Topher Taylor, sexpert and PR & brand manager for Clonezone, told FS in his own words about his route into the sex industry and how it changed his life. - @helloiamtopher

I have always been fascinated with human sexuality and the psychology surrounding it. The thing I love the most about sexuality is the way that it opens up the vulnerable sides of the toughest people and allows everyone the freedom to explore. Plus, I like talking about sex. Ultimately your sexuality is free unless you solely get off on the addition of products… which is where I come in. We will get to that.

Let me give you some back story. I’d walked out of college at age of seventeen, having experienced name-calling that had taken me back to those old feelings of being bullied. We had tried to fix it. I worked with the college and the professors had actually put me into therapy. After a few months, it was just getting worse. I wasn’t safe and I wasn’t focusing on my work at all. “Fuck this,” I said to myself and decided I would work my way up into the workplace from the bottom.

I took a job as a bell-boy at St Martins Lane Hotel in Covent Garden after putting my photos on Gumtree, advertising myself as hardworking and ambitious (99% of replies assumed I was an escort). I got an email from a guy called Nigel, asking me to come and meet the team. This five-star boutique hangout spot was the perfect place for me to meet and mix with ‘names’ and figure something out for myself. I jumped head first into the work and actually enjoyed it. I worked with people from all different backgrounds, which was a treat for me. I earned a small fortune in tips on top of an OK wage, I met loads of people I’d seen on TV and made some lifelong friends in my colleagues. My job was basically greeting guests and helping them with bags to their room. One day I took home £1,400 in cash. I walked straight to Selfridges, into Dior Homme and spent every last penny. After working at the hotel for a year, constantly doing alternating shift work, and having to turn up when other people didn’t bother, I decided that it was time to leave. I was 18 with bags developing under my eyes, so I needed to get out. I had cash saved up so I’d be alright for now.

With that in mind, my friend Leanne and I printed some CVs out in an internet cafe, as I had decided that I wanted to work in a sex shop. I loved that subject and figured I’d easily make good sales, meet interesting people and work in Soho.

I went into every single sex shop in Soho, asked for the manager and handed them my CV. Back then (2007), there were about 15 adult shops in the area so I made sure each one had a visit. As I visited the shops, I realised how much the products interested me (and how I was not embarrassed to browse them).

That following weekend I was in Brighton with my friends. We were sat on the rooftop of a shopping centre when my mobile rang. It was my mum who had informed me that ‘Simply Pleasure’ had called asking for me, and should call the manager. My heart skipped, as this was the shop I was happiest about on my CV day. I don’t think that mum was too impressed. I called that same day and arranged the interview for Monday.

I remember my interview as clear as it was yesterday. I turned up in an Alexander McQueen graffiti hoodie (paid for with hotel tips – who did I think I was?), skinny jeans and patent black shoes. I wanted to look confident and edgy. I ended up looking like a Spice Girls backing dancer. She took me downstairs underneath the shop into a bit of a dingy basement. I sat on the stairs as she sat on a table, we discussed my skills, she asked me about my experience. Would I able to handle the ‘fucking nutters’ that come into the store? It stays open until 1am on Fridays and Saturdays, which I’d be expected to do. We got along like best friends immediately.

Abso-fucking-lutely, I said and started working on that Friday. Jessica (the manager) was loud, strong, covered in tattoos and overtly sexual. She did not have a single apology for herself and I loved it. 

On my first day, I was informed that I was in charge of the lingerie and bondage department, including buying and merchandising. Wow, ok. I had no experience with either but this didn’t intimidate me one bit. I jumped in head-first, ordering a huge range of latex and PVC for the shop which sold out almost immediately. I used to print out photos of celebrities in similar (and sometimes the same) outfits and stick them next to the racks, to inspire people to buy the clothes. When Victoria Beckham wore latex leggings, we instantly sold out and I began a pre-order service for the latex fashion. Rihanna wore one of our Honour Black & Red PVC bustiers during her tour, Kylie Minogue wore a HUSTLER tearaway mini dress and I got the exact outfit Geri Halliwell had worn in the Say You’ll Be There video into stock.

What I was doing (without realising) was analysing how people shopped, how they could identify with erotic products and what I could do to make it more accessible. I really enjoyed my job and felt pride when I saw couples (sometimes threesomes and foursomes) come into the shop and leave with a bag full of goodies, excited to get home to their beds.

I also built up a rapport with the working girls on Great Windmill Street and used to do them deals on lingerie, as long as they sent their customers to us for any accessories they wanted for their sessions. I used the keyword ‘vanilla’ which they’d mention during checkout for their ‘special price’. The ‘old bounce house’ as I called it, used to be next door to a primary school, (as you do) and is now unfortunately gone. If only those walls could talk. I miss seeing those girls around Soho and often wonder what they’re up to today. One time I got threatened and was followed down Brewer Street, so I knocked on the door for help, and the girls sent their two security guys out to chase the guys off. I used to go for drinks after work with sex shop owners, escorts, pimps and adult performers. The kitschiness of it gave me a buzz. There is something really special about talking with these people (deemed ‘less than’ or morally corrupt by society) and hearing the stories of how they ended up doing that for a living. The ‘underworld’ of Soho had scooped me up a little bit and I felt protected. I used to walk through alleyways and instead of feeling scared, I’d be having chats with people I knew. If I was finishing work at 1am, I’d get a free minicab from Rupert Street home to Eltham. It was an exciting time for an 18-year-old boy.

The store was located in such a good spot in Soho, far enough away from bars for people to discreetly nip in and out. I worked with two strong Ghanaian guys; Jonas and Steve, Junior, Dwayne, Rodger (a Dutch/South African tattooed porn star), another guy whose name I can’t remember but he called himself The Love Doctor, Jessica and a turnover of part-time staff.

We had a real mix of customers, from curious tourists that had wandered up from Leicester Square through to pro-dominatrix goddesses. I had a very quick crash course in all the different facets of human sexuality and fetish. I learned to never trust that a guy carrying a leather satchel through Soho has his gym clothes in it… Ahem. It may be something else. 

I had the ability to speak to anyone about their innermost secret desires and I genuinely enjoyed it. I don’t know where it came from but people seemed to trust me. It didn’t feel like ‘work’.

It was in the first few weeks that I had my first ‘nutter’. A guy with very dilated pupils came stumbling into the shop and complained that the masturbator he had bought was ‘shit’. I explained that I couldn’t refund him but would happily exchange for a different product, as I just wanted him out of the shop. He went on and on about a refund, to the point that we were about to remove him. This was when he pulled the used masturbator out of his pocket and threw it in my direction. As he did, it bounced off the till and his sperm came flying out all over the till-point, luckily missing me by inches. A security guard from a nightclub around the corner was in the shop at the time, who swiftly dragged him outside.

Another time a guy came in complaining that lube had given him a rash and it was apparently my fault for recommending it. I asked him to explain what had happened; when he told me he didn’t like the consistency of the silicone, so had wiped it off with a Dettol wipe. You know that moment where you question if this is actually happening? “Do you think the rash is from the fucking bleach, sir?”. He looked at me blankly, turned and walked out.

Work was always a lot of fun, but it was work at the end of the day. Managing my department was a 40+ hour a week job and I was having to learn the patterns of stock replenishment and when to introduce the new product. I was becoming very knowledgeable about sex toys, and quickly. I was quite good at ‘prescribing the right toy’ for customers and earned repeat shoppers who’d ask for me specifically. I really felt like I’d found the industry for myself. Everything clicked into place.

Find out more about Topher and his story here.

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