Safe Sex: Sustainably Produced Condoms From Soil to Sale
Are you looking for a sustainably produced, non-toxic, GMO-free, Fair Trade certified condom? Sustain Natural, the natural sexual health and wellness product supplier, has you covered (literally). In addition to selling condoms, this Vermont-based startup manufactures water-based, organic personal lubricants and chemical-free post-play wipes.
Sustain’s condoms are also nitrosamine-free. Nitrosamines are a class of carcinogenic chemicals that are in products like cosmetics, tobacco, fish, beer, fried foods, meats and rubber. During sex, condoms can leach these chemicals which can be absorbed by our bodies. Although nitrosamines from condoms contribute to a small percentage of our overall exposure, there’s no reason for them to exist in condoms. In fact, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Population Fund recommended that condom manufacturers minimize the presence of nitrosamines.
IN THE PHOTO: SUSTAIN CONDOMS. PHOTO CREDIT: SUSTAIN NATURAL
Although 40 percent of condoms in the U.S. are purchased by women, condoms are largely marketed towards men. Jeffrey and Meika Hollender, the father-daughter co-founders of Sustain, made it their mission to change that.
Condoms are the most effective way to prevent sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy.
But with names like “Rough Rider”, “Kyng”, and “Performax”, and marketing that focuses on sexual conquest rather than sexual health, condoms (and the people that buy them) can be associated with promiscuous and hyper-sexual behavior. And while men who buy condoms can often choose to embrace or overlook these associations, in a world of double standards, some women can feel like others think they’re “easy” or “asking for it” when they place a pack of condoms on the counter.
Related article: “EDUCATION FOR REFUGEES WITH JOGGO”
Jeffrey and Meika Hollender want to eliminate this stigma and increase women and girls’ comfort with buying and carrying condoms. They do this by marketing exclusively towards women, selling their products online, and in outlets geared toward health and wellness. Sustain condoms are stocked in natural health food stores and chains in the U.S. like Whole Foods.
Jeffrey explains, “We don’t sell to the Dollar Store and wouldn’t sell to Walmart. We align how we source and manufacture our condoms, and where we sell them, with values our consumers are attracted to.” Anything that can increase the number of women who purchase and carry condoms is a good thing. A whopping 63 percent of women and 45 percent of men in the US didn’t use a condom with someone they just met.
IN THE PHOTO: JEFFREY AND MEIKA HOLLENDER. PHOTO CREDIT: SUSTAIN NATURAL
The Hollender family has a long history of bringing sustainably produced products to market. Twenty-seven years ago, Jeffrey Hollender founded Seventh Generation, a company responsible for revolutionizing the home cleaning products industry. Now, the father-daughter duo is working to disrupt the sexual wellness industry by embedding sustainability into their business practices.
Here’s how it works.
When someone purchases a pack of Sustain condoms at their local health food store, Jeffrey and Meika take 10 percent of the profits from that pack and donate it to organizations that provide women’s reproductive health care and family planning services.
When Jeffrey and Meika hire staff, they’re paid living wages, equal wages regardless of sex, and get an ownership interest in the business.
When Sustain orders a batch of condoms from their factory in southern India, unionized workers manufacture the condoms. These workers receive significantly higher wages than their peers. The factory also has a team that runs an AIDS awareness and prevention program for adults in hundreds of surrounding villages. When this factory in southern India orders latex, 180 workers tap latex from rubber trees in the world’s only Forest Stewardship Council certified rubber plantation (latex flows from taps like maple flows from maple trees).
IN THE PHOTO: TAPPING LATEX FROM A RUBBER TREE . PHOTO CREDIT: FLICKR/LAURAS512
This plantation and its workers benefit from limited pesticide and fertilizer use.
Sustain’s Fair Trade certification also means that children don’t work on the plantation (child labor is common in the rubber industry). The plantation also provides education and healthcare to its workers and the community in which it operates.
From soil to sale, this is what a sustainable supply chain looks like. So how does Sustain stay competitive with LifeStyles, Durex and Trojan who control most of the condom market?
Jeffrey and Meika build their customer base one relationship at a time. They attend events geared toward health, wellness and sustainability and have candid conversations about sex and startups. Jeffrey says that Sustain’s relationship with its customers is what feeds their long-term viability:
“We want to be able to understand and have great insight into our consumers so we can speak and communicate in a way that touches them most effectively. The reason why we have lots of consumers is because we ask them what they think and what they want. We ask consumers what flavor lubricant they want, and then we make it. In addition to product insights, we’re also accessing knowledge and wisdom that we otherwise wouldn’t have.”
IN THE PHOTO: JEFFREY AND MEIKA LAUNCHING THEIR PRODUCTS. PHOTO CREDIT: SUSTAIN NATURAL
When Sustain started, no one was asking for Fair Trade condoms. So why go into the business of making them?
Jeffrey says, “It’s not all about demand. We were going uphill because we knew that we were going to have to educate people around child labor issues and latex sourcing. But it was important to do it because we believed in it. If we were motivated by money, we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing.”
Meika echoed this guiding belief when she gave the keynote at a conference focused on using business to serve the greater good. This father-daughter team talks the talk and walks the walk by giving everyone one more reason to feel awesome about using condoms.
Recommended reading: “ERADICATING ENERGY POVERTY: WAKAWAKA IS ON IT“