These Millennial Women Are Starting A Condom Revolution
Have you ever fumbled to open a condom and thought, what the hell? Why hasn’t someone designed better packaging? Actually — why hasn’t someone just designed better condoms, period?
The condom as we know it hasn’t really changed much in almost 100 years, not since latex condoms were invented in the 1920s. We didn’t even get glow-in-the-dark or flavored varieties until the 1990s. But there are so many ways the condom — and especially its fiddly, hard-to-open package — could be improved.
Imagine a condom wrapper that you don’t have to tear into. Instead, it opens like those little tubs of jam and butter you get at a diner: peeling back with ease, without disturbing the delicious contents. Plus, if you open it with the logo side up, you always know which way to unroll.
Now imagine condoms with that foolproof design that are also made with enhanced, flexible, natural vegan latex, the smoothest lubrication, all packaged in a stylish tin that can easily be tossed in your bag, or become a permanent fixture of your nightstand decor.
Meet Lovability Condoms, the woman-run NYC startup working to change the condom game.
When I first interviewed Lovability’s founders, Tiffany Gaines and Claire Courtney, back in 2014, their brand was still a work in progress. But unlike the condom industry in general, they’ve progressed by leaps and bounds in the two short years since we last spoke. I spoke with Courtney about Lovability’s progress and where they hope to head next.
When you conceived the idea of Lovability you did several focus groups, if I recall — and were just kind of asking people on the street about condom use. Can you describe how you made that happen? Did you ever have a “wow, we are totally onto something” moment?
Courtney: When we started Lovability, the condom industry hadn’t changed in two decades. We wanted to create a condom that looked so different, users couldn’t ignore it, couldn’t label it as a “traditional condom.” Unfortunately, “traditional condoms” are severely underused. Research reveals that most people don’t perceive condoms as pleasurable. How do we change the way people feel about a tool so critical to our health?
We asked hundreds of people to describe their dream condom, to open up about their insecurities, and to help us envision something better. We looked at current market offerings, and intentionally created something so different it could change the way our customers feel.
We collected feedback from hundreds of people, in focus groups, online and on the streets of downtown Manhattan. Our designs and messaging are the collective voice of the people who joined us in “Revolutionizing The Condom Industry” back on Indiegogo in 2014.
I think the biggest “we’re onto something” moment came when we reached our crowd-funding goal, and then nearly doubled it in 48 hours. We had been kicking our butts for a month to gain traction, and finally, the internet caught on. In one day we received orders from over two dozen countries. That’s when this became real for me.
I’m never gonna get over how great the design of the condom packaging is. Can you tell me about how that design came to be?
Courtney: Tiffany’s graduate school thesis asked her to design a product for social change. She created the first ever Lovability Condom. It looked a lot like the one we brought to market in 2014. Condoms are tools for social change by nature, but ours were designed with that intention long before we had a company.
We just released a line of feminist statement tins. That was a collaborative project. Collecting feedback is core to our business, but we didn’t realize how many people would actively participate in this movement with us. We owe a lot of our design and evolution to our customers. Over one thousand people invested their time, ideas and good vibes into creating a dreamier condom with us.
How did you incorporate your message and mission into the product itself? You’ve done a little rebranding recently — tell me more about how that came about.
Courtney: The rebrand brought together everything we’ve learned with our customers about sexuality, feminism and self-love this past year. We didn’t do it on our own.
Last summer, we asked our community how we could improve our first design, how our products made them feel, and how to provide more inclusive representation. We received incredible feedback and started working on a bolder image. We collected the phrases and stories our customers shared and synthesized them into the statements on our tins. They’re discreet, but edgier than before.
They represent what our community taught us about the role of sexuality in our lives, the importance of healthy, strong bodies and minds, and the impact of design on experience.
When it comes to our message and mission, we hope it’s always visible. Tiffany and I worked hard to design an online experience that’s as lovely as condom use should be. Wonderful blog contributors and partners help us share broader perspectives and grow stronger as a community.
We also like to surprise our customers in little ways. Our classic tin opens to reveal a quote about how lovable and bad-ass femme folks are. We occasionally include little gifts in our orders, like hand-made cards or a “feminists carry condoms” tote bag. Condom use should be delightful, and it’s our job to make it that way.
You started out with an Indiegogo campaign which has raised something like $40,000 — are you continuing your crowdfunding efforts or have you moved into things like partnerships to help stay profitable? Are you selling in retail locations in addition to online?
Courtney: Tiffany and I love being directly in touch with our customers. When they purchase through our website, we get to connect with them, chat, and learn ways to improve. That’s why we focus on our online community and web sales. We fulfill retail requests on occasion, but only when we know the environment promotes our mission of pleasurable self-care.
