Sustain’s eco-friendly, all-natural condoms emphasise social, environmental and personal responsibility.
When it comes to sex, Meika Hollender wants to help couples think more responsibly—in more ways than one. Her family’s company, Sustain, produces a line of nontoxic, vegan, fair-trade condoms. Her father is also Jeffrey Hollender, the former CEO and cofounder of Seventh Generation, a leading brand in sustainable paper, cleaning and personal care products.
The father-daughter duo launched Sustain in 2013, featuring eco-friendly condoms. From the beginning, Sustain recognized the purchasing power of women. As it turns out, women account for 40% of condom purchases, but only 21% of single sexually active women use condoms regularly, Meika points out. “This statistic has to change,” she says. “Women need to stop only thinking about preventing pregnancy and realize that contracting an STD or HIV can have long-term and very serious impacts on their lives.”
In further support of this mission to empower more women to take control of their sexual health, the company donates 10% of its pre-tax profits to organizations that provide health and reproductive services to low-income women, including Planned Parenthood.
Meika spoke to The Venture about the family business, and why she wants to shake up the conversation around sex.
Your family’s been in the business of nontoxic, environmentally friendly products for a long time—what made sexual wellness the next logical step?
For my family it has always been about creating the safest, healthiest products on the market. At Seventh Generation, my parents launched organic tampons over ten years ago. In launching organic feminine care, my mother and I became increasingly interested in women’s reproductive health and rights. Transitioning from Seventh Generation to Sustain was a mix of my dad’s passion for bringing sustainability to new categories and my passion for and interest in women’s sexual and reproductive health.
What did you discover about how mass market condoms are manufactured that made using fair-trade rubber a must?
There is actually a pretty terrible and sort of dirty history about the rubber industry that a lot of people don’t know about, and it still exists today. There is a ton of child labor, really bad working conditions, and we, Jeffrey especially because he is so passionate and knowledgeable about the history of the rubber industry, made it his mission to find a fair-trade certified plantation.
Another thing is nitrosamines. As you heat and mold the latex, nitrosamines, which are a known carcinogen, form in the latex. We don’t use this, and in fact, a study that tested most of the condom brands in the U.S. found Sustain as one of only two brands that don’t contain this carcinogen.
Why do you think so many women are embarrassed to buy condoms and other sexual wellness products?
Why is even the mere subject so taboo? The answer to this is really a mix of multiple reasons. First of all, we still live in a patriarchal society, one that allowed a law in New York City to exist [up until 2014] that allowed for women to be arrested for prostitution if caught carrying condoms! Society, religion, gender stereotypes, the media, and many other things contribute to women not feeling a sense of empowerment to take control of their sexual health. I believe that all of this is changing slowly, but we still have a long way to go.
What do you see as some of the biggest challenges to easing these stigmas, and how do you hope to tackle it?
There are so many challenges, whether it’s a retailer not allowing us to participate in a coupon program because of being in the sexual wellness category, or me personally being pulled from speaking engagements once someone realizes that I do in fact sell condoms. Through better design, aspirational and educational content, and ongoing support of women’s sexual and reproductive health organizations we hope to start removing these stigmas.
No endorsement or connection is meant between those featured in this article and Chivas.