This Friday we have the pleasure of sharing with you, our latest interview with Meika Hollender; Co-Founder of Sustain; who are leading the way with their natural, vegan sexual health products. Sustain is very much about more than just selling products, and Meika gives us the stats on sexual health and why it is so incredibly important to understand exactly what you are using and all of the chemicals currently put on and used to create most condoms. Get ready to be truly blown away by Sustain’s ambitious plans to educate and share this knowledge and why sustainable, vegan condoms are exactly what this world needs…
Hi, Meika! Tell us a bit about your background and how you feel that has influenced you today?
I grew up totally immersed in the world of non-toxic products and socially responsible business, since my parents, and now business partners, founded the natural cleaning products company Seventh Generation. I worked for Seventh Generation in College to help launch their organic fem-care line, and that’s when I became particularly passionate about the ingredients in intimate products and reproductive health.
I was also raised in a very open, communicative family environment. If you grow up in a culture where something like sex is kept under the table, then those values transfer onto your kids. My parents always encouraged an open dialogue about “uncomfortable” topics, liked relationships, alcohol, etc. Having a good communication with my parents is part of what enabled me to understand the importance of sexual health as I grew up and what helped make it possible to start a sexual wellness products company with them!
When did you decide to create Sustain and why?
About three years ago when I was finishing up business school at NYU Stern my dad, Jeffrey, approached me with an idea he’d had many years prior: a sustainable condom company. To many, a family condom company can sound a bit shocking, but my family has deep roots creating sustainable products with Seventh Generation. When we started talking about starting this business, a lot of people asked us, Why Condoms? Here’s why: Oddly, the manufacture of and ingredients used in sexual wellness products, including condoms and lubricants, can harm rather than help bodies. We saw an important opportunity to create better, safer products.
I also began thinking about the condom market from a female perspective and I learned some pretty terrifying statistics:
Only 21% of single women use condoms regularly
48% of pregnancies are unplanned
And 1 in 4 college freshman contract an STI
I then discovered that 70% of women feel uncomfortable buying condoms, yet 40% of condoms are actually purchased by women.
Clearly, there was an opportunity to create a female-focused brand, addressing their needs, and creating products with their bodies in mind, in the sexual wellness space. So we decided to create a brand and a movement that empowered women to feel proud about their sexuality and can take control of their sexual health with better, safer products.
Can you please tell us why it was important to create vegan and sustainable condoms?
We learned two really important and troubling things when we started to learn about condom manufacturing:
- Latex, the rap of rubber trees, tends to come from rubber plantations that are using child labour, toxic chemicals and terrible working conditions.
- 2. Most condoms sold in the U.S. have a carcinogen called nitrosamine in the latex, which gets released during sex.
It was critical to us to created a Fair Trade, nitrosamine-free, vegan product in order to create a much healthier, safer and more ethical product.
What does everyone need to be aware of when it comes to sexual health?
I like to think about wellness as a puzzle, and women, in particular, spend endless time and resources taking care of their mental and physical health, yet when it comes to their sexual health many fall short. It’s important to realise that our sexual health is a critical part of this overall puzzle, and neglecting it can have ripple effects on our overall health.
Additionally, 2015 is the second year in a row that STDs are on the rise in the U.S. particularly among young women! It is critical, now more than ever, to educate people about the importance of practising of safe sex.
Can you tell us some important stats on sexual health for our readers to be aware of?
Only 21% of single women use condoms regularly (CRAZY!!)
48% of pregnancies are unplanned, higher than any other developed country
1 in 4 college freshmen contract an STD/STI
ZIKA is an STD! The most common way Zika is transmitted is through bodily fluids.
Additionally, STDs are on the rise big time! Young women and gay men are the most at risk…yikes.
How can you make sure you are keeping your body healthy when it comes to sexual heath?
In order for women to take their sexual as seriously as their skincare, we need to remove the taboo associated with talking about sex. Once women feel comfortable and empowered talking about sex, sexual health will become a part of the conversation.
Your sexual heath is about knowing what is in the products you’re using, and how they work with your body. For example, many women suffer from BV which can be caused by using certain types of silicon and petroleum lubricants and wipes which throw off the pH balance of your vagina and create an overgrowth of bad bacteria. It’s also about communicating with your partner, knowing what makes you feel good sexually, and being in touch with your sexuality.
What did you friends and family think when you were first starting up the business?
I honestly didn’t realise for a while that what I have been creating would have such a positive impact on all my friends and family. People really feel like I’m taking a stand for women everywhere, and speaking up, speaking out and not backing down even when I face a backlash. It’s been a pretty incredible experience.
Why do you think there has been such a rise in veganism over the last few years?
I think we are in the middle of a pretty intense health revolution where people are learning more and more about what is in their products, how it effects their health and they are also demanding transparency. For so long, we just accepted the food we ate and the products we used as is. We put immense trust into the companies manufacturing what we consume, and that is all changing.
Have you had a lot of interest as your condoms are vegan?
Yes! We have tons of hard core vegans using our products (condoms and lubricants). Vegans are so happy that there is now a vegan condom option!
What inspires you?
I look up to Cecile Richards, the President of Planned Parenthood because to me, she is someone who stands on the front lines and fights for women everywhere in so many different ways regardless of the thousands of people that try to tear her down. Even among backlash and criticism, she is incredibly strong and brave, not letting anyone impede her mission. She really is a huge inspiration.
What’s your average day like?
7:15 am – Alarm goes off. Snooze for 10 minutes, and then I wash my face and make breakfast while scrolling through emails.
8 am – Three days a week I work out at Exhale, I’ve been going for 10+ years and I swear by it.
9 am – Grab a quick almond matcha latte at ChaCha Matcha and head into my office in Chinatown.
9:15 am – 6:30 pm – meetings, calls, work, work, work.
I eat at least 3 times throughout the work day, two snacks, and lunch. I’ve noticed that if I go more than 2-3 hours without food my energy totally crashes. So now I’m carrying nuts, bars, and water around with me 24/7.
6:30 pm – Head to the grocery store to buy stuff to make dinner.
7 pm – Prep dinner for 15-20 minutes and then usually hop back on my computer for another hour or so until my boyfriend gets home and I finish making dinner with him.
8:30 pm – I plug my phone in in my bedroom and try and not check it for at least an hour for a little ‘detox’ while watching TV (John Oliver is my everything)
10:00 pm – Skincare and bedtime! Tata Harper products are my go to for natural and effective skincare. I can’t live without their toner and moisturiser.
I get in bed nice and early around 10 and read for about 30 minutes before I go to bed.
Rinse & Repeat!
Do you think you have a work/life balance?
Yes. This is not something that came easily to me and it definitely something I have to manage on an ongoing basis. Now three years into working on Sustain full-time I think I have a pretty good balance for running a start up! Carving out time with friends and family where we don’t talk about work is critical, as is taking care of my own health and wellness which I’m getting better at.
What’s the best part of your job?
Knowing that every single day I am having a positive impact on women throughout the country.
What words do you live by?
Reflect don’t react.
What’s next for you?
Building Sustain; getting us into more stores, creating new product lines, and destigmatizing safe sex!
I also have a few side projects I am working on…more to come on those in 2017!
If you loved hearing from Meika and want to check out Sustain find all their sexual health products here. If you are a vegan individual or business then please get in touch to be a part of our interview series at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All images via Sustain Natural.