Oliver Gothe Headshot

Oliver Gothe on the trend towards fair trade and more sustainability

Not only do more and more consumers choose products with all-natural ingredients, they also pay attention to sustainability and fair working conditions. And the number of people who choose to live vegan also grows every day. ecoaction GmbH recognised the potential of these trends years ago, and their dedication to fairly made, fairly traded, organic products for the adult market has paid off, as we learn in our interview with ecoaction Managing Director Oliver Gothe.


Ecoaction was started in 2011, and right from the get-go, you focused on environmental compatibility and fair trade. Was that a matter that was close to your heart, or did you see this trend coming before most others did?
Oliver Gothe: I think it was both. You can’t follow this philosophy unless you believe in it and follow it yourself to a certain degree. Organic had been a trend before 2011, but fair trade and vegan were only just picking up steam.

Was it hard back then to find products that matched this philosophy?
Our first products were condoms and toy cleaners. Today, organic & fair trade extends across many product categories in the adult market. However, being a product developer, I always think about whether the world really needs these new products before we commit to a new project.

What can you tell us about your current range of fair trade products?
At the moment, we have condoms and roughly 70 cosmetic products, among them epilation products for the intimate area, body lotions, and scrubs. And of course, we also produce lip balms, as endorsed by German celebrity Cosma Shiva Hagen.

The fair trade seal on your Fair Squared products isn’t granted to just any product. You have to earn that seal. Which prerequisites did you have to meet to be able to put that label on your products?
First of all, we get all materials and substances from fair trade producers that are controlled by the Fair Label Organisation (FLO) on a regular basis. We do not pay a minimum price, we actually pay a premium which is then used to help the workers and their families improve their living situation. Only recently, I visited one of our producers in India and Sri Lanka. Whenever I am at those places, it is really amazing to see how massively fair trade can change people’s lives.
The external supervision by the FLO is important for all involved so the consumer can be sure that the fair trade money really gets to the workers who need it. Alas, there are many people who copy this concept and put ˈFair Tradeˈ or ˈtraded fairlyˈ on their products, but don’t commit to any verifiable fair trade controls. Thankfully, there are labels such as the Fairtrade label that the consumers can trust, and as surveys in countries like Germany have shown, up to 90% of the consumers do know that label.

Experience has shown that organic or fair trade products mustn’t be more than 15% costlier than their conventional counterparts, otherwise the consumer will pick the cheaper option.“

Since when have there been adult products that are made with an eye on environmental compatibility and fair trade?
The first products labelled ˈorganicˈ were condoms, and they already hit the market in the 1990s. In the mid-2000s, we saw the first condoms made from fair trade natural rubber. The first products in the shaving and bodycare categories were introduced in 2010. Today, this trend extends to all kinds of product segments. I know of companies that are working on jewellery, furniture, and food supplement products, among other things.

Is it a disadvantage that these products are more expensive than conventional products?
The production of fair trade and organic products is more expensive, but usually, the producers are lean, specialised organisations. There aren’t dozens of departments, and if they need certain substances, those are commissioned from toll producers. Experience has shown that organic or fair trade products shouldn’t be more than 15% costlier than their conventional counterparts, otherwise the consumer will pick the cheaper option.

Are there concrete figures to show that demand in fair trade products has increased in the adult market throughout the past years?
Our Fair Squared condoms rank among the top products in this category, and although there is a lot of demand, this market is not overcrowded. Each year, a few new companies get into the segment, but most of them are gone just as quickly. Throughout the past twelve months, sales have gone up by 120%, amounting to 2.6 million condoms sold. I can’t really put a concrete figure on how many retail stores in how many European countries sell our condoms, but we are definitely happy about this growing acceptance.

”If you want to be successful in the adult market of tomorrow, you have to cater to the new generation of financially strong audiences.“

Fair trade products have been on supermarket shelves for many years, and they are in demand. Why did it take so long for fair trade to have an impact on the adult market?
Maybe the adult market had not adjusted to the ethical consumer as much. Most companies still haven’t developed the right set of products to win over this growing consumer group. But then again, the adult market was also very slow to adapt to women as a key audience. For a long time, female-oriented products with appealing design were few and far between. When it comes to new technologies, the adult industry is usually in the vanguard, but often, there is a lack of understanding when it comes to new target audiences and their needs.

Most of the product lines in the adult market today that are advertised as ˈorganicˈ or ˈnaturalˈ boast labels and seals of quality and references to test results. There are so many of them it’s confusing for the consumer. What is your stance on this development?
If you want to be successful in the adult market of tomorrow, you have to cater to the new generation of financially strong audiences. They have had enough of toys that reek of chemicals. They question the wisdom of buying a lubricant that is 90% water and was produced some 8,000 kilometres away in China, probably with water of dubious purity and quality. And chances are that soon, they will also ask about other things. Was this product made with sustainable palm oil? Were monkeys used for picking the coconuts whose oils was used for massage products? They will question the conditions under which products are made, and they will question the quality and effectiveness of a product. Seals and labels can help with that. And if these new consumers find a product that was made in an ethical way and offers solid quality, they will definitely be ready to spend a little more on this product.

Your Fair Squared condoms are now certified by the Vegan Society. Some of our readers may wonder what the point of ˈvegan condomsˈ is. What can you tell us about that?
Most condoms in the world are produced using casein. That’s the protein part of animal milk; it creates a thin latex film. We have now replaced this ingredient with a mineral substance, meaning our Fair Squared condoms are now 100% free of any animal substances. That is very important, not only for vegans. And it does not have any negative effects on the quality of our condoms.

”The latest studies show that the number of people living vegan or flexi-vegan is going up at a rapid pace.“

More and more people decide to pursue a vegan lifestyle. However, if you are a retailer in the adult market, you may wonder: Is that group big enough to warrant adding all these products?
The latest studies show that the number of people living vegan or flexi-vegan is going up at a rapid pace. Most of those people are sexually active. However, we are not just aiming at consumers who are strictly vegan (in Germany, there are roughly 900,000); we are also offering an option to people who have simply had enough of chemicals and cheap products. Most of those people are also rather young, and we are looking forward to offering them new, quality products as they get older. Those are the customers you want to cater to. It’s part of the evolution of the market. After all, you are no longer seeing those older gentlemen with the trench coats in adult stores, either.

Do you have some advice for the retailers? How can they benefit from this trend towards organic ingredients, fair trade, and sustainability? And how should they present and promote these products?
As always, authenticity is key. You don’t have to change the whole store or online shop, but you should make sure that the new target audience knows where to find their desired products. For the most part, this audience is very well-informed, so it wouldn’t make any sense using empty marketing phrases on them. The person behind the counter should know the basics of this topic, and they should be honest, telling the customers which products really cater to their wishes. Don’t try talking them into buying a leather whip or honey powder if they want an organic lube. If your readers have any specific questions, they are more than welcomed to contact me at gothe@ecoaction.de.