Meika Hollender’s Wellness Revolution
Meika Hollender is the co-founder and marketing director of Sustain, an innovative company that’s creating fair trade, vegan condoms and reinvigorating sexual wellness.
We sat down with Meika, profiled today in Every Mother Counts & CNN’s Great Big Story “Instigator” series, to learn more about how Sustain is changing the conversation about reproductive health.
Every Mother Counts: What was the motivation for creating Sustain?
Meika: The idea for creating a sustainable condom company started when my dad left Seventh Generation five years ago and began exploring next steps. I thought it was a great idea but didn’t think there was a big enough market just for fair-trade condoms. I looked at the business through the lens of what it’s like to be a young woman buying and carrying condoms and practicing safe sex. We’ve developed a sexual wellness brand that’s focused on women and men taking control of their sexual health. People need to be very thoughtful about the products they use inside and on their bodies because they can directly improve or damage their health. Maternal and sexual health is uncomfortable to talk about but there’s so much we can do for women’s health just by having these conversations. And we have to bring women into the conversation if we’re going to change the conversation.
EMC: You’re reframing safe sex as part of total wellness.
Meika: Wellness and health have never been hotter. Everybody’s drinking juice. Everybody’s joined a gym. You can’t just focus on diet and exercise and then not practice safe sex and that’s what we’re trying to convey. At the end of the day, shoving data and STD specifics down people’s throats won’t inspire them to take control. So, we’re emphasizing sexual wellness as a significant part of overall health.
EMC: Condoms are traditionally marketed to men. Is that part of the change you’re trying to make?
Meika: Yes, because this is a product both sexes need and should feel comfortable buying. Marketing condoms solely to men is an example of this country’s long-standing patriarchy, which carries through into how we think about and market sex and sexual health products. But in reality, 40 percent of condoms and an even higher percentage of lubricants are purchased by women. Why not make them beautiful and contemporary? Why stay within the marketing constraints of what appeals just to men? It’s such an old school, outdated concept. We really wanted to breathe new life into it so more people will buy these products and ultimately practice safe sex.
EMC: How do you think sexual health products can impact reproductive health?
Meika: It’s all interrelated. Getting people to practice safe sex is the first part of the puzzle, but what good is that if the products themselves cause a host of other problems? For instance, traditional lubricants are usually silicone or petroleum based. They often contain chemicals, like glycerin or paraben, which actually damage the tissues in the area where they’re used. This creates room for overgrowth of bad or unhealthy bacteria, which is a condition called bacterial vaginosis (BV). Two in five women have BV, 84 percent don’t know they have it and once you have BV, you’re 50% more likely to contract an STD. It’s directly linked to putting these lubricants in your vagina. That’s just one example of how the products you use can impact your body’s ecosystem.
EMC: What about condoms?
Condoms are a bit different from a health standpoint. Certainly they’re important for preventing unwanted pregnancies and STDs. But our focus there is more about sustainability, the supply chain, fair trade and making sure no child labor is used on the plantations that grow our latex. We’ve also removed a carcinogen from the latex that’s produced during the manufacturing process. This carcinogen is banned from many latex products like pacifiers, but they’re not banned from condoms.
EMC: Is maternal health education incorporated in your outreach approach?
Meika: There are a lot of life events that lead up to a woman actually getting pregnant and proceeding through her pregnancy and birth successfully. The unplanned pregnancy rate in the U.S. is 51%. As we’ve developed Sustain as a brand, we keep asking, “How do we provide women with the education, products and services they need before they decide to get pregnant? How do we make sure they enter into a pregnancy because they want to and planned it?” How do we provide people with all the tools they need so they can plan their families and have a healthy sex life before and during that process?
EMC: Any final thoughts you want to share with our readers?
Meika: I’ve always felt that business is one of the greatest ways to bring about social change. We’re trying to get people to connect the dots in a different way than they had before. Every day I’m in this business I learn something new and I’m happy if we can extend that to others.