This woman entrepreneur wants to promote sexual wellness with her brand of vegan condoms
As a consumer psychologist, Aruna Chawla was fascinated by the sexual wellness industry that offered high potential, repeat sales, and yet, is hush.
“NCBI stats suggest that only 5.6 percent of the country uses condoms. Compare this to 47 percent that uses no form of contraception. Condoms are the cheapest available contraceptive, they are regulated and promoted for use by the Department of Pharmaceuticals as an essential medical commodity, available in pharmacies and hospitals without the need of medical intervention, are not invasive. Also, the only ones that also protect people against STIs,” she says.
However, she believes the reason for such poor adoption is that no matter how easily available the product is, there is a shame, judgment, and insecurity in going and getting the product — both for men and women.
“Have you seen the trailer of Helmet On? Two consenting married adults (just to satisfy Indian morals) are shamed for taking steps to be safe. How can we expect people to believe that this is the right thing to do?” Aruna asks.
She wants to address this with Salad, a brand of condoms she launched in June this year.
“As a buyer psychologist, my special superpower is creating brand and marketing strategies (through my agency Brainfetti) for challenger brands that want to stand out radically. These are good businesses for the world, but they don’t have to be bland, boring, earnest, or worthy. Salad fits right into this,” she says.
“There’s also a personal reason that makes me so passionate about this. If I didn’t have the option of safe sex, I might have been pushed into early marriage and pregnancy. I may not have the opportunity to prioritise my education and career and plan a child (if I want one) only when I’m ready. Most girls in our country don’t get that option. We can’t expect female empowerment at the workplace without empowering them in homes, and most importantly, in the bedroom,” she adds.
Market research before launching the brand showed that condom brands focus on pleasure instead of health. Aruna believes that when something is pleasure-focussed, it’s discardable.
“That’s why we’ve taken such a health-first approach. Our idea is that safe sex is not an option - it's a necessity. It's also pertinent to ask whose pleasure do these companies focus on? Right from pornographic imagery that caters to the male gaze to the lost opportunity of memes and quirks, we're doing things differently. We have fun, quirky, gender-inclusive packaging. We're not interested in selling sex. We just care that you’re safe, no matter how or with who you choose to be,” she explains.
Salad has launched one product at the moment - classic ultra-thins with no added flavours or smell. It’s 0.065 microns thin - one of the thinnest in the market.
Reiterating the ‘vegan’ part of the idea, Aruna describes, “Our production does not use any animal by-products (for example, casein) unlike other brands. With the advanced technology we use, we can make them free of animal by-products. We are also completely transparent about our production - you can find the ingredient list on our website via a QR code on the package.” It’s priced at Rs 9.15 per condom.
They are currently available only through its website, www.thesalad.org but are gearing up to launch on Amazon, Nykaa, Vanity Wagon, etc.
Kickstarting sexual wellness conversations
A bootstrapped business, Aruna declined to share numbers on investment and revenues. Currently targeting Tier I and Tier II cities and manufactured in Pune, Salad Condoms runs on a B2C sales model. Its counterparts are existing brands like Durex, Kamasutra, and Manforce. Some niche brands like Bleu also exist.
“Our biggest opportunity is that 47 percent of the eligible population chooses to go without any form of contraception. Unfortunately, we see that in maximum cases, men have the decision-making role in deciding the nature of contraception used - partners depend on them to go to pharmacies to get condoms. If the man decides they don’t want to use contraception, women have to unfairly face the burden of unplanned pregnancies and the risk of STIs. Alternative contraception options are not only more expensive, but also available only via medical intervention or are invasive,” Aruna says.
The pandemic has contributed to the growth of the company. According to Aruna, more people are home and having more sex. But on the flip side, 20 million pandemic babies are expected to be born between March to December 2021, and 21 percent of these have been unplanned pregnancies. There has never been a greater need for sex education.
“Most importantly, we’ve kickstarted a conversation - why are more people not using a condom? What are the sexual prejudices we continue to hold? How can we get over the shame we’ve been conditioned with and have a positive, affirmative outlook towards sex?” she asks some pertinent questions as she signs off.