How Claire Walker and Hannah Essex joined forces to ensure they could have it all
Meet the Women Making Condoms Cool
“A lot of women ‘put up with the pill’, we wanted to create a better alternative”
Do you remember the first time you bought condoms?
I don’t. Because I point blank refused, sending my at-the-time boyfriend into the pharmacy while I lurked outside. He, on the other hand, had no problem picking up a pack. And, after seeing that he’d picked up a banana flavoured monstrosity: ribbed – for no-ones pleasure, he dutifully returned to pick up something less ‘flashy’.
Condoms, for even for the most sex-positive person around, can still be a sticky topic.
Which is where HANX comes in. We sat down with Dr Sarah Welsh, co-founder of HANX, to get her thoughts on HANX, the future of contraception and pitching to all-male investors:
So, tell us a bit about how you got started?
I actually met Farah (the other half of HANX) at university. She was studying finance and I went into medicine. A few years later, Farah was telling me a story about a friend who had been ‘caught’ buying condoms by her boss – as if it was shameful. At the time, I was working within sexual health and had seen, first hand, the rise of STIs and STDs. And, it started a bigger conversation about condoms.
I’d also seen the lack of transparency in the industry. Condoms containing anaesthetic to help men last longer and nasty chemicals that have no interest in female pleasure. As well as a lack of sustainable or vegan options. So, in 2017, we created HANX.
A lot of our readers have been moving away from hormonal contraception – is this something that you expect to see more of?
There’s no doubt that the pill has offered so many women choice and control over their own bodies. But, there’s still a lot of work – and education, to be done. Let’s look at the pill. The side effects are so often treated as trial and error, we’re essentially expected to like it or lump it. The problem is, these side effects aren’t always fully explained and it means that for many, you can’t make a truly informed choice.
Speaking of education – it’s something HANX do a lot of. What made you so interested in this element of the brand?
A huge part of what has made us successful is education. We all know that the NHS is often underfunded, especially when it comes to sexual health. But, we know that we have a responsibility to educate and offer a platform for sharing experiences. It’s also at the core of what we do, from the podcast to our blog.
I hope that there will be more investment in research and education. Especially in schools. Discussion around consent, pleasure and relationships is still lacking.
Empowering women to carry condoms is a relatively new concept – what changes do you foresee in contraception?
We’ve been around for about three years. I hope that we’ve made women feel more powerful.
The thing is, research shows that women assume the perception of them carrying condoms is that they’ve seen as promiscuous. But, actually, prospective sexual partners saw this as confident, empowering and responsible for their own health.
In terms of changes, condom use is on the up. We’re protecting ourselves and others far more than before – and, yes more women are empowered to carry condoms. We’re also having far more conversations about hormones and the impact they have on us. A lot of women have found that they have to ‘put up with’ the side effects of hormonal contraception, we wanted to create an alternative.
But, there are always new innovations – the male pill is still in the research stages.
*Cue a moan about the male pill from both Sarah and Digital Editor, Charlotte*
Back on topic – what were the biggest ups and downs you faced when creating HANX?
We both had to learn to be more patient! Both Farah and I are impatient people and I feel like we’ve both learned how to wait. We also found pitching to a board of all-male investors a challenge initially, however, our board of investors.
The moment we actually held the products in our hand for the first time. That was incredible. We’ve also met so many amazing people along the way, who we have learnt from and have been so supportive of what we are building at HANX. And, those moments, where we really felt like we were onto something was just the best.
But, some of the best moments have actually been customer feedback and how we have made a difference to people’s lives. Comments like “you’ve transformed my sex life” – that feedback is the most important thing.
You’ve both been vocal anti-racism champions, especially through your mentorship programme. What motivated you to do this?
The initial thought behind it was to just give something back. We’re lucky to have met a lot of connections within the creative industries and we thought it could be a boost for some of these young people. And, as Black Lives Matter became a bigger conversation, we wanted to offer some practical support.
The response we’ve had was amazing. We’ve matched so many mentors and mentees and I just can’t wait to see the results.