interviews / November 2015: Taboos / sex

Lovability Inc: Condoms, Sex Positivity And Girl Power

When we started this site, we knew sex was going to a topic we’d touch upon frequently. The two of us are very open about our sexuality and it wasn’t until we started this site, we realised just how much some women are shamed for embracing theirs.

I talk to my friends about sex a lot and buying condoms is an issue that often comes up. I’ve never felt that embarrassed when buying condoms but I know many who are, the majority being women. So I when I connected with start-up condom company Lovability on Twitter, I couldn’t wait to talk to them about how they started and dissect the brand’s sex-positive values.

Introduce yourselves to our readers

Hi there! I’m Claire Courtney, the CMO at Lovability Inc. We’re a startup condom company in NYC run by two young women who want you to smile and carry condoms every day.

lovability

How did Lovability start?

Lovability started back in 2013 when my now business partner, Tiffany Gaines, needed tampons. The tampons at the local market were located so high up that the clerk used an orange picking claw to fetch them. As a graduate student in SVA’s “Design for Social Change” program, she was inspired to empower women through better product placement and design. She quickly identified condoms as one of the greatest gaps in the female wellness market. No brand met our needs or seemingly even cared to try. After many late nights into her program, Tiffany launched Lovability Inc. with the mission to help women everywhere feel confident using condoms.

Around the same time, I was teaching sex education to homeless youth in LA. I met Tiffany while working on my undergraduate thesis, “Pleasure in the Condom Industry.” I immediately connected to her mission of selling condoms alongside confidence.

Six months later, we graduated and made the decision to re-launch Lovability Inc. with an all-or-nothing crowdfunding campaign.

How did you go about setting up your business?

Tiffany launched Lovability Inc. used very little money to develop a prototype and got design feedback from friends and volunteers. She went on foot in New York City pitching the product to local lingerie stores and accessory boutiques.

It’s funny, because our product today looks a lot like her original sample: a re-designed, feminine and discreet condom. It is so much of a necessity, people rarely ask us to change it. Although it is quite feminine, the design delights our customers. We don’t expect all women to want pink condoms but we designed Lovability to make a direct statement to women: you deserve condoms that make you feel sensible, sassy and sweet. These are condoms inspired and designed just for you.

lovability

Did you have any moments when you thought you weren’t going to succeed in setting it up?

Yes! I couldn’t tell you how many. We face a lot of resistance. Most people aren’t comfortable talking about condoms, and especially not with two young women. But for us this is business, we have to talk about condoms. Our goal is to de-stigmatize the product through conversation and positivity. We’re committed to the hard conversations.

With each challenge we face, we learn more about the social, physical, and emotional barriers that need to be addressed in order to make condom carrying ubiquitous.

When Chase Bank refused to process our credit card payments calling us an “adult-oriented reputation risk,” thousands of people signed our Change.org petition to demand they update their policies. We are pretty used to hearing no before working our way to a yes.

For example, when we’re on the phone with buyers, we know the conversation is fragile once we say ‘condom’. The word automatically turns so many people off. However, it’s a totally different story when we hand our condoms to a buyer as the product speaks for itself. The word “condom” just hasn’t caught up to what we’re doing yet.

Last fall, we got a big NO from Kickstarter. They wouldn’t even allow our “health device” company to use their platform. Plan B was Indiegogo and last winter we put everything on the line – our savings, our passions, our jobs – when we asked the world to crowdfund our condoms so that we could manufacture at a larger scale and increase our distribution reach. It didn’t go our way the first month, we were looking at each other every day like, “we are going to fail.”  On a personal level, we came to terms with that idea. In regards to our social mission failing, we were devastated and relentless. Women NEED to carry condoms. In the end we raised about $40,000, twice of our initial goal. I’ve never scrambled or worked harder in my life. It was very motivating to feel that terrified.

We extended our campaign an extra month to reach our goal, which is something I’m so proud of now. I think it’s easy to give up faith when your own vision is on the line and often it really felt like I was failing, not my company. Now I appreciate how committed and personally tied to this business I am. It keeps me on my toes. At the end of the day, I’m working for my dreams. Even when it’s scary, it’s awesome.

Tell us a bit about your brand’s core values

We want women to love every inch of their body and every surface of their spirit. Full-body wellness is connected to so many things, but it starts with confidence. The confidence to own your desires, respect your being and accept yourself. We see condoms as one of many tools that inspire women to express self-adoration. To some that’s a stretch, but to us it’s a no brainer.

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What do you want to achieve with your new brand of condoms?

