The World’s First ‘Green’ Condom with Sustain Condoms’ Jeffrey & Meika Hollender
February 25, 2015
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good and we’re so honored to bring you this special edition of Green is Good this morning. We have Jeffrey and Meika Hollender on with us today. Welcome to Green is Good! MEIKA HOLLENDER: Thank you for having us. JEFFREY HOLLENDER: Yeah, we’re thrilled to be here. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Hey, well Jeffrey, you know, you’ve been on the show already twice before and we’re so thankful for you coming back but for bringing your daughter and starting a brand new business as a father daughter team, this is the first time we’ve ever done this on Green is Good and the first time we’ve ever hosted a father daughter duo, ecopreneur duo, who have started such a great business project. Before we get to talking about your new business, which is called Sustain Condoms, and for those of you out there who want to follow along, you can go to www.sustaincondoms.com. Jeffrey and Meika, please talk about how this whole thing started and your backgrounds a little bit. Of course, Jeffrey, you started the amazing iconic brand, Seventh Generation, but talk a little bit the journey and Meika, please, you also join in and share your journey leading up to this founding of this company. JEFFREY HOLLENDER: Sure! You know, it actually goes back about twenty years ago so when I was in the early days of starting Seventh Generation, the company you know well, the household and personal products company. You have to remember twenty years ago we were still in the midst of the AIDS crisis, not that it’s gone away but it certainly was a much bigger concern twenty years ago than it is today, and I had this idea for a product that I called Rainforest Rubbers and the idea was to go into the Amazon Basin and harvest latex from wild rubber trees and the only place in the world that rubber trees actually grow wild is in the Amazon and so we would actually employ the indigenous rubber tappers to make condoms from wild rubber trees and be in a business that actually controlled population but back then, more importantly, helped control the AIDS crisis. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Meika, tell me a little bit about yourself and how you came together with your dad to create this new company. MEIKA HOLLENDER: Sure, so obviously I grew up completely immersed in Seventh Generation and mission driven businesses and that’s kind of what I always knew. I kind of went my own way for a few years after graduating college, worked more in traditional corporate America and really realized that that wasn’t for me. I was so unfamiliar with that world and I didn’t feel like I was able to make a direct impact every day so that kind of led me to go back to school, get my MBA, and while I was back in school, Jeffrey was talking more and more about starting Sustain, or at the time it was still called Rainforest Rubbers, which we changed, and it was just the perfect timing for me. I didn’t necessarily always think of myself as somebody who would start a business but I had a partner who was willing to take me on with quite a bit of background in this space so it was kind of just this perfect situation where I was in school and getting ready to graduate and Jeffrey asked me to join him in founding Sustain. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is just great and let me just say this. Let me give a shout-out to my alma mater. I know Meika, you graduated from New York University Stern School of Business where I took many courses and I graduated from Stern many, many more years ago than you did, of course, and Jeffrey is a teacher there in Corporate Sustainability and Social Entrepreneurship at New York University so a shout-out to a school that we all have ties to and now that you’ve come together, share a little bit about the Sustain story. There’s all these iconic brands that we’ve all heard about since we’ve been around and they’ve been around since all three of us have been around and our listeners. What makes Sustain different from all of them? JEFFREY HOLLENDER: Sure. I’ll start and then Meika can compliment what I have to say. In this space of condoms, and condoms are a product that we don’t talk about that much but a product that is just critically important for all of the positive impacts that it has on our society, both from a health perspective, but helping families control and plan the size of their family and the number of children they have has all kinds of positive economic consequences for those families, not just health consequences. So we decided that we were going to create the first green condom and so what’s unique about Sustain is, first of all, it’s a Certified Fair Trade condom, which means that the rubber tappers are paid a significantly higher wage. The rubber tappers get free health care. They get free education for their children. We believe that this is the right way to harvest the latex that goes into condoms. Secondly, the plantation we use in Southern India is the world’s only plantation that has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council for its sustainability practices so we have a fair trade latex, we have a Forest Stewardship Council plantation, and additionally, the condom is certified as vegan and not tested on animals, free of any GMOs, and of course, Sustain is a B Corporation so we feel that we’ve created the world’s most responsible and sustainable condom. That’s part of the story. I’ll let Meika talk about our focus. MEIKA HOLLENDER: I think what we really noticed when we were