This is an old published piece but I’m fond of it because I had so much fun writing it. You’ll see why when you see the subject matter.
It’s a common faux pas. When ordering a drink on a night out, you scrounge around your wallet for change and accidentally flick out a concealed condom that flies like a latex Frisbee to flop in full view of your sniggering fellow punters. The garishly wrapped offender screams out your now sheepish intentions. Sound familiar?
Port Melbourne based businessman Daniel Moeschinger tapped into such excruciating, real-life moments and realised a niche market in prophylactics with an image overhaul. His company, Legends USA, makes condoms packaged as sets of three in tin boxes covered with stylish designer prints that are revamped every three months. Sold in surf, skate and jeans shops, petrol stations and convenience stores around Australia, the slick tins are gaining a cult following. The latest model sports a smart denim finish.
“I remember as a teenager how embarrassed I was when I bought condoms,” says Moeschinger. “I wanted to make condoms more accessible, especially for young people, and create a product with a bit of charisma and funk that’s differentiated from the big brands.
“Currently, there’s an oligopoly with companies such as Trojan, Ansell and Durex and a lot of packaging has ‘condom’ all over the packet. I wanted something trendy that people can actually place on a bar.”
The tin also has functional advantages. The condoms are shielded from the sun and friction that can cause breakage and don’t create the embarrassing, renowned “wallet ring” imprint.
The cases resemble sassy snuff boxes and can also store paraphernalia such as coins and pills.
Ironically, this new innovation in stylish safe sex was inspired by retro cool. Moeschinger first saw the metal packaging in a 1986 black and white Levis ad. He discovered that condoms in the US from the 1920s to 1950s were sold in tins. Today, an online trip through eBay reveals that these relics are now collectors’ items.
The former cappuccino stand developer started Legends USA in 1999, financed by $100,000 raised by selling 50 per cent of the company to family and friends, revenue from a lemonade stand on the Sunshine Coast and a grant from the federal government’s New Enterprise Incentive Scheme.
Five years later, he’s about to sell this American concept back to the Americans. He’s signed a distribution deal for the US. “It’s a $400 million a year industry, so just getting two per cent of the market would be great,” he said. The condoms are also sold in New Zealand and by a stroke of serendipity – in Switzerland.
“A Swiss backpacker in Central Australia picked up a box and took it back to his brother who runs a skate label, so now it’s sold over there,” Moeschinger said. “This company is not a five-year project for me. I want this to be a global brand for the next 25 to 40 years.”
Moeschinger is looking for more retail outlets and distributors. With global expansion he will be rubbing up against some cultural differences – literally – such as the touchy subject of sizing. Different racial markets demand different sizing.
There are three standard size categories consisting of circumference bandwidths of 48mm, 52-53mm and 52-58mm. For those who participate in size Olympics, the Australian market fits comfortably in the “medium” band.
We’ve recently seen the humble Ugg boot rise to dizzying designer heights around the world so perhaps there is an international culture ready to accept a sophisticated condom with less of the “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” factor.
People are pulling out their condom boxes to show to their friends at parties. Fashion hounds, look out for Legend USA’s upcoming camouflage print release. With his growing success, Moeschinger may have penetrated an inexhaustible market. After all, sex never goes out of style, it just gets better accessories.
(The City Weekly, Melbourne, 20 May 2004)
Update: Legends USA is no longer operating.