Startups, sex, and social media with Sustain Condoms' co-founder

We sat down with Sustain Condoms' co-founder Meika Hollender to discuss everything from getting people to talk about sex on social media to her dream brand spokesperson.

Tell us a little bit about how Sustain came to be. What inspired you to create the company?

I founded Sustain about a year and a half ago with my father, Jeffrey Hollender, who previously founded and ran the green cleaning and personal care company, Seventh Generation. Jeff actually had the idea for sustainable condoms many many years ago, but as I was wrapping up business school and he was trying to figure out his next move, we started forming the business plan for what would become Sustain. We spent many months identifying our fair trade rubber plantation, our manufacturing partner, and designing the most environmentally friendly condom. I have always been passionate about sustainable products, but what really inspires me most about what we're doing is that we are focusing on women. In this country, only 19% of sexually active, single women (aged 20 to 44) are using condoms regularly. My goal is to get the 89% (wouldn't this be 89% if 19% of women use condoms?) of sexually active single women who aren't using condoms, using condoms!

What are the challenges of promoting your brand on social media? How do you encourage discussions around a "touchy" subject/one that not everyone is comfortable talking about?

We do this in two ways. The first step was creating a brand voice that is open, honest and speaks to women and the issues they care about. We want women to hear what we have to say, whether it's the best new vibrator on the market or information on the HPV vaccine, without feeling preached to. We tell it like it is, and we don't apologize for what we have to say. Second, we balance our content; we mix sexual health with sex, highlight female entrepreneurs who are killing it and we take a stand on Hobby Lobby. I think this balance is what allows our audience to enjoy our content without feeling like we're hitting them over the head with STD stats.

Unlike other condom companies, Sustain is targeting a female audience. Can you tell us more about the deciding factors behind this choice? Have you been surprised by what works -- and what doesn't -- when it comes to marketing to women?

We decided to market to women for a couple of reasons. First, 40% of condoms are actually purchased by women. Second, when we discovered that only 19% of sexually active single women in the U.S. actually use condoms, and that 25% of first-year college students contract an STD, we set out to figure out why. So, not only was there a market opportunity, but there was also a huge opportunity to educate women about why it is critical to use condoms to protect their sexual health. Today, there is a huge stigma attached to a woman who buys and carries condoms, and our goal is to remove that stigma and empower women to get on top of their sexual health.

How big of a role does social media play in launching a new consumer brand?

I think it's safe to say that when launching any brand, particularly a consumer product, you have to get on and engage with people on social media from day one. Whether we're sharing a Baron von Fancy screwdriver that says "Screw Me" on Instagram, or educating women about Ovarian Cancer Awareness month, social media makes sharing our story, and our sense of humor, possible. It's also interesting to note that this was not the case when Jeffrey founded Seventh Generation 25 years ago. The game has changed, and that's why he and I compliment each other as co-founders.

Who would be your ideal spokesperson?

Lena Dunham.


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Lucia Davis is director of content at Obviously Social. Follow her on Twitter: @LKCDavis.

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