We want all women to feel gorgeous, lovable, sexy and healthy. Condoms are just one way of facilitating a greater love and respect for ourselves. Our mission is female confidence. Our product is condoms.

We also want all, who identify as feminine or feminist, to join us. We want to break down the ideas about gender and sex that hurt so many people. Positively framing the products that help us care for ourselves is just the start. Our dream is to provide an inclusive model for modern e-commerce. We’re still trying to figure out what that should look like. Stand by.

Why do you think women are embarrassed to buy condoms?

We’re plagued with a lot of sexual insecurity and shame. Men and women alike have avoided innovating condoms for decades because talking about sex brings up our personal insecurities. As a result, we have a relatively untouched rubber product offered in the most sterile, intimidating, or unsexy environments imaginable.

I think it also has to do with our idyllic views of monogamy. There’s a very misinformed perception that monogamous couples don’t use condoms thanks to their “trusting, committed” relationships. By that logic, any gal seen buying or carrying condoms is promiscuous enough to have more than one partner. I hate to bring up slut-shaming but that’s a core problem.

Are you hoping to be available internationally in supermarkets and chemists?

Our condoms are already available internationally, but not in supermarkets or chemists. We sell condoms to women all over the world for half off so they can provide them in their communities. That’s our core business model: empower other women to spread condom positivity with us. Women are incredibly strong when we work together. We currently have Lovability Lady merchandisers in Canada, Mexico and the UK. Anyone can apply for our winter sales program right now.

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Do you think society is uncomfortable with women who are comfortable with their sexuality?

Yes. As a woman who walks around NYC with boxes of boldly labeled “PREMIUM LATEX CONDOMS,” I know my sexuality offends people. I get dirty looks from women, comments and stares from men and people move away from me on the subway. I think the shock factor of a woman who openly carries condoms is something to explore, which is why I have the confidence to keep doing it.

There are some days I don’t have it in me. I learn a lot about the stigma and the female experience from my own insecurities. How can I – a twenty-two year old woman who proudly owns a condom company – not want to be seen with my own product? I feel judged by society and I feel labeled as sexually promiscuous. It’s an uncomfortable, unfair experience that some days I choose to avoid.

Don’t get me started on dating! Condoms turn men on, but the confidence to sell them doesn’t always have the same effect. I’ve been blessed with incredible boyfriends and lovers, but I’ve also experienced a lot of judgment from men I don’t know so well. They imagine I got into this business because I spent way too much time searching for condoms myself. Wrong.

What other products do you think need a redesign to accommodate female buyers?

Tampons and pretty much all products designed for feminine health. Products that honor female bodies are widely ignored and stigmatized. Female underwear is a market that’s seen some awesome innovation lately. I love companies like THINX and Dear Kate who acknowledge that our underwear is more than just a sheath, but should help us handle our periods, our discharge and all our womanliness. They’re kicking ass.

Tiffany and I dive deep into this question sometimes and it’s crazy realizing how much of our world is designed for and by men. Think about elevators, for example. Would any woman design an enclosed metal box with no exit that you enter with strangers? For the same reason women park their cars underneath lampposts, it’s just against our nature.

I’m not interested in redesigning elevators, but I’m totally fascinated by companies driven by female taste. Maybe redesigning products is a part of dismantling the patriarchy? I know this much: I live in a time and a city where female entrepreneurship and innovation is thriving. I am so grateful for the growing community of people working to create a better female experience. And I can’t imagine a better place to feel that in motion than New York City.

Are you looking to introduce any more products?

Yes, absolutely. Our next product will be based on the feedback we’ve received this past year. The requests are amazing and it’s been hard to hold off on exploring what’s next. But we aren’t ready yet and we know that. Tiffany and I still do most everything ourselves. Right now, there isn’t any space in my apartment for another product.

condoms

How can we get hold of your condoms?

Online! We’re about to introduce a new website and we can’t wait. Our goal is to create a playful platform for exploring the role of condoms, sex positivity and feminism. Think interactive sex ed content and tons of new contributors! The quickest way to purchase Lovability Condoms is online.

What advice would you give to women still cringing about buying condoms?

Speedy, discreet shipping is just a click away. But way more important than carrying Lovability is carrying the confidence to get what you want in the bedroom – that’s what we’re really about. We don’t care if you buy Lovability or another condom brand, we care that you feel prepared to enjoy the pleasurable, safe sex you deserve.

We know firsthand how cringe-worthy buying condoms can feel, which is why we re-designed the experience. If it’s not right for you, let us know what would be. Our work isn’t over until all of us feel satisfied with our sex lives and the protection to help us to enjoy it.

 

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