thinking about Sustain is obviously, we wanted to make a safer, healthier product but we also wanted to be a brand in the category that was totally different than anything out there. What we noticed was big brands that have been around for a while have really kind of neglected women in terms of the condom conversation. Most condom brands out there target men. Everything is male-oriented, whether it’s their advertising or their packaging design. Women that we spoke to did not feel like anything out there really resonated with them. They didn’t feel like any of the brands were really talking directly to them. None of the packaging designs really fit with their lifestyles or looked like something they wanted to carry around and I think another part of that is there still is a stigma around women who buy and carry condoms, which I think is completely ridiculous in an era of showgirls and organizations like Laymen. It just doesn’t make sense anymore and so what we did was created a product that looks so different from anything out there. We’ve created a communications strategy and just really a brand conditioning that we feel resonated with women, speaks to them and is very upfront and honest about real issues out there. You know, you think of the fact that there’s still STDs, there’s still AIDS and only nineteen percent of single women who are sexually active actually use condoms regularly. This statistic is really what drives me every day. What’s going on? Women are so conscious about what they’re eating and what cosmetics products they’re using and then for some reason, we’re still falling short when it comes to protecting ourselves and our sexual health so we really hope to take on this issue of the number of women actually using condoms and really empower them to be using them, be carrying them, and really feel like a condom is a badge of honor rather than something you should be ashamed about. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow. Well said. Listen, for our listeners that have just joined us out there, we’ve got Jeffrey and Meika Hollender. They’re the co-founders and the leaders of, the CEO and the Marketing Director, of Sustain Condoms. It’s www.sustaincondoms.com. Now that you’ve platformed this very important product that you’re coming out with, share with our listeners. When does this come out and where are we going to be able to start buying the condom and what’s your marketing strategy in terms of the kinds of outlets that are going to be selling it? JEFFREY HOLLENDER: Sure so the condoms will be available starting on June 1st. They will be available in a pretty wide variety of places from online, obviously at sustain.com but as well on a variety of websites and e-tailers from eBay and Amazon to a broad group of other e-tailers and we’ll also be focused on traditional drug stores, natural food retailers like Whole Foods and really trying to make sure that our condoms are available in the places where women most prefer shopping. Those may include some very untraditional locations that we found women would feel most comfortable shopping in. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Jeffrey, I’ve only had the honor of knowing you seven or eight years but if you roll back the time twenty years, when you’re sitting with Meika and you guys are thinking about your marketing strategy, is this almost like ground zero day one when you started Seventh Generation, going after the woman, going after the traditional retailers, saying this is a better product, this is why you should use it? Are you feeling like you’ve seen this movie and you know the ending and David can slay Goliath again? JEFFREY HOLLENDER: You know, what we’re hoping is that it’s going to be a lot easier today than it was 25 years ago because 25 years ago, it was a battle to convince people that women and consumers in general cared about these types of issues. Today, because of the growth of the fair trade movement, because of the growth of organic and sustainable products are important to their customers so yes, it’s a replay of the movie. I just hope that it’s a shorter movie rather than the long movie it took to get Seventh Generation off the ground. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, now you have a secret weapon. Twenty-five years ago, Meika was a baby. Now she’s a grown woman and now you’ve got double the Hollenders walking in on you if you’re a retailer out there and Meika, you’re now the Chief Marketing Officer and you’ve got social media, which totally levels the playing field and can democratize this product and can democratize the word much faster than your pops could back in the day when we were just dealing in analogue sales, you know, nose to nose. Is this not part of the truth here? MEIKA HOLLENDER: Yeah, I might I think in some ways it feels to Jeffrey like we’re doing it all over again. For me, obviously, it’s the first time that I’m starting a business but I think also, what’s great about our partnership is that Jeffrey comes with such a wealth of knowledge and experience and he knows how retailers work. He knows how to get shelf space. This is something that I’ve obviously never experienced before. What I bring to the table is I’m effectively targeting myself or targeting millennial women and I grew up with social media. I don’t know life without a computer and I hope I know which brands and how brands can really engage consumers. Although young people now have much shorter attention spans, I feel like we have such an interesting story. What better topic is there to talk about than sex among pretty much anyone? So I think we have a really interesting story and marketing strategy and yes, social media and the digital era will only hopefully help this all get translated and out there faster. