VIP Interview With Tom Stewart The Founder & CEO Of Sportsheets International

Sportsheets is an adult lifestyle brand which has been running for over 24 years. They made their mark in the adult industry when they invented the original Sportsheet Velcro Bondage Bedsheet which now has 3 different versions including the:

  • Sportsheet King Size
  • Sportsheet Anchor Pads
  • Sportsheet Queen Size

With a wealth of industry knowledge, they were able to expand and develop a large variety of products that are used to enhance sexual pleasure including restraints, sex toys, sexual positioning products, shower sex products, strap-ons and plus size wear.

They have won over 35 awards including the Tom Stewart named ‘Service To The Industry’ Award Winner at AdultEx April 2017, Julie Stewart named ‘Top 10 Most Important and Influential Women in Adult Retail Today’ StorErotica Feb 2017 and an Xbiz Award For 2017 BDSM Pleasure Company of the Year.

This is a VIP interview with Tom Stewart the founder and CEO of Sportsheets international.

Tell me about yourself?

I’m Tom Stewart, the founder and CEO of Sportsheets international.

My sister Julie is my business partner and President.

What are your favourite accomplishments of all time?

When I look back on everything we have done, I think that starting a business in the garage with just one product (the Sportsheet) and 24 years later employing 40 people with over 400 products among 7 brands to me, is an amazing story. That we survived those early years with no money and so few products, for me is hard to fathom. If it wasn’t our story, I think I would be a lot more impressed. The fact that we lived it and not only survived, but have excelled at it is a very satisfying accomplishment.

What are your favourite quote’s that inspire you?

My all-time favorite quote is

“too much of a good thing it’s never enough”.

I think my other more practical one is that

“everything you want is on the other side of fear”

Which I find true on a daily basis.

What is the story behind the inspiration, creation and development of your company?

The Velcro bondage bedsheet, the Sportsheet started off as a joke among my friends after watching David Letterman, a late night talk show host, who was famous for doing silly stunts.

One of his more memorable ones was when he dressed up in a Velcro suit, jumped onto a small trampoline and launched himself into the air and stuck onto a Velcro wall. My friends and I thought this was pretty impressive and of course the stunt generated many sexual references for us.  For example, “wouldn’t be great to stick your girlfriend to a Velcro wall and have sex with her, and you can peel her off change positions…”

This inside joke among my friends had a lot of life and soon the Velcro wall idea morphed from a wall to a table and then somebody mentioned

“what about bedsheets?”

Bondage Bed Sheet By Sportsheets International
Buy Now | Sportsheets Sex Toy Shop

That’s when the lightbulb in my head went off and I thought, there’s something to this. We started asking the girlfriends and wives in our social circle if they would find it interesting, being stuck to Velcro bedsheets. Sort of like bondage lite. Most all of them said that they would be willing to try this, to be tied up with Velcro as long as they could get out. This ability to get out was a recurring answer among practically all the women that we floated this idea by.

There was so much interest in this idea that I finally contacted the sales manager for Velcro USA and shared with him my idea. I told him that I wanted to make a bedsheet of Velcro and have the ability to stick my partner to it so they could not get out (much like David Letterman’s stunt) but be able to peel up the restraints and escape anytime they wanted to. He he started chuckling and said he never heard of such a great application for Velcro and that he would be happy to meet and show me some materials that he thought would be perfect for this idea.

So I met the man from Velcro and he showed me the two materials, the Hook and Loop component of what became the Sportsheet Velcro Bondage Bed Sheet. The bedsheet material (the Loop) feels like velvet and (the Hook) material is an industrial strength Velcro hook that sticks anywhere on the surface of the Sportsheet bedsheet.

I had a friend who is a seamstress and she agreed to sew our first bedsheet together. My brother Bob and I then set out to make the handcuffs and what we now call the Anchor Pad, which is the Velcro hook part that sticks to the Velcro bedsheet.

