End October, it will be twenty years ago that fetish store Black Body opened its doors. When Rick Souwerbren started his business in 1995, he had never suspected it would become this successful. The business has grown, and even though there were ups and downs throughout the years, Black Body is flourishing as never before. High time for a conversation with the driving force behind this business celebrating its twentieth anniversary.
For those who do not know Black Body: it is a store with fetish clothes for men, specialized in rubber. The unique, mostly self-designed rubber collection is known all over the world, and Black Body has established a good reputation. In the beginning, its rubber was exclusively black, hence the company name. Nowadays, their rubber outfits are available in all the colors of the rainbow.
Black Body also sells sportswear, swimwear and underwear by fetish brands, such as Andrew Christian, Barcode Berlin, Boxer Barcelona and CellBlock13, and toys, accessories and related articles. The store is at number 173 on the Kerkstraat, in the center of Amsterdam near the Rijksmuseum and Leidseplein. Their web store delivers all over the world.
Background in Hospitality
After congratulating him with the anniversary of his business, I asked Rick if he expected Black Body to become such a big hit when he started it in 1995. He smiles, “No, not really. It wasn’t really what I was after. It was more or less a hobby because I have a rubber fetish, and rubber was not available in Amsterdam around that time. Also, a lot has changed over the last twenty years, not just in the store, but also in the collection and the location. And not only did the scene change, but I also changed myself.”
“Before I started Black Body, I had worked for years in gay bars and clubs, for instance the Thermos, Traffic, and Chez Manfred. I also worked as head bartender and manager at the iT for ten years. I was friends with Manfred Langer, who meant a lot to me. When Manfred died by the end of 1994, I immediately stopped working at iT. Precisely one year later, I opened Black Body. Some people I know from that period still visit my store.”
Rick tells that the first years of the store were turbulent: “We found a great location on a quiet part of the Lijnbaansgracht, around the corner from the Rijksmuseum. It was doing well from the start because rubber was unavailable here, and Internet was not mainstream yet. With my partner at the time I would regularly drive through the recently opened Channel tunnel to London to buy rubber.
It was a certain amount of fun, but luckily, things are much easier nowadays. After the 1998 Amsterdam Gay Games, the store truly became a success. In that period and under the name of Amsterdam Leather Pride, Black Body organized big leather and rubber parties in cooperation with other fetish stores. It attracted visitors throughout Europe and the United States.”
When Black Body opened its doors in 1995, the Internet was still in its infancy. “That is true, we were one of the first in this branch with a web store,” says Rick. “Our main strength was – and still is – that the web store is part of the physical store. We do not send packages from some dusty attic or from some shed in some industrial estate. Twenty years ago, nobody imagined the Internet becoming so big.
In the beginning, we did the web orders on the side, but nowadays, it is almost a full-time job. Dispatching those orders was requiring more and more space. The collection also grew larger, not just of rubber and leather, but also of accessories, such as toys and masks. The store on the Lijnbaansgracht was becoming a struggle in terms of space. We had grown too much, and that is why we decided to move three years ago.”
Since June 2012, Black Body can be found in the former post office building at Kerkstraat 173. For many residents of Amsterdam, this is a familiar spot. For Rick as well, as he started his business one block away from the current store. Besides the familiar rubber and leather which put Black Body on the map, the new store now also offers various fetish brands. Therefore, “Fetish wear for men” is what Black Body is all about. In other words - exciting menswear.
According to Rick, the new store is extremely open and accessible: “When you look into the shop window, you see the first part of the store with underwear, sportswear and swimwear. After you go inside, you run into rubber shorts and shirts. The more you go to the back, the higher the fetish factor becomes: chaps, harnesses and suits are at the back of the store. The stairs to the basement will lead you to toys, masks and other accessories. The basement, where the heating of the former post office used to be located, is ideal for those articles. The shop became very inviting by arranging it this way. It’s a very accessible store to buy exiting pants, tight rubber shirts or a nice toy. You can also visit the store for good advice on leather chaps, a custom made rubber suit or expert repairs.”
To the question which circumstances have determined the success of the shop over the years, Rick replies: “Renewed collections, lower prices and a good service. To start with the latter, the rubber we sell is so strong that it hardly wears out, even if you use is often. When a seam comes apart or a zipper is broken, we can quickly repair it properly.
We carry a large selection, and prices are lower than anywhere else. When it comes to rubber menswear, we have the largest collection in Amsterdam. And partly because of Internet, we also enjoy a good reputation in the rest of the world.”
The success of the store is determined by the people who work there. “Indeed, I am very proud of my colleagues Ismael and Jeldert, the three of us being the Black Body team. We are experts, a professional team that helps everyone with friendly advice, whether you have been walking around unashamedly in the scene for years, or are trying out your first rubber shirt.”
Even though Black Body clearly still is a store that focuses on fetish, it is also selling underwear and various sportswear. “That is correct. Renewing those collections is something we have been doing more and more lately. The fetish scene has changed, also because of the Internet and social media. We respond to this by enlarging our selection and making sure we have new fetish collections in store more quickly. In the new shop this started with Andrew Christian, Barcode Berlin and a Mister B. shop-in-shop.
Later on, Invincible Rubber and CellBlock13 were added. All brands are a success, but not as big as the Boxer Barcelona shop-in-shop we opened at the beginning of the year. It is more successful than we could ever hope for. Partly because of this, we see a bright future ahead of us.”
With all the rubber, leather, various fetish brands and different kind of outfits, Black Body in Kerkstraat is the place to be when looking for fetish wear for men.