Just a few years ago, Jason Panda was a lawyer questioning his purpose in life. The Morehouse grad didn’t feel that he was giving back to the community they way that he wanted to. After a heart to heart with his mother about a slew of health issues that affected African-Americans, Panda soon realized that HIV/AIDS work was his calling.
After thinking about how he wanted to enter this field, he kept coming back to the lack of condom marketing for African-Americans. So in the winter of 2010, B Condoms, the first Black-owned condom company, was born. And in two and a half short years, the company is steadily becoming a force to be reckoned with, mixing social responsibility, sexy luxury branding and celebrity flavor.
BET.com sat down with Panda to talk about his company’s advocacy, why having condom ads specifically geared toward African-Americans is important and heterosexual Black men need to include themselves in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Why was creating a Black-owned condom company so important to you?
First, it’s funny because Bill Gates has this contest about who can create the best new condom, but it’s not about the condom. It’s about the marketing, especially when it comes to people of color.
And yet, while African-Americans are the ones who are mostly affected by this disease, and yet, when you look at the current condom ads from three major companies, they are mostly of white people. You don’t see the reflection of the Black or the Latino experience at all in these ads. And so for us, to encourage condom use among Black men and women, as a company we wanted to provide our community with something different, something that they could connect with.
Tell me how B Condoms is different than other condom companies?
I’ll start from a manufacturing perspective. In the beginning, we talked to a group of men and women and wanted to know what they liked and didn’t like about the condoms they were currently using. A lot of the men told us that their condoms, especially the XL ones, were way too thick. Meanwhile, the women complained that the lube on the condoms dried them out. So we sought out to make a better condom that was more satisfying. We use a thinner grade of latex, but it is still high end, to maximize pleasure. And we use a high end lubricant. Finally, our condoms are vegan, which means they are not made with any animal products.
From a vision perspective, part of our condom sales goes into partnering with AIDS organizations and educational programs to reduce the STDs and unplanned pregnancies in underserved communities. So whether we are on a HBCU college tour with Kaiser’s Greater Than AIDS campaign; partnering with Jim Jones or Uncle Luke; or working with New York City’s Iris House to encourage straight Black men to get tested, we make sure that we are in the community.
What has the response been thus far?
We’re a small company, so we first started off targeting non-profits, health departments and colleges in order to build our company and be connected to the community. The response from that has just been incredible. From a marketing perspective, the African-American community has also been really positive toward us.
Now, we are trying to connect to a broader population, increase our marketing and distribution. Right now, you can buy B Condoms at Whole Foods in the Northeast, 200 stores in Miami, over 30 in Atlanta and in numerous convenient stores throughout New York City. Over time, we plan on being more visible in more areas throughout the country.
Finally, how important is it for B Condoms to engage heterosexual Black men in the fight against HIV/AIDS?
It’s critical. There’s been such a disconnect and part of that has been because for so long we looked at HIV as being a white gay men’s disease. But now, it’s also about the lack of data and funding that goes into the research around heterosexual Black men.
We spend a lot of time talking about gay/bisexual Black men and Black women, as we should given the numbers and the need, but we continue to ignore straight men. And we shouldn’t, especially since HIV infections among Black women are not all due to the “down-low.” So it’s important for us to be able to connect to straight Black men and have more conversations about black masculinities and their role in protecting the community through condom use.
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(Photo: B Condoms)