The handcuff idea came from the surf leashes that the surfers in Huntington Beach used to tether themselves to their surfboard. In the event they fall off, the surfboard doesn’t float to shore with the surfer still out in the water. The surf leashes were made from Neoprene rubber (like wetsuit material) which was comfortable, waterproof and attached with Velcro. There was a common theme here. We soon started making handcuffs (Sportscuffs) out of Neoprene, webbing and Velcro, and the beauty of this was that it was an easy on-easy off product which follows the theme of the Velcro bed sheet.

We needed something to attach the handcuff to that would stick to the Sportsheet. We tried many ideas from sewing Velcro hook onto many different things and it was Bob who came up with the brilliantly simple idea of a rectangle shaped Velcro (hook) pad. This pad had Velcro hook on one side and nylon on the other side with webbing and a clip. The Sportscuff also had a clip that would attach to the clip of the anchor pad, and the anchor pad could be placed anywhere on the surface of the bedsheet and stick.

Contents Of The Sportsheets Bondage Bed Sheet
Sex Toy: What’s Included In The Sportsheets Bondage Bed Sheet Package

The beautiful thing about Velcro is that when pulled against, Velcro is very difficult to release.  As everyone knows, to remove anything with Velcro you simply just peel it and it releases. So when a person is wearing the Sportscuff and that is connected to the anchor pad, the anchor pad is then placed anywhere on the surface of the sheet and really can’t be pulled off. However it can be very easily peeled up, providing the person who is “tied up” with the ability to get out anytime. This goes back to the original concept of many of our friends telling us that they would be willing to be tied up as long as they could get out.

We thought we had devised a pretty good system. By the time our seamstress finished sewing the first Sportsheet, we had a crude set of Sportscuffs and Anchor Pads. We invited some close friends over to try it out and selected our first volunteer. We attached the Sportcuffs around her wrist and ankles and then connected those to the Anchor Pads. As we spread eagled her out on the bed and stuck the Anchor Pads to the Velcro sheets, we all sit back and waited. I then asked her if she could pull against these restraints and get out.  She started straining with her legs and arms and turned red in the face with her efforts. She started laughing and said “oh my God I can’t get out!” Everyone standing around the bed just burst out laughing and saying “oh my God this is so funny but oh my God this thing really works”. When she had had enough she simply pealed up the anchor pads from her wrists and disconnected herself from the sheet. Immediately after that several of us several of us took turns trying to pull the Velcro Anchor Pad off the bedsheet and no one could. We could all peel the pads up and get out anytime we wanted to. The proof of concept worked and we are very excited about it. I reported back to the man from Velcro that we had developed a successful product and now we needed material to make more Sportsheets.

We started buying the bedsheet material from a mill on the East Coast and Velcro supplied us with the Velcro hook. We continue to tweak and improve the bedsheet design so that it couldn’t possibly pull be pulled off the mattress. With this improvement in place we set out to sell this product. This was 28 years ago and they were not the proliferation of adult stores there are today. We weren’t sure where to test sell this product until we met a man who was the head of a swinger’s organization and was hosting an upcoming Swingers convention with 300 couples. We had 20 sets of Sportsheets made for this event and took them to the convention. We sold every set and the business was born.

Why did you choose the material Velcro on the original Sportsheet Velcro Bondage Bedsheet?

The material that the man from Velcro originally showed us was this soft plush woven material that feels similar to velvet. When showed me that this would stick to a special Velcro hook I couldn’t believe it. This made for a luxurious feeling bedsheet. People were amazed that something so soft and velvety was Velcro compatible. We use the same materials in the Sportsheets today.

Where are Sportsheets products manufactured?

Most of our Sportsheets products are made in the USA in Huntington Beach. Many are made right in our facility. Our lower cost brand Sex & Mischief, which is designed for beginners, is made overseas.

What are the benefits of your manufacturing process?

