“Are condoms vegan?” Philip Siefer and Waldemar Zeiler, two German entrepreneurs kept hearing this question in 2015. The answer is that condoms “usually contain an animal protein to make the latex softer” according to Siefer. Four years later the two have built up a company called Einhorn – which in English translates as “Unicorn”.
The search term “vegan condoms” gets over 3,000 monthly searches on google so obviously there is a big demand. Who would have thought it? It’s not exactly a natural first thing that one thinks about in considering veganism. But a lot of eco-conscious people have asked themselves this question. Why would one not wish to have safe and protected sex in harmony with one’s values? So it is perhaps not surprising that Einhorn now has an annual revenue of approximately €5 million.
According to BBC Worklife, the Berlin-based entrepreneurs wanted to create a product suitable for an e-commerce platform which would not involve dealing with returns.
“So condoms were the perfect product. We hadn’t even considered whether they would be vegan or not,” said Siefer.
The critical ingredient of condoms, as is well known, is latex which is a natural milky sap extracted from rubber trees which are largely found in the tropical regions of Asia. Normally casein protein is used to soften the latex. But casein protein derives from mammals’ milk so Einhorn has found a way to leave this ingredient out by using a natural plant-based lubricant.
Sustainability has been a key philosophy of the company and so it has chosen to work closely with a group of smallholders in Thailand who avoid the use of pesticides as much as possible. The alternative would be to deal with large-scale rubber monoculture plantations that have become the norm over the past few decades. These have contributed significantly to deforestation and had an adverse impact on local wildlife.
Einhorn has a member on-site in Thailand for three months a year overseeing production. It pays farmers 15% over minimum wage levels.
When they founded the company, the founders signed the Entrepreneur’s Pledge. This requires them to invest 50% of the profits into sustainable projects. This meant that in 2018 it invested 10% of its profits in CO2 offsets such as restoring forests.
When the company was negotiating with DM-Drogerie Markt (DM), the giant German retailer, it was able to use the giving attitude inherent in the Entrepreneur’s Pledge to good effect. “Every cent you take from us now, you’re going to take it away from a good cause,” they said. The got the distribution deal done even though their condoms were more expensive than other brands.
Sebastian Bayer, managing director for DM’s marketing and procurement division, said that “we want to offer sustainable product alternatives” because they know that their customers are increasingly concerned about sustainability issues.
The company is set to submit multiple e-petitions to the German parliament on climate change and gender equality. Seifer and Zeiler intend to give their shares in Einhorn away at the end of this year so as to preserve its ownership and thereby stay true to its sustainable values.
A market of 4.5 million sustainable condoms has given rise to a radical marketing initiative. Eco-conscious sex has given birth to a new radicalism.