offer comparable experiences at different price points without compromising on our values.

Whenever possible, we prioritise stocking products from small businesses, makers from within our communities, and local artisans. We organise the Gender-Ex Fund, to make gender affirming products available for free (or a small donation) to migrant, BiPoC, disabled, or low-income people. We regularly support community events and groups with product donations, and have a tiered price scale for our workshops. As of summer 2023, we also offer a solidarity price system which we hope will be another step towards making our products more widely accessible.

What factors into our pricing decisions?

Most people don’t know how retail prices are calculated, and for good reason: the capitalist system works by obscuring social and economic factors and decisions, making them seem to be natural laws over which we have no agency. In the spirit of transparency, and as a gesture against these logics, we want to tell you a bit more about our economic workings and what it means to run an education- and community-centered business.
Since its founding in 2011, Other Nature has prided itself in being “Anders als andere Sex Shops (different from other sex shops)”. The core of our work, the education we provide at the shop every day, is and will always be free of charge. We never pressure our customers into making a purchase, even after spending a lot of time answering their questions. That means our consultations are working time in which we don’t directly make money. Our survival as an organisation, however, depends on generating a profit margin that can cover our expenses. When wholesale prices and running costs increase we have to adjust our prices to sustain ourselves. Ultimately, we are bound to a market and our shop is the end point of a complex interplay, where fluctuating raw material prices, producers invested in profit, competition, labour struggles and standards determine the price at which we buy our products.
19% VAT - value added tax - is included in the majority of our retail prices (in some cases it is 7%). This is money that goes to the state - for example, if a product costs €89.90, the VAT is €14.35. Sometimes additional fees, like import taxes, need to be factored in as well. Of the remaining amount, the product cost usually makes up half of that. So, on average, about 30-40% of what you spend on a product will be left for us to pay our bills with. Since we run both a brick-and-mortar store as well as an online shop, our monthly expenses are comparatively high. We need to factor in wages, rent, insurance, business taxes, running costs, shipping, packaging, renovations… you name it.
As an entirely queer, majority-trans/non-binary and -BIPoC workers’ collective, we aim to create steady, secure and salaried jobs for people in communities who have a harder time finding workspaces where we can bring our whole selves. All of us are permanently employed with full social benefits, we compensate for overtime hours and do our best to support each other in not overworking ourselves. Importantly, everyone on the team gets the same hourly wage, regardless of roles and responsibilities. Still, our earnings are very low, and many of us find it increasingly difficult to finance our lives without extra sources of income. We currently pay ourselves just over minimum wage. While it hasn’t been possible for the last few years, we are now slowly working on improving this aspect of our working conditions in order to better sustain our team in the long run.

What happens if there’s money left over?

When we took over the business in 2021, we decided that we didn’t want to have any individual shareholders, but rather founded a non-profit organisation, ON Kollektiv e.V., which owns 100% of the business. We didn't have enough private capital to finance the buy-out, and didn’t want to rely on bank credits or crowdfund the money, which we felt was an unnecessary extraction of scarce resources from our communities. Instead, we followed the housing cooperative model and took out private loans, aka “direct credits,” from friends, family and others in our network.
This is a great model, as everyone will get their money back eventually, but its success relies on us generating more money than necessary to simply maintain the business until we’ve paid off the loans. After that, all profits we make can go back into the shop, grow our educational programmes and support further community projects. Furthermore, in our collective’s founding articles we stipulate that if we ever decide to sell the business, 100% of any profit from that will be given to other organisations that match our core values.
All of this is only possible because of our amazing customers (like you!). Thank you for supporting our mission by continuing to shop with us or by spreading the word about our little shop! We hope this has helped to demystify our decision-making around pricing, and made our internal financial processes more transparent. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us and we’ll try our best to reply!
Your Other Nature Team & ON Kollektiv e.V.

PS: If you have some extra money to spare

...and would like to join us in making gender affirming products and sex education increasingly accessible to even more people, you can donate directly to our non-profit association ON Kollektiv e.V. (donation receipts for tax deduction available) or support our Gender-Ex Fund.