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Meika, I have confidence in you. I know that I’m going to be watching Girls one night and you’re going to have Sustain Condoms on Girls. Come on. MEIKA HOLLENDER: If you want to make that happen for us, we are open to your ideas. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wait a second. Let’s go a little bit into the ecopreneurship, the entrepreneurship of the Hollender household. Meika, what’s it like working with dad? Dad’s a big shadow and I get that. Dad’s a big shadow for me and I’m just the business guy. He’s been inspiring and an iconic leader in the whole sustainability movement, even for a person like me and I’m of his age group so how about for you, growing up in the Hollender household and now you’re working with dad? You guys are partners. How’s that working? MEIKA HOLLENDER: It’s working. I mean, the crazy thing is at this point, it’s actually almost been a year. We really started to get this going together last May so time has definitely flown. One of the first things somebody told me was to never refer to him as Dad in any sort of professional setting just to kind of set those boundaries but as I said, he is in my mind, one of the people who designed this space that I am in and aspire to be in. We are a very close-knit family. Our personal relationships are very valuable so I think that’s actually really helped. We preserve our personal relationship and we make that relationship a priority, sometimes over our professional relationship and we’re just constantly working to communicate with each other and be honest and open and give each other feedback to make sure that this works because we’re not willing to compromise our family, in general, to make this business work. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Jeffrey, what about you? Working with your very smart and beautiful young daughter, how’s that working for you? JEFFREY HOLLENDER: It surpassed my expectations in every way. I have been amazed at the passion and commitment that Meika has to, not just sustainable business and Sustain, but the issues and the health issues for women that we’re focused on. I also discovered that as much credit that I have given her in the past, she is far brighter and far more capable than I think I ever would have known if I didn’t have the opportunity to work so closely with her and thankfully, she’s got a lot more energy than I do. Getting a new business off the ground really requires a tremendous amount of energy and I’m glad that I’m doing it with her. I can’t imagine what it would be like to do it alone. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Aw, that is really so nice and I have to say I have a 27-year-old daughter and I get to work with her. She works for my brother and when I was doing all the pre-read on everything you guys are doing together, it’s just really wonderful to hear about all this because you guys are changing the world together and you’re doing it again, Jeffrey, and you get to do it with your daughter so I’m really honored to have you guys on today. How about the money? Is this coming out of a Hollender piggy bank or did you guys go out and raise money like a real startup? To change the world is not an easy or a cheap proposition ever. Who’s putting the money into this deal? JEFFREY HOLLENDER: You know, both. We financed some of this ourselves but we have brought in a group of individuals, mostly close friends, to participate with us. One of the things that I learned with Seventh Generation is you’ve got to have enough money. This is expensive to do. It’s expensive to do right and I feel like we’re in a great shape having raised the money that is required to get this company to profitability. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Where is the headquarters for it? JEFFREY HOLLENDER: Well, Meika works from New York but our main office is up in Burlington and we love Vermont and we decided we wanted to start another business there. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. And is it the two of you or do you have employees now or how big is the Sustain Condoms family growing to? JEFFREY HOLLENDER: We have a team of about seven people to launch the business and look forward to adding more in the future. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. Got it. And so the product launches on June 1st? JEFFREY HOLLENDER: Yes. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And it’s going to be in stores and online starting June 1st? JEFFREY HOLLENDER: Yep. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. Meika, any final comments? We’re down to the last couple of minutes or so. Anything you want our listeners to know or think about before we say goodbye today? Because we’re going to have you both back on for an update on this great product as you start rolling it out across the United States and eventually the world. MEIKA HOLLENDER: No. Thank you so much for having us. Our website will be fully launched on May 1st so you can look out for that and what we’re doing there. You can start pre-ordering your condoms for summer 2014 and yeah, just thank you for having us. It’s been great. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Great, and it’s going to be sustaincondoms.com. Meika and Jeffrey Hollender, you’re both inspirational leaders and should be admired for your work towards corporate responsibility, sustainability, and social equity and that is why you are both living proof that green is good.