Most people wouldn’t know that one of the most intriguing, sex positive companies are thriving in the heart of industrial southeast Portland. I sat down with the co-owners Joe Hanson and Dr. David Claus of Empire Labs. Their company makes penis casting and homemade dildo kits, Clone-A-Willy, and recently launched their newest product: a vulva casting kit called Clone-A-Pussy.
The first question I had in mind was simple. The rest fell into place. I wanted to know how they even met and where it all got started.
“This was back in ‘96. Joe was doing one thing in New York and I was doing another in San Francisco. We connected. I had a product. He had an ad agency.” – Dr. David Claus
“I wanted to have a good business partner. He wanted to leave California. I wanted to leave New York. We both decided on Portland.” – Joe Hanson
With Dr. Claus’ background, a Ph.D. in chemistry from UCLA and experimentation with materials for special effects houses in Hollywood, and Hanson’s significant background in business, the two found a symbiotic relationship with a unique idea.
“It took me a few weeks to come up with a method where a guy can keep an erection. Molding a hand or something like that is so easy. With an erect penis, you have a limited amount of time. I came up with a molding material specifically designed for short-term curing. It’s algae-based, totally safe, and I can easily control the timing. You only have to hold an erection for 60-90 seconds.” Dr. David Claus
The first DIY Willy kits were born on set for an independent film. It became apparent that the kits could sell when fifty of them went missing. Crew members were stealing kits for themselves.
“You have something people are willing to steal, so you also have something that people are willing to buy.” – Joe Hanson.
The two explained how DIY the business began, doing everything themselves out of the Pearl district. This transitioned into how connected they are to their products now.
“There’s real people behind the product, It’s all made by hand.” – Joe Hanson
Although the kits are sold all over the world, Empire Labs puts emphasis on supporting the local Portland community. They currently sponsor sex positive events, like Pride NW, the Mystery Box show, and recently the Deep V Workshop. The company also runs a blog featuring local artists called Keep Portland Sexy, providing a creative outlet for sex and intimacy-related themes.
It’s a strange and empowering time to live when you can make exact replicas of your own or someone else’s body parts. I walked away from the conversation feeling just that: strange and empowered. It’s inspiring to find a company creating and actively doing their part to take away the lingering shame associated with sex and body image overall.
Learn more about more about Empire Labs and check out their growing line of products, including glow in the dark kits, edible chocolate kits, “power” pumps (it’s not my bag, baby!), and more by visit their website at www.cloneawilly.com.