Crowdfunding was a way for us to prove our idea had value. The market has changed a lot in two years, and condoms were a lot more controversial. Investors weren’t ready to talk about a product they had never witnessed women buy before. We wanted to do something a little crazy, and we needed to prove that people would get on board.
Now we’re focusing on partnerships and ways to collaborate with other people pushing for lady-loving change. It’s a lot of fun! We just launched a global affiliate program called A-Team. People with passion and energy reach out to us all the time for ways to promote our condoms, and now we have a way to work directly with them.
There’s something really amazing about a lady-powered startup that is all about taking control of your sexual health: who’s on your team?
Courtney: The best part of this job is the people we work with, which includes our customers. They’re not just buyers. They shape our designs, define our goals and push us further. We’ve worked with hundreds of them super closely to pursue a stronger, more inclusive movement.
Tiffany and I handle all of our daily operations, from shipping to web design to PR, but we also have a fabulous team of interns, merchandisers and affiliates, all of whom keep us positive and driven. This is a community project, and we just feel lucky to be caught up in it.
What’s the future of Lovability? Plans to expand product line, grow your operation, etc.?
Courtney: With other companies pushing the boundaries on femme health, we’re seeing a lot of change. Today’s market is way more inclusive of women, and we see other entrepreneurs challenging parallel stigmas. Menstruation is big in the news right now. Why? Because people are creating products to fit feminine needs. Being a part of a wave of acknowledgement for femme folks, and the innovation that comes from that, is incredible.
Having just launched our new condoms … we’re back in the feedback stage, and we’ll be here for a little while. I have some fun surprises in store for our customers later this fall, like a new product available for a very limited time…but I’ll let those be surprises. Of course you’ll be the first to know, Abby.
I whip these out all the time — even just for conversation! Have you have brought out a Lovability condom with a partner and been like, “Yeah, I designed these.”
Courtney: Of course! And their reaction tends to say a lot about how well we’d get along. I call it “the condom test,” and it’s a quick way to smell out misogynists. I’ve never surprised a partner in the heat of the moment by saying, “let’s use this condom that I CREATED,” because I bring it up long before we’re in the bedroom. But it’s a critical moment in the relationship. That, and when I tell their parents I own a condom company.
For the record, my current boyfriend passed with flying colors as did his parents. I tend to surround myself with people who understand and support what I do. I think it’d be too hard not to.
You have a background in sex education. Have you had the chance to take your product into schools or community centers to reach out to youth at all?
Courtney: This summer, I rode around the West with a trailer full of condoms. The conversations I had got me thinking about ways to bring sex positivity and resources into smaller communities. I drove through towns far out of reach of sexual health clinics, and saw how needed those resources are.
When I chatted with women in Montana and South Dakota, they told me they would use our discreet condoms, and so would their daughters. No one had personally handed them a condom before, and though they knew where to buy them, they never had.
These people aren’t alone by any means. A lot of my friends share their experience. Not anymore (because I anonymously shipped condoms to them all…), but shame and lack of access to condoms are huge issues. We both think it would be incredible to incorporate Lovability into high school sex ed all across the country.
As a sex educator, I realized how interconnected condoms and curriculum are. We need to teach pleasurable condom use from the beginning. And we need to create curriculum that’s engaging and thorough. Becoming a part of that movement is definitely a goal of mine.
Tell me more about the manufacturing side — how did you figure out that side of the operation?
Courtney: You can start a business with a good idea and a wifi connection these days. That’s pretty much what we did. We researched everything ourselves, from sticker production to latex sensitivities. We emailed experts, made friends in the industry, learned about eco-friendly manufacturing, the processes in different countries, and how to ensure awesome labor standards for everyone involved in creating Lovability.
I like to compare making condoms to making maple sugar candy (probably because it’s the best sweet on earth). In both cases, a tree is tapped, a maple or latex is collected, and the material is processed and molded into the shape, thickness and consistency you desire. Lovability Condoms are manufactured right after our rubber trees are tapped, which keeps them super fresh and odor-free. There are lots of little variations within the industry, and figuring out how to nail the perfect dreamy condom for our customers was an awesome learning process.
What TV show would you love to see Lovability Condoms show up on?
Courtney: Girls! There are so many TV shows that influence our cultural discourse and the way we see our own role in this world. Very few of them honestly discuss sexuality, and the role of self-image in finding our way. Girls tackles these issues head on, and that’s the kind of radical discussion we’re looking for. Celebrating female sexuality, self discovery and pleasure alongside condom use would be badass. But honestly, the fact that shows like Girls and Broad City even bring condoms into the dialogue is great to see. That’s progress.