It started with an uncomfortable realization: some women have an awkward relationship with condoms. They dread buying them and find them embarrassing to carry around. One MFA Design for Social Innovation student responded to the problem with an elegant (literally) solution, and a business was born. Lovability Condoms put a distinctly feminine spin on the way condoms are packaged, branded and marketed. Tiffany Gaines talks about the new product that is changing a once-stigmatizing purchase into a joyful experience.
Tell us about your new business.
For years, condoms have been marketed primarily towards men; they’re often associated with hyper-sexuality, promiscuity and masculinity. But when it comes to safe sex, most people would agree that men are not always keen on using condoms for protection. In many cases, men are not prepared with them. This can result in couples compromising their health and having sex without protection.
Because condoms have been marketed with such a masculine and hyper-sexualized tone, women don’t feel connected to this product in a positive way. Lovability is giving the traditional brand messaging associated with condoms a complete makeover from the inside out. We do this with strategic packaging design (which is discrete and similar to a high-end cosmetic product) and our new distribution method. Our condoms are made available to women in environments that are intimate and female-friendly, such as beauty supply stores, lingerie stores, accessory boutiques and department stores.
We hope to de-stigmatize condoms by re-designing women’s relationship to them, and also to promote more honest and open communication about sex and safe sex. Lovability can be a catalyst in a social movement. Women can feel proud to not only purchase and carry condoms, but to talk about the value and importance of them across cultures and generations.
What are you learning in the MFA Design for Social Innovation Department (DSI) that is making an impact on your business and thoughts?
The first huge lesson I learned in DSI that impacted my business is that I actually DO have the capacity to change the world through social enterprise. In DSI we are constantly hosting outstanding entrepreneurs and innovators as guest speakers. I am often astounded by how a simple idea of theirs can be transformed, with the proper commitment and strategy, into a social movement.
At DSI, one of the first things that we learned was the importance of “systems thinking,” especially in relation to solving social issues. Essentially, every social issue lies within a web of interactions, and as designers, we have the capacity to identify where to intervene within this web of interactions, and then design a more preferable interaction within the system that can create a more preferable outcome. It’s choosing to identify the root cause of a problem rather than designing ways to treat symptoms.
When it comes to safe sex, most people would agree that men are not always keen on using condoms for protection. This might be because they find it less pleasurable, or they simply aren’t concerned about safety in the heat of the moment. Whatever the reason is, in many cases men are not prepared with them. This can result in couples compromising their health and having sex without protection.
Lovability Condoms was my response, as a designer, to this social issue, and my strategy was synonymous with the “systems thinking” method for intervention that we learned in DSI.
I’ve also learned how to integrate important aspects of branding and storytelling to engage people on a more emotional and value-based level. I’ve learned that if I want to create an impact, I need “brand evangelists” who believe in my mission deeply. They need to be a part of the story and the part of the transformation that Lovability is generating.
How did you come up with this concept?
I had a traumatic tampon purchasing experience. The tampons were located ten feet up on the shelf behind the register and the clerk had to retrieve an “orange-picking” claw to obtain them. Everyone in the convenience store was watching with baited breath as the clerk swung the claw back and forth in an attempt to grasp my tampons. I realized that this was ridiculous, and that the distribution strategy for this product was insensitively designed.
Designers have the ability to make people feel more comfortable with the important products that they need for their health and wellness. Condoms are often an even more traumatic purchase for women than tampons, and I realized that no one had ever attempted to solve this problem. I saw that as an opportunity and took the initiative to start Lovability Condoms.
As a young, female entrepreneur, have you faced any challenges with launching a social business?
Being a young female entrepreneur does present a certain number of challenges; being a young female entrepreneur who is selling condoms is like slaying a dragon. The most enlightening aspect has been the fact that the more challenges I am faced with, the more I realize the importance of my product.
About 90% of the people I speak to about condoms become embarrassed. They deal with it by acting judgmental or offended by my candid nature. As a woman, I have to make a point of effortlessly coming across as classy, professional and relatable so that people don’t associate me with the stigmas that are connected to women and condoms.
Talking about condoms has to be refined to an art, so that people are open to changing their perception of this product. In fact, when I pitch to store owners, sometimes I avoid the word “condoms” all together because it makes them too uncomfortable.
But somehow, even the most skeptical shop owners have realized the value of my social mission. When they agree to take an important role in this movement by selling Lovability condoms in their store, it reminds me that this goal of de-stigmatizing women and condoms is truly attainable.
In DSI we have also learned a lot about what it takes to create a social movement. It all begins with ”changing the narrative.” As a brand with a social mission, you must position yourself as a storyteller. In DSI, we learn that you first must identify your core story and the morals and values that support it. Then you invite your targeted market to be a part of that shared story. To do this, one must develop a unique voice that addresses the audience as the heroes of the story so that they can participate with the brand and move towards everyone’s shared goal. Everything about Lovability was designed with this concept in mind. From the way we speak to women on our website, to the inspirational quote inside each condom tin.
For my thesis, I will be exploring how feminine invention and design can impact women’s relationships with products that promote health and happiness. Specifically, I will be using Lovability as a case study in feminine-centric re-design, which is directly related to their health and happiness. I hope to use what I learn to understand how to design, invent and amend other products that could positively affect women’s lives.
What else can you tell us about your product and launch strategy, and where can we learn more?
Recently, one of our instructors at DSI made the comment, “You can’t steer a parked car.” I think this is an important concept to take into account as a designer or entrepreneur. Theorizing can only take you so far. Use your resources and network and set out to solve a problem in whatever way you can. If it truly is a problem, other people will care, and you’ll be able to garner their support and resources to scale your solution.
Don’t be afraid to fail; be afraid to not try. I started Lovability less than four months ago and am thrilled that my condoms are now available in retailers in New York and Philadelphia as well as online. For more information, visit LovabilityCondoms.com.
Gaines will give a TEDxSVA talk on “Real Life: Sex in the City” on Friday, September 20, hosted by MFA Design for Social Innovation, 136 West 21st Street, 5th floor.