Rubber harvested by child labor. Toxic chemicals. Allergy-triggering proteins. According to Jeffrey and Meika Hollender, all of these go into the condoms that dominate the market today. Jeffrey is the founder of Seventh Generation, which 25 years ago set out to revolutionize the American cleaning, paper, and personal-care industries by bringing eco-conscious products to the masses. Now, Hollender, along with his business partner and daughter, Meika, is turning his attention to condoms.
The father-daughter duo’s new venture, Sustain Condoms, manufactures natural, vegan, Fair Trade condoms, with the goal of redefining industry norms — starting today, with the launch of Sustain’s online sales. We sat down to speak with Jeffrey and Meika about what inspired them to get into the contraception game. And how, exactly, did a father and daughter team up to change the way we approach sex?
You've probably seen some interest in the fact that you’re a father-daughter business team in the sex product industry.
MH: "Our family is very tightknit. We’re very open. I think every single one of us actually had a conversation with our parents — there’s three of us [children] in the family — when we were thinking of having sex. It was an open conversation, something that we always knew that we could talk to them about."
JH: "It shouldn’t be so bizarre that a father and daughter are selling condoms; you could call it a sex product, but you could also call it a sexual wellness product. If we were a father and daughter selling vitamins, no one would think twice. But, why is sex in this whole other category? We want women to feel proud about buying condoms."
MH: "Women actually buy 40% of condoms [sold] in the U.S. ... We want to present them with a brand that speaks to them and that empowers them...rather than makes them feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. We found that 25% of college students have an STD; 50% of pregnancies are unplanned [among 15 to 44-year-olds in the U.S.]."
What are you doing to raise condom usage rates among women?
MH: "A lot more women are using the Pill and the IUD — 70% of women’s number-one concern when they’re having sex is pregnancy, so they feel like they have that covered and they don’t see STDs or HIV as a really strong threat. There’s also a lot of slut-shaming; guys will even admit that they think it’s weird if a girl has a condom (“What does that mean, how many people is she sleeping with?”) which is just completely ridiculous to us. And, then another thing is that women just kept telling us they don’t like the purchasing process. They don’t like going into a drugstore, they don’t like the guy snickering at them behind the counter, they don’t feel like any of the brands on the shelf are really speaking to them. So, we hope to direct more women online so that the purchase is planned instead of spur-of-the-moment."
Beyond marketing, how do your condoms differ from those produced by mainstream brands?
JH: "We were able to reduce 75% of the protein content in the condoms. We can’t say they’re hypoallergenic, but they are less likely to [trigger] a latex allergy. We also were concerned that there’s a lot of people who are vegans who don’t want animal products in anything they buy, so we were able to remove the casein, which is a dairy-milk byproduct, from the condoms, so that we could have them certified as vegan.
"Nitrosamines are produced by a chemical reaction that takes place when latex is heated and it goes from a liquid to a solid state. And, nitrosamines are known carcinogens that cause cancers... Through a process to prevent nitrosamine formation, we have no detectable nitrosamines in the [Sustain] product."
MH: "We really wanted to create a product that was net-positive — so that everything from the supply chain to what the product’s used for to how the product affects society is creating a positive impact."
JH: "The rubber industry has a relatively unknown but pretty horrible history that started in the Amazon Basin, with hundreds of thousands of slaves harvesting the latex. As the rubber industry spread around the world, plantations traditionally employed lots of children in the tapping of the rubber trees. The first thing we wanted to do was ensure that there was no child labor in our supply chain, so we found the one plantation in the world that is certified to be Fair Trade [located in South India], where rubber tappers are paid 25% more than average wages [for this work]. On this particular plantation is a school for a thousand kids, a hospital, and much better housing than you would see in traditional plantations. This plantation was also certified as Forest Stewardship Council — meaning it uses the best sustainability practices of any agricultural operation.
"The reality is that no one company is going to change all these issues, and it’s by having a variety of businesses with different parts of the solution that we'll make the change. We’re in a sense challenging the industry to rise to that higher standard."
Click through to the Sustain Condoms website to find out more.