This article originally appeared on VICE Korea
VICE Asia is calling 2019 "The Year We Woke Up". This year, we saw young people stand up, push back, and take matters into their own hands. We celebrate the fighters, the change makers, the movements that have shaken us wide awake and reminded us of our own roles in realising change. This story is part of that series.
With new documentaries like The Game Changers on Netflix, more and more people are inspired to try a plant-based diet. And with veganism having enjoyed more popularity, it’s not a surprise that new products are cropping up to ensure it serves that growing clientele, from vegan fashion to vegan bedding, free of animal-derived materials.
Enter vegan condoms.
Here's a fun-fact: most condoms are not vegan. Condoms are tested on animals because they are a medical device in most countries, according to The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), so government organisations require strict testing. Many companies have tested condoms on animals like rabbits or horses to acquire the relevant certificate.
Here’s where Eve vegan condoms come in – they don’t have animal components and don’t test on animals.
“Condom fragments are inserted into rabbits for a vaginal irritation test. The rabbits are sacrificed, and their wombs are extracted to determine its suitability for people,” South Korea-based social venture Instinctus’ co-founder Gina Park told VICE.
Instinctus sells sexual healthcare products, including Korea’s first vegan condoms, menstrual cups, and personal lubricant.
The 27-year-old, along with co-founders Minhyun Seong and Seokjung Kim, started with the clear motivation of making Korean people’s sexual life healthier and more natural. People are taking notice: Park and her co-founders made it to the Forbes 30 under 30 Asia list last year. Now, they are turning their eyes towards other Asian markets to expand their business further.
Park believes that testing sexual healthcare products like condoms on animals are not necessary, and that there are alternative ways of testing that don’t harm animals. She takes pride in her company’s PETA Cruelty-Free and Vegan verified mark from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), an assurance that their products don’t test on animals.
“We have an alternative way [of testing] that avoids sacrificing animals. If we can do that, why not? I see this (vegan friendly step) as a necessity,” she said. “To me, sustainability is something like the spirit of the times. I believe that not caring is backwards, and holds back businesses from growing."
The strategy has proven successful. Park said “Instinctus’ sales have grown 50 times in four years since its launch in 2015.” Today, consumers don’t buy products, but values. International brands are paying more attention and promoting their vegan-friendly strategies, like KFC testing vegan fried chicken using Beyond Meat. Or cosmetic and fashion brands highlight their vegan-friendly policies.
“We put extra effort to grow our business by proving that our values are profitable as well as meaningful. We know there's still a lot of people who are against the values we pursue. But what they can’t argue with are financial statements and success in the market,” she said.
Park has also used their company to promote other values they feel strongly about, particularly defending LGBTQ communities.
There’s a phrase on the cover of Eve Condoms: “Regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, occupation, location, nationality, and sexuality – every single person on this planet is entitled to safer sex.”
"The strong have the responsibility of trying to do something for the weak,” Park said, in explaining the company’s values. This, she said, is the commonality in their promotion of veganism and their defense of sexual minorities.
Taking a stance doesn't come easy. Making cruelty-free condoms for example, is unusual and expensive. “It’s very difficult,” she said. “We have needed to jump over numerous hurdles. It’s time-consuming and costly. We are required to do more research and figure out alternative ways to test our products.”
The same goes for their views on LGBTQ communities, especially in a traditional and patriarchal society like South Korea. “We receive emails from our fans. They write that they are happy with our products but question why we have to support gay people,” she said. Instinctus was a main sponsor of the Seoul Queer Culture Festival which has gotten backlash from conservative clients.
Park however, is unfazed.
“It matters to be successful in business but also in the long term," she said. “I believe that this is the right direction and I have to stand by the right side of history."