Sometimes my story is too complicated to start telling it to a complete stranger. But this is how it began – written by Matilda Kivelä:
“There was a door in Miami that I walked past almost every day. It looked so tantalising, yet every time I tried to open it it was locked. For some reason, it kept calling my name and I kept stopping to try its handle to see if it was open. On the day I told my then-boyfriend to pack his bags and leave our shared home, I walked past the door. It was unlocked and a tiny woman was in. She asked me if I knew why the door had been locked until that morning, quickly replying to her own question. “It was locked because you were not ready until now.” It sent chills down my spine.
We started a long process of healing, working on my strengths and weaknesses together. We became friends. Once during a meditation session, she suddenly sprung up, holding her small hands parallel to each other and exclaimed “I see dildos in beautiful wooden boxes!” While it would be poetic to say that it was an epiphany, I was actually confused by her outburst. It kind of made me feel a bit dirty. At that point I had been working in fashion and as an art director for years. Becoming a dildo dealer was not part of my plan.
I flew back to Finland and over that spring, ideas of something of my own started to form. I was suffering from insomnia and when night fell I would build vast empires of ideas and dreams in my mind. It was not long before my thoughts would reach their crystallisation in the form of dildos. I had actually had a name for my brand long before the dildos. It was born over dinner one night, when an Italian couple asked me why I did not have my own brand yet. “Tea, ti amo,” they exclaimed, “it is a perfect name for a brand!” Tea, ti amo – Tea, I love you. The dildos fit the name perfectly. It is the pinnacle of what they symbolise – learning to accept and love yourself.
The shape of the dildos was born organically – I often drew the same form on notepads and pieces of paper when I was on the phone. The shape grew on me little by little and I later refined it to resemble a more clean-cut half-circle. When I lived through difficult nights, I sustained my dreams with the idea that I would one day be able to showcase what I have achieved. I wanted to bring dildos into the realm of aesthetics, out of the grotty sex dens of the 1990s. I wanted to break some of the taboos that still hang over us.
Some people expect me to be some kind of ultra-sexual nymph just because I design sexual objects. Sometimes I get feedback about the way I look – people tell me that I could and should be sexier and expect me to show and tell. My aim is to be a credible designer and businesswoman, so in my mind there should not be a link between my dildos and the way I look. It makes me furious when people tell me I should wear different clothes or let my long hair down – I can be a successful businesswoman even if I’m dressed in lounge wear with my hair up in a tight bun. As a woman, I have to justify my existence no matter what I look like or what I do and it is almost as if I was expected to apologise for what I am. Sorry for being tall, sorry for having long hair that I want to tie up – and sorry for having designed something that I can stick up yours!
In some ways, I feel like I am a pioneer of some sorts. Dildos are not anything new, but it does feel like I have hit some nerve since there has been so much controversy and discussion around my business. I had no idea how many tornadoes I would have to survive when I started. Sometimes, when I look back, it feels like the things I do are guided by something bigger and with hindsight, I can see how everything is connected. It is no longer just about the dildos, but about something bigger – I believe that they will open new doors and ideas, shatter some ceilings and kick through some doors. They already have. It has been a battle, but it feels like I am exactly the right person for this task.”
Tea Latvala is the founder and CEO of TEATIAMO, a startup that blends design and high-end sex toys. Latvala holds a Master of Arts degree from the Helsinki School of Arts, Design and Architecture. From 2007 to 2008, she co-hosted 14 episodes of G-piste (“G-spot” in Finnish), a talk show about sexuality.
Written by Matilda Kivelä
Photo by Bryan Saragosa
Story in NORDIC SPIRITS magazine