Mathew Gerson, longtime friend of elephant, debuts Sir Richard’s: a condom on a mission.
“Doing Good Has Never Felt Better.”
Mathew Gerson, the visionary founder, says: “Yes, we are doing everything we can to make Sir Richard’s the very first Fair Trade product of its kind in the ol’ US of A…..unfortunately, at the moment there is only one certified Fair Trade latex plantation on the planet, and they’re already pretty well…well, tapped.”
Update: sat down this morning at Laughing Goat, one of my fave cafés in Boulder, Colorado, with Mathew Gerson and Mark Kreloff, the gents behind Sir Richard’s. We talked about changing the world for the better, one condom at a time, over loudly-blaring hip hop as the early bright Colorado sun (and amazing coffee) lifted us out of our morning funks.
Since I just tapped out notes, I’ll paraphrase:
Waylon Lewis, for elephant: Why is the lack of available condoms even an issue in developing nations considering HIV and the amount of aid being sent to fight it?
Mathew Gerson(and occasionally his partner, Mark Kreloff): Actually, in the Bush years, most funding went to abstinence. A lot of prevention funding was cut. Condom funding from the US diminished.
So there’s not enough free condoms?
The Global demand for free condoms is huge and only 10% of that need is met each year.
And how’s education? Don’t they know that if they have sex without a condom, they’re fucked?
Well, there’s cultural factors. There’s organizational factors. Systemic issues that lead to a high prevalence of HIV…issues like human rights, women’s rights and education.
So you’re literally giving one condom for every condom we buy?
Are you giving the same condom?
Yes. Different name, different design.
Would it be in the plaid package?
Well, if we’re giving away condoms in India, we might call it Shiva’s..! There’s cultural factors that help drive acceptance.
Like with Toms Shoes, they give a simpler version, a one-size-fits-most version I think. The shoes they actually give away are simpler than the hipster ones we might be buying.
How do you help ensure that free condoms get used?
That is the responsibility of the organizations we’ll distribute them to. It’s a complex, challenging issue. Acceptance is a huge challenge.
Check out condomcondom.net. In India there was little acceptance of use. It was considered embarrassing. So this organization made a ringtone where people sang condomcondomcondom and, 20 million downloads, later, they did a tour, and suddenly there was a double digit increase in acceptance and use.
So that’s a big part of what you’re doing that other companies don’t do: elegant, cool branding makes you want to buy more publicly.
We’re different from mainstream brands in that we’re not marketing in a sleazy, greasy, slick, industrial way. Sex is about sacredness; intimacy doesn’t have to be creepy. The packaging is meant to appeal more to a younger and more conscientious consumer. The gay population, and women. Women are more responsible about buying condoms earlier. And hipsters like you, Waylon..!
We also want to change how people feel when they purchase condoms. Part of that is offering them for sale in retail venues, like say Anthropologie, American Apparel, untapped markets—not just drug stores and supermarkets. You shouldn’t be ashamed when you buy condoms.
Love that. I don’t know why, but when I buy condoms, even in Whole Foods, I’m vaguely embarrassed.
Helping people feel comfortable about buying condoms is vital. Think about it: it’s your bodhisattva vow, to be responsible for how your actions are effecting others.
Do the trees keep living? Is it sustainably harvested everywhere?
Yes. It’s like maple syrup farming, essentially. But as for Fair-trade certified, there’s only two places we know about: Sri Lanka and India. We’re not sure, but that seems like it. You have to pay a 20% premium, additionally, to be FSC certified, which we want to do.
There is one fair trade latex condom, called French Letter, but it’s not available in the US.
So how are you better than Trojan or Durex or Lifestyles?
Well, on some level, all condoms are created equal. Sir Richard’s are FDA certified, which is a rigorous process. The kind we’re using consistently ranks in the top tier in terms of safety and user satisfaction.
All latex is 100% biodegradable. But where we’re really different is in our mission and our message.
Why aren’t you doing anything eco with the packaging [the wrappers or the cardboard display boxes]?
Well, first of all, the packaging foil—what the condom is actually in—is regulated by FDA. You can’t do anything green there, really.
You could work with Terracycle to collect condom foil wrappers. Foil is valuable resource, totally recyclable or reusable, terracycle could make backpacks out of condoms. Don’t tell me with your awesome design some teenage punks wouldn’t love toting a condom backpack to school, pissing off the teachers. Plus, it’s free marketing.
Put us in touch with Terracycle, done.
As for the condoms, the greenest thing you can do on the consumer end is: don’t flush your condoms down the toilet. It’s horrible for the environment, bad for lifeforms in our waters, the chemicals are horrible, and latex never biodegradess if it’s in the ocean. If it’s in a landfill, it biodegrades. We’re trying to connect with WWF and the Ocean Conservancy to learn more.
The lubricant is silicone based, not petroleum or oil based. So that’s good, too. Eventually we want the packaging to have seeds in it, like Pangea’s packaging. For now the cardboard is recycled, but the inks and all aren’t eco at all. We’d love to connect with IDEO and really create some awesome green packaging. But for now it’s an issue of solvency, not making perfect the enemy of the good. Pricing vs. green is always a delicate balance. You want the product to be widely available, not just to rich folks. We’re comparably priced with our competitors, despite fact that we’re giving a condom away for every condom you buy, and trying to source fair-trade rubber, and trying to use natural lubricant. And remember: preventing unintentional pregnancies is one of the greenest things you can do. Down the line, we’d love to do a true LCA analysis.
Our condoms are made in Malaysia, by the largest condom manufacturer in the world. We may not be very green yet, but remember that social and eco issues have to get on the same bus. Socially, we’re way ahead of the curve. The packaging is designed by TDA, who also designed Mix1, Newton Running Shoes…
I recommend everyone read Wisdom of Whores. HIV is concentrated among prostitutes, drug users, gay community—groups that are often marginalized, ignored politically.
You should work with Seane Corne, support her work with prostitutes?
You know she’s creating a birthing center in Thailand for women who are HIV positive to give birth in a way that minimizes the risk of passing the virus on to their child. Seane is a great example. Again, it’s our “bodhisattva vow”: we all need to do all we can to diminish suffering, both your own and that of others.
Finally, Sir Richard’s is a bit of a play on words… But really it’s all about chivalry. Protection. Night-hood.
You should get a video going, that would go viral. Use our friend Alex King.
Let’s meet with him next week in LA [we’re out there for Natural Products Expo West].
- Safe sex should be a human right for anyone who seeks to practice it.
- One for One: for every condom you purchase, one is donated to a developing country.
- Coming: Summer 2010
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