Because these moms created a vegan, gluten-free, cruelty-free condom
The design duo behind Jems is bringing sexy (and safe) back
Yasemin Emory and Whitney Geller met as liberal arts students at McGill in 2001 and later teamed up to found the branding agency Whitman Emorson. Their latest launch is Jems, a line of condoms that’s disrupting dusty contraceptive conventions to help Gen Z have safer sex.
You run a successful design studio. What made you decide to get into the prophylactic market?
Geller: In 2019, we were both between pregnancies and found ourselves looking for a birth control alternative in the condom aisle—a place neither of us had been in many years.
Emory: The packaging was so dated: male torsos, black silk sheets, names like Trojan and Magnum. We felt really alienated.
Geller: We thought, If we felt left out of this space, how do young people feel? We know that condom use has declined and STDs have been on the rise for six consecutive years. Clearly, this was an issue with real consequences.
And why were you the people to solve it?
Emory: We realized a lot of it had to do with branding and design, which is our specialty. Condoms typically look like something you’d hide in your drawer, whereas everything young people buy now—whether it’s eye cream, toothpaste or medicine—is branded in a such way that you want to leave it on your shelf. One of the first things we did was to see what products already existed.
Geller: It was so funny because there was a whole aisle devoted to men’s skincare—a category that basically didn’t exist 10 years ago—and everything was sleek and contemporary. But in the condom aisle, it felt like we were stepping back in time: the most embarrassing product in the most embarrassing packaging in the most embarrassing aisle.
Right. I saw a recent study that showed a quarter of 18- to 24-year-olds thought carrying a condom was “uncool.” Why do you think that is?
Geller: We’ve seen a boom in the sexual wellness industry over the last few years—they sell vibrators in Indigo now. That’s really encouraging, but the problem is that safe sex, and condoms in particular, have been left out of that step forward.
Emory: I think that’s partly because the current conversation places so much emphasis on pleasure, and condoms have a history of being the antithesis of pleasure.
As in, use condoms because sex is so dangerous.
Emory: Exactly. We grew up at the end of the AIDS era, so everything we learned about condoms was from that perspective. The industry attempted to solve the “fun” factor by adding things like bumps, ridges, flavours, colours that are just gross and potentially toxic. We believe that condoms are all about increasing pleasure: when you feel uninhibited, you can enjoy yourself. It’s sort of like, if you put the right life jacket on an infant, they can swim.
So no ridges or glow-in-the-dark strawberry lube in the Jems collection?
Geller: No. Our condoms are made from natural latex and silicone. They’re non-toxic, vegan and gluten free. That was important to us because I am celiac and Yasemin is a conscious consumer. As we developed Jems, we also heard from a lot of people who’ve had adverse reactions to common condom ingredients like numbing agent and spermicide.
How much traction have you had? Any chance you’ll ditch design to become full-time condom creators?
Geller: Currently, Jems are available at UrbanOutfitters.com, Whole Foods, well.ca, Healthy Planet and some boutiques in Toronto. Our goal is to sell our product anywhere coffee is sold, which will go a long way towards normalization. One of the things we learned from speaking to young people is that they only buy condoms at pharmacies that have self checkouts because they find the whole experience so embarrassing.
What would your teenage selves say about your new career as condom makers? Would you dig it or die of embarrassment?
Geller: Honestly, there is still a huge chunk of me that wants to die of embarrassment every day. I remember feeling so awkward when I told certain people we were launching Jems. It shouldn’t be that way, and that’s exactly what drives us.