“Lorato condoms? Yeah, I had my first kid using one of them.”
That’s a joke Dustin Leonard heard after asking about free contraceptives in Botswana, where nearly a quarter of the population is infected with HIV.
After travelling there on a university trip and conducting a survey with the help of NGOs, the 26-year-old will next week officially launch a new line of condoms in Australia: what he hopes to be a viable business with a humanitarian cause.
Leonard told Business Insider the survey proved what everyone already knew, anecdotally anyway.
Free condoms, mostly a brand named Lorato, smelt bad and were the wrong colour. They were also too thick and weren’t lubricated enough, which meant they broke often and many people were choosing to do without them.
Condoms are so important in the fight against HIV/AIDS that Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates is offering $100,000 to whoever can design one that actually feels good to use.
They are cheap to make, recognisable and easy to distribute, but are pointless if couples think they make sex less pleasurable and decide not to use them.
“When you open the package it [the Lorato condom] has a very pungent smell. It’s also very thick, but it’s not very well lubricated,” Leonard said.
For every box sold in Australia, his company HERO Condoms will donate another to communities in the developing world, which have been specially designed based on what he and his team learned during their time spent in Botswana.
While they are different to the ones on offer here, they are made to the same standard and cost the same for HERO to produce, he said.
Leonard also said there are plans to use proceeds to fund antiretroviral therapy programs, which help prevent mothers passing on HIV to unborn children.
“The majority of the people we surveyed would prefer if it was strawberry or vanilla flavoured. That wouldn’t really fly here in Australia, but over there in Botswana, they would prefer it.”
Condoms breaking is the biggest issue. But the fact they are white also prevents many in Botswana from using them, Leonard explained. Survey respondents said they would prefer latex that was more transparent.
Before travelling to Botswana, Leonard said: “I didn’t expected the quality issue would even be brought up,” and that his team assumed poor education or a lack of awareness was preventing the use of contraceptives.
“People want to use condoms, but they want to have a higher-quality one to use.”
“They love condoms over there, they really want to use them. That really surprised me.”
While it is throwing punches in the fight against HIV/AIDS and has already donated more than 72,000 condoms in Botswana alone, HERO is not a charity.
It will be formally launching online and in pharmacies across Australia next week.
“We have two variants, a regular and a super thin.
“It has been a very difficult market to crack into, but with that being said we have made significant progress.
“One pharmacy we have an arrangement with, they did not take on the new Ancell and Durex lines, and that usually never happens,” he said.
In a market tied up by established brands, the ability to make a difference in developing nations around the world could, as the company’s website claims, “make sex better,” saving lives as well as providing a good reason for buyers in Australia to choose HERO over a bigger name.