The products that we make are undeniably of the highest quality of any comparable brand exists. We are so confident of the quality of our Sportsheets products that we offer a limited lifetime warranty on the entire line. Since we manufacture the products we can react to a surge or decline in sales very quickly. The other benefit is that we can directly control the quality of the product that we make.  This also allows us to make continuous improvements in our products.

How do you develop new products?

We have many creative people at Sportsheets that continually come up with new product ideas. We have a large R&D department that thrives on making new and unique products.

Many of the products ideas that we first come up with can be pretty crazy and “out there”. We take those ideas and refine them to where they become viable consumer items.

An idea becomes a prototype. As a manufacturing company we have all the tools and processes to make prototypes. Early in the prototyping process we’re able to show an item around the office to our sales and marketing people and get immediate feedback as to who is the consumer for this?  The entire prototyping process helps us separate the crazy ideas from the more viable ones.

How long does it take? What is the process like?

Sometimes a prototype will hang on our R&D wall for more than a year. We keep these products visible so that when people walk by and look, sometimes it strikes them that this could be perfect for a new brand. I will often sit with our graphic artist and design some ideas, work up different shapes and show this to our prototyping department.  They will take the drawing and come up with an actual usable sample. I find that the rapid pace of this process is my favorite. An idea can go from an idea to a printout, to the product developers in less than two days.

What does your company value the most?

Our employees are our biggest asset. When it comes to products which our employees produce, its quality and uniqueness. We are not a copycat company, we make high quality, original and creative products. This is by far the biggest reason that we remain in business for 25 years.

What are your favourite memories from working with Sportsheets?

Going way back, we went to many different trade shows, among which were swingers conventions, hard-core leather and BDSM conventions. None of us were swingers so when we entered into this domain we were quite unprepared for what we are about to experience. During every convention where we sold products we had a “hospitality suite” upstairs in our hotel rooms so people could come by with a little more privacy and try our products out. What we saw during these hospitality suites is still seared into my mind.

We learned a lot about sex and sexuality during these events. I was always interested in sex, (obviously, look what I’ve done for the last 25 years) but I wasn’t prepared for this rapid education we received in our first few years in business. Besides some crazy stories, a take away from hosting these events and participating at these conventions was a world of sexuality that I was did not know existed.  My “takeaway” was that everyone’s sexuality is very individualistic and everybody has a particular thing that they like. This helped me understand that in our customers there was not a “one product fits all” for everyone. Which is why over the years we’ve expanded our line from the Sportsheet to over seven brands and 400 different products. We have brands that go from beginner to intermediate to experienced and brands that fit somewhere in between.

Which products are your best sellers?

By far the best seller in our entire line among all our brands is The Under The Bed Restraint System. This is an adjustable four-point (wrist and ankle) restraint system that slides underneath the mattress.

Under the Bed Restraint System By Sportsheets International
Sex Toy: Sportsheets Under the Bed Restraint System

Why?

This is probably the most user-friendly and basic product for anyone just starting out, or for people who are really into it. There’s no set up other than sliding the straps underneath the mattress, and it’s strong enough to hold almost anybody. It travels well and I think the biggest thing is that it can be hidden underneath the mattress simply by tucking the cuffs and straps underneath the mattress, no one knows it’s there.

What type of punishment device would you recommend to someone just getting into BDSM?

I understand the nature of this question but I have to state that I don’t see our BDSM products as punishment devices. I see them more as facilitating couples to connect with each other, exchanging power, or submitting to the request of their partner for restraint play. Not be hypocritical I will admit that we do make many paddles that are very popular and riding crops that if used harshly can absolutely bring pain to a person, if that is the intention of both people involved.

I really like to think of our crops and paddles as more sensation play products then punishment devices.

What products would you use to bring BDSM into the bedroom?

I would suggest that for someone just getting into restraint play and exploring what this is, and what it means, that the Sportsheets of course is still the best BDSM sex toy on the market. Since it’s quite expensive I think this points to why the lower cost Under The Bed Restraint System is so popular. I would recommend this for anybody experimenting with BDSM. It’s an easy on easy off soft cuff system that a couple can use without concerns of somebody being tied up for too long or someone getting hurt by the cuffs.

