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[Herald Interview] Eve: making inclusive condoms for everyone

Self-described ‘startup champion of political correctness’ wants to bring more open approach to sexual health

Models, some of whom are sexual minorities, pose for Eve in 2020. (Instinctus Co.)
Models, some of whom are sexual minorities, pose for Eve in 2020. (Instinctus Co.)
It is not so often that companies in South Korea go out of their way to cater to the LGBTQ community.

Eve, however, is not afraid to embrace everyone. With its gender-neutral models and simple product packaging, the sexual health brand is a far cry from the heteronormative narrative that has dominated the condom industry for years.

“While everyone who is sexually active is our potential target, it is true that the condom industry has heavily relied on sex appeal and focused on heterosexual adult men,” said Park Gina, a chief executive and co-founder of Instinctus Co., a Seoul-headquartered company behind Eve, during a recent interview with The Korea Herald.

“We, on the other hand, are reaching out to a wider group of potential customers,” she said.

To convey a message of inclusivity, the company relies on visuals to embrace people of all sexual orientations. Last year it featured ordinary people -- ranging from a producer and a YouTuber to a fitting model -- in a collection of promotional images. The firm wanted to hire as many models as possible from all walks of life so as not to make people feel excluded or discriminated against, the 29-year-old executive said. 

Park Gina, representative director and chief marketing officer of Instinctus Co., poses in thecompany’s office in eastern Seoul. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Park Gina, representative director and chief marketing officer of Instinctus Co., poses in thecompany’s office in eastern Seoul. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
“When presenting couples, we intentionally chose those in straight, gay and lesbian relationships to casually show that love comes in all shapes and sizes in our marketing.

“Instead of directly saying ‘homophobia is bad,’ we are showing people who might be different to them and acknowledging that they are also our customers too.”

Park entered the condom business in 2014 when she launched a shopping site with two of her high school friends. For each condom sold, another was given to young people in an effort to raise youth sexual health awareness.

But after facing difficulties making a profit, the team decided to launch their own brand with a set of values – releasing their first ultrathin condom in 2015. That was how Eve started.

“The attitudes toward condoms represent the negativity around sex. People buy, for instance, chewing gum when they only need condoms at a convenience store. We wanted to see if we could make condoms as not something deviant, but a health product,” she said.

As a social project to encourage contraception in 2017, the company also installed teenagers-only condom dispensers, which continued operating until 2019.

In Korea, teenagers are expected to be asexual, but the idea is ridiculous when one can easily see R-rated banner advertisements on media outlets’ websites, Park said.

“We live in an age where early teens are exposed to porn. But instead of providing much need accurate sexual health information, we have tried to brush the topic under the rug. And when they become adults, we expected them to learn things on their own, leading to problems like dating violence and poor gender sensitivity.”

Apart from condoms, the company also has a wide range of sexual health products that cater to women in particular.

“So far, we have produced condoms, lube, menstrual cups and underwear as well as feminine cleansers. We plan to strengthen our portfolio of therapeutic devices in the future to create a paradigm shift in the way we see sexual health,” she said.

It is not just their progressive marketing strategy that is drawing consumers.

Known for its animal testing-free products, the brand has been given the cruelty-free certification from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Using a high percentage of organic ingredients, Park said Eve products have been a hit particularly with health-sensitive consumers.

Eve Vulva Wash, a feminine hygiene product, contains 98.9 percent organic ingredients, for example.

Last year, the company reached 5 billion won ($4.48 million) in sales, nearly a 230 percent jump since 2017 when the figure stood at 1.5 billion won.

A lesbian couple is featured in an Eve promotional image. (Instinctus Co.)
A lesbian couple is featured in an Eve promotional image. (Instinctus Co.)
Earlier this year, it also released finger condoms dubbed “Fingerdom.” Designed to provide protection against bacteria and scars from fingernails, the product came after a surge in online searches and growing calls on the internet.

“No matter how short your fingernails are, there are always bacterial under them, not to mention how vulnerable and easily damaged mucous membranes are. And there are more people out there than I thought who are concerned about these things.”

In a bid to raise awareness of human papilloma virus, Eve has also launched a campaign to fully fund vaccination for a group of consumers.

The move comes as the number of invasive cervical cancer patients soared 15 percent from 54,600 in 2015 to 63,051 in 2019, according to data from the Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service.

While cancer cases of those in their 20s and 30s jumped 32 percent over the same period, HPV vaccination rates among those in their 20s remain around 50 percent, the company said, citing data from the National Health Insurance Service.

Experts recommend getting vaccinated for HPV as more people are having their first experiences of sexual intercourse at younger ages than before. But for now, HPV vaccination is only covered by the national health insurance scheme for girls aged 12 in Korea.

Having launched multiple social projects and raising sales over the last few years, Eve’s pursuit to normalize healthy sex attitudes shows no sign of stopping soon.

“Though we have added new value to condoms by getting rid of cancer-causing substances like nitrosamine in the past, we are now working on a condom that considers sustainability as a key component from the very beginning stage of development,” Park said.

By Yim Hyun-su (hyunsu@heraldcorp.com)
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