January 18, 2011

Getting Intimate with Sir Richard’s: a NEN Interview with Mathew Gerson

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What is sex?

Whether you consider it just plain fun, love, pleasure, or a chore, you would never really consider it to be an act of altruism (unless you have sex with Rush Limbaugh – God bless that poor soul who does).  And, what are the ingredients of sex? Certainly, a condom that evokes the jingle of “Trojan Man!” or something awful like that is not exactly thought of immediately or at all.

But then, there’s Sir Richard’s: an incredibly sexy condom company set to change the world.  It’s the first of its kind: it’s not just a condom company, it’s one that can make both guys and girls think after a bad and awkward experience with a partner, that at least they had some positive impact in the world. Sir Richard’s is the TOMs shoes version of condoms.

I had the pleasure (get your mind out of the gutter) to talk to CEO and co-founder Mathew Gerson, who is currently in Sir Richard’s heartquarters in Venice, California.

A Naropa graduate, and in many ways, the cooler epitomization of a Boulderite, Gerson was originally inspired to make a grand impact on humanity.

“I wanted to start a social venture that was intimately tied to a preventable form of suffering,” said Sir Richard’s CEO, Mathew Gerson. “And it seemed quite apparent that HIV which is still the leading cause of death for many people in the developing world, especially for poor groups, we all know it’s preventable but the numbers keep marching on.”

For every condom bought, a condom is sent to a developing nation that needs protection. The company, “believes that safe sex is a basic human right.” Currently, Sir Richard’s is working with one of the most trustful and efficient non-profits (in my humble opinion) known as Partners in Health, to distribute their condoms in Haiti.  Sir Richard’s, however, is more than a feeling, it’s a look too. If Sir Richard’s had a heart, it would be that of Mother Theresa, and the brain of Michelle Obama, with the body of Miranda Kerr or Chanel Iman (both supermodels and Victoria’s Secret Angels)

With a chic, clean and sharp design and a sense of safety and coolness of usage that corresponds to its design, Sir Richard’s products manages to be high fashion but without the pretentious exclusivity.

Just the look and branding of the product has the marketing ability to mentally transform people into a mindful state of boldness and sophistication with a sense of whatever synonym there is for “cool,” which is the same kind of feeling I get when I look at a pair of Louboutins online. Thinking about purchasing that pair, carrying the the bag and then carefully slipping my feet into the shoe makes me automatically feel more confident, more (again, for lack of a better word), cool.

But unlike Louboutins, Sir Richard’s, despite the intelligently noble name, offers products that allow customers to do more than daydream about purchasing their products. In fact, the company wants their product to be available and ready to buy almost everywhere – to everyone.

But of course, the coolest, most brilliant aspect of Sir Richard’s beyond its design and marketing scheme, is no doubtfully their concept of a buy-one-give-one condom.

That is Sir Richard’s.  All of that without the cost of a pricey product, despite all of these aspects that would indicate an expensive product.

And like every great ideas and companies, there is a person or a group who, like a child, bore and raised and continues to support the idea.

Today, Sir Richard’s has been met with incredibly fast growth.

Instead of creating a non-profit organization that carelessly ships condoms to random areas without a thought and just an intention (we’ve all heard the non-profit horror story of an organization that went into some random African village with no research or plan of action, dropped off condoms, left, and came back a year later to find that the residents had used the condoms as decorations for their homes), Gerson and company have avoided that unsustainable model of altruism by working with Partners in Health (PIH).

Gerson, intelligently, wanted to create a real impact.  He found out about PIH by readingMountains Beyond Mountain by Tracy Kipper, which is a biography on PIH founder and medical rockstar Paul Farmer.

With that research and more, Gerson found that PIH, which was in Haiti much before the earthquake had the most effective strategy of providing health services.  Unlike many non-profits that ship Western labor into developing nations, PIH trains and employs Haitian health-workers to take care of its own people.  Naturally, PIH has been amazing in their continued, sustainable response to the earthquake – they’ve been crucial in not just helping, but rebuilding Haiti.

“What I discovered is that there’s a radical demand for free contraceptives in areas that are stricken with extreme poverty,” Gerson said. “So you have this unfortunate scenario where individuals who are most likely at risk to get HIV given the high prevalence in their communities, are the least capable of protecting themselves because they don’t have access to condoms”

And while promoting safe sex in a country that is still in rubbles might seem arbitrary and unnecessary, Gerson believes that with the shattered remains of hope slowly coming together, safe sex can play a huge role in Haiti’s mindset and future.  Especially with the youth, because, “It’s their future, they have every right to protect and decide their future.”

When the company’s cultural ambassador to Haiti, Marc Baptise, who was born in Port-au-Prince and lives as a successful photographer in New York City, brought several hundred of Sir Richard’s condoms to Haiti recently, Gerson was correct in promoting safe sex.

When Baptiste returned, he found that the, “the response was quite heartening…most people have only experienced one brand their whole life. [Baptiste] brought our condoms and there’s ultra thin, extra large, and there’s dots and there’s ribbed and all this variety and people were overjoyed that they felt that they never had sex with a condom and felt so good.”

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