Under the Bed Restraint System Made With Velcro By Sportsheets
Sex Toy: Sportsheets Under the Bed Restraint System

Along with the under the bed restraint system for a couple starting out I would recommend a blindfold and a feather tickler. When you allow yourself to be tied up, especially for the first time and you have your eyes covered with a blindfold any sensation is heightened. A feather tickler on the bare skin, when you’re blindfolded, can feel absolutely exquisite as can fingernails dragged across your skin. An ice cube becomes a hot or cold point of sensation and can absolutely make the mind expand into blissful delight.

Midnight Feather Tickler Sex Toy of the Month
Sex Toy: Sportsheets Midnight Feather Tickler

For example, floggers, whips, paddles and crops. Why?

We make some of the best ones on the planet. When couples get into using these products it’s a step up in their understanding and their connection with BDSM. Everyone in their young life has probably been spanked. When we do this as consenting adults it takes on quite a different sensation and significance. The sensation of a paddle on your backside, if done correctly, done slowly can be absolutely thrilling. If you approach your partner correctly with one of these products the pleasurable sensations that you can produce are quite extraordinary. If someone doesn’t have much experience with the paddle for instance and their partner says “sure I’ll let you spank me” and the partner hauls off and whacks them as hard as they can, doesn’t make for a very pleasant experience and will most likely be the last time the person will trust their partner to ever do something like that again. For people that can gently explore their limits in a constructive way are the ones who are going to evolve into the more frequent and satisfied users.

12 Inch Leather Heart Impression Paddle By Sportsheets International
Sex Toy: Sportsheets 12 Inch Leather Heart Impression Paddle

When I do customer trainings I like to introduce the “why would anybody want to get hit with a paddle”?  I ask the audience to clap their hands three times really hard, like they’re applauding for their favorite song at a concert, and at the end of this clapping pause and feel the sensation in their hands.  I ask them “what is it you feel”? Everybody says “it tingles”. I then ask them if it doesn’t hurt and they say “no, it tingles”.  That’s the sensation we are going after! When we spank, paddle or flog our partner we want it to tingle. We want to wake up the skins nerves and stimulate them. When I have this conversation with an audience they have a new understanding that there’s a different result they could achieve by using a paddle across their partner’s backside. Something as simple as that explanation , that if used properly, makes a paddle or crop go from a punishment device to something that can deliver pure pleasure.

Are there any products that you are surprised to find that are commonly bought?

Ball gags. I’m always surprised at the volume of ball gags that people purchase. It’s certainly part and parcel to the BDSM genre of products. I understand it, and I’ve come to realize the ball gag is similar to a blindfold for the mouth. When people are using one together, communication changes. When one person can’t speak, other methods of communication have to take place or simply no communication at all. I think it’s one of the more interesting aspects of people’s sexuality play.

Edge Silicone Ball Gag by Sportsheets International
Sex Toy: Sportsheets Edge Silicone Ball Gag

Is there anything else you would like to add?

It’s been satisfying to see the consumer market grow in this category of sex toys grow over the last 2 1/2 decades. When we started there was only leather or metal handcuffs or rope. We have brought more user-friendly BDSM products to consumers and the market has reacted favorably.

Ask anyone in the industry and they’ll tell you that BDSM has gone mainstream which I truly believe it has, to a point, but I don’t think you’ll be seeing a hogtie set in a department store anytime soon.

That being said, as more and more people become comfortable trying these products, the category, along with the consumer market will continue to increase.

Be sure to also check out a BDSM Guide for Bondage Safety.Save

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Sexpert is our resident full time sex blogger. Having successfully owned and managed a number of blogs relating to women’s lifestyle, she easily blended into her role as chief blogger of the Adultsmart Blog. She is in a long term relationship with her boyfriend. She also runs Good Girl Guide, a sexual lifestyle blog.
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