Meika Hollender is the co-founder of Sustain, a company that produces natural, sustainable, non-toxic condoms and lubricants. They give 10% of their profits to women’s health initiatives, too. We caught up with Meika to discover more about making condoms for the health conscious.
How did you get into the condom business?
My dad, Jeffrey Hollender, had an idea for a sustainable condom about ten years ago and never pursued it because he was running Seventh Generation. A little over two years later, I was in business school and Jeffrey was starting to write the business plan for what became Sustain. He came to me for advice on the plan, and when doing so, I became more and more interested in it. Soon after, I started reading more about the statistics around reproductive health, how low condom usage rates are among my peers, and just the general need and lack of access that so many women in the US have to reproductive health services. I really became passionate about how I could create a product that would educate and inspire women. We started with condoms, and now we’ve created a brand. In the last few months we have launched organic personal lubricants and all-natural post-play wipes. I’m really proud of what we have accomplished in such a short period of time.
You describe Sustain as more than a business, it’s a movement – can you explain a bit more?
We’re doing something bigger than just making all natural and sustainable sexual wellness products. Yes, we are selling sexual health products, but more importantly we are trying to empower women to take control of their sexual health. We are creating a brand and starting a conversation around safe sex, sexual health and female empowerment. By having these larger conversations, and ultimately starting a movement, we are engaging people in a way that other sexual wellness brands are not.
Daysy is from a father-daughter business and so is Sustain, what’s it like working with your dad on making condoms? What’s the funniest moment you’ve experienced together?
Starting a sexual wellness products brand with my dad is really not as awkward as most people assume. It’s actually been amazing. It has been inspiring, it has been trying, it has been a lot of growth for both of us. For me, he is my dad, my boss, and my business partner. There are a lot of different relationships and dynamics but the amazing thing about working together is that we are coming at the business from two different perspectives. I’m our target market, I have grown up in the digital era, and I know how brands communicate today. He has this wealth of knowledge around sustainability, supply chain, operations, corporate responsibility, and is just a really successful business man. He knows what he’s doing and I think our combined insights and outlooks have really benefited us so far.
But of course, I can’t deny that there have been some awkward and funny moments. For example, we once did an interview at the Museum of Sex and the writer decided to ask us her questions in front of a giant projector screen where they were playing a video of a girl giving a blowjob on repeat. We must have been standing there for 30 minutes but it seemed like a lifetime. I’d say that was one of the funnier moments…
What’s different about Sustain condoms in comparison to regular brands?
We are passionate about creating products that are healthier and safer for people using them and better for the planet. Sustain is the only sustainable, non-toxic, Fair Trade certified condom sold in the U.S. We are also one of only two brands that contain no detectable levels of a chemical called nitrosamine. Nitrosamines are classified as a carcinogen and exist in tons of other products (food, personal care, etc.). We’re not saying in any way shape or form that other condoms are dangerous, we just believe that consumers have a right to know what’s in their products and we’re committed to making the best condoms, and now lubricants and wipes, that we can.
What do you personally do for contraception? How has that changed over the years?
Coincidentally, I’ve actually only ever used condoms! I’ve never been on hormonal birth control. Single or in serious relationships I always have ever only used condoms and I don’t see that changing in the near future.
Why do you think condom use has been declining overall?
Based on the research I’ve read, it isn’t declining but it’s certainly not increasing at an acceptable rate. As you probably know, only 21% of single sexually active young women use condoms regularly which is a very daunting reality. I also just read, that only 31% of people use protection every single time they have sex. These statistics highlight a very serious and real issue of the state of the sexual health in this country. Condom use has definitely gone down among some demographics as they had more access to more long form methods of birth control and there hasn’t been enough education around the importance of using dual methods of birth control unless you are in a monogamous relationship and have both been tested.
How has working in this business changed your perspective on 1) sex 2) relationships 3) contraception?
Regarding all three of these issues, I did not realize how sexually repressed and patriarchal this country is until I started Sustain. In the first year of selling condoms in many ways felt like I was selling drugs. Condoms are treated as an off limits and taboo product which is a byproduct of our country’s attitude towards sex and in turn safe sex.
More specifically to sex – My perspective on safe sex has definitely changed. When I became sexually active I always put safety first. It wasn’t really until starting Sustain that I realized that how irresponsible and unsafe most of my peers are when it comes to practicing safe sex. I also think starting Sustain has enabled me in a way to talk more openly about sex with friends and my boyfriend.
To learn more about Meika and Sustain please visit Sustainnatural.com
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Photo courtesy of sustainnatural.com.