This Friday I have the pleasure of sharing with you my latest conversation with Meika Hollender; Co-Founder of Sustain Natural; who are leading the way with their natural, sexual health products. Meika gives the low-down on sexual health and all of the chemicals currently used to create most condoms & other products. Get ready to be truly blown away by Meika’s ambitious plans to educate and share this knowledge with Sustain. And why sustainable condoms are exactly what this world needs…
Hi Meika! Tell me a bit about your background and how you feel that has influenced you today with Sustain?
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 this is 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 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. 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 me why it was important to create vegan and sustainable condoms with Sustain Natural?
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 labor, toxic chemicals and terrible working conditions.
- 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 realize that our sexual health is a critical part of this overall puzzle, and neglecting it can have a ripple effect 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 practicing of safe sex.
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 as well as 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.
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.
What did you friends and family think when you were first starting up the Sustain business?
I honestly didn’t realize 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 backlash. It’s been a pretty incredible experience.
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?
7:15am – Alarm goes off. Snooze for 10 minutes, and then I wash my face and make breakfast while scrolling through emails.
8am – Three days a week I work out at Exhale, I’ve been going for 10+ years and I swear by it.
9am – Grab a quick almond matcha latte at ChaCha Matcha and head into my office in Chinatown.
9:15am – 6:30pm – 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.
6:30pm – Head to the grocery store to buy stuff to make dinner.
7pm – 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.
8:30pm – I plug my phone in in my bedroom and try and not check it for at least an hour for a little ‘detox’ while watch TV (John Oliver is my everything!)
10:00pm – Skincare and bedtime! Tata Harper products are my go to for natural and effective skincare. I can’t live without their toner and moisturizer.
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 Natural; 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!
All images via Sustain Natural.