Learning the ropes

Businesses at Fetish Con are adapting to the evolving fetish industry.
Published August 13 2016

ST. PETERSBURG

When Chrissy Grieco, 51, and her husband Peter, 73, got into the corset business more than two decades ago, it was a different game.

People wanted high-quality garments for their private escapades, and they were willing to pay for the triple-layered corsets with steel linings the husband and wife sold at their Lake Park store Eurotique.

Times sure have changed.

"Today, people go to H&M and Forever 21 and pay $20 for what looks nice," Chrissy Grieco said. "It's a disposable culture."

So the Griecos adapted, designing a less expensive line of corsets so folks could afford to spice up their love lives.

This year, Eurotique joined more than 40 vendors and exhibitors at the 16th annual Fetish Con, where it turns out the corset market isn't the only thing that's changed.

That's because the fetish industry is just like any other industry: rapidly evolving thanks to new technologies, changing tastes and economic realities.

Fetish Con, the annual gathering of businesses, enthusiasts and performers, has itself adapted over the years. It started in 2000 in Tampa as a smaller convention called Diva Con. Organizers briefly changed its name to BondCon and moved it to New York City for three years, then returned to Tampa.

There it gathered for 10 years, until its old home, the Hilton Tampa Downtown, changed hands. Unhappy with the "mindset" of new management, last year the convention moved to the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront Hotel Downtown. It's set to stay in St. Petersburg through 2018.

The four-day event draws thousands annually with classes such as "Japanese bondage basics," "basic candle waving" and "ageism in kink" and social events such as a red carpet event, a masquerade ball and a pool party.

But it's also a place for commerce.

Take the rope industry, for instance. After a certain romantic novel depicting scenes of bondage was published in 2011 and made into a full-length feature film four years later, sales at Happy Kitten Rope skyrocketed.

Owner Jongunnar Gylfason credited the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon for driving the kink market.

He saw a sharp uptick in sales with the normalization of bondage, which was ushered in by the Fifty Shades franchise. He started selling to more people who had always been interested in bondage but would have never tried it before the book came out.

"(Bondage) is no longer an exclusive club. It isn't like that," Gylfason said. "There are more average people dabbling in it."

This year, Happy Kitten Rope is the only rope supplier at Fetish Con, selling 30 feet of scratchy jute rope for $20 and 30 feet of softer hemp — for people "just getting their feet wet" — for $30.

"Everybody should get tied up at least once," Gylfason said.

The industry is not only constantly shifting, but also growing.

Today, the Griecos sell their products at wholesale prices to more than 200 stores across the country. They still have customers that first bought from them years ago.

They'll sell a corset for as low as $79.99 or as high as $300, depending on what the customer is looking for.

And if you buy five, you'll get one free.

"Corsets are like potato chips," Chrissy Grieco said. "You can't have just one.

Contact Hannah Jeffrey at [email protected] or (727) 893-8450. Follow @hannahjeffrey34.

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