The long and the short of it
By David Gray
The Safedom condom company’s factory is located in the town of Zhaoyuan, located 100 kilometers south of the city of Yantai, Shandong Province, China. Safedom turned its back on the low-margin, guaranteed-business sales to the Chinese government’s family planning program 11 months ago, and decided to shift to where the money is: the higher end of the general public market. Claiming to be the fourth-largest condom maker in China by revenue, after three foreign brands, they are hoping to sell one billion condoms this year with the launch of its “Take Me” condom, aimed at women consumers, and partnerships with French, Italian, German and UK condom makers.
I was led into a rather unassuming building and greeted by the company’s executives. Here they told me during a brief introduction, that I was to ‘behave’ when touring the production floor, and not disclose any company ‘secrets’. This made me chuckle, though I certainly didn’t show it, as I thought this was how you may talk to a child – the very thing their product was aiming to prevent.
We were then given the appropriate disinfected clothing for ‘protection’, including mesh to cover the ‘rubber’ on the soles of my shoes. Then we were put into a room which blew strong air over us to remove any unwanted dust. From here, I was led into the first area of the production line, which involved a belt containing thousands of phallic-shaped metal rods with condoms placed over them traveling at a hefty pace around the factory floor. Now when you first see the size of these rods, you have to ask the obvious question – Who are they making these condoms for? Dirk Diggler? However, it was explained to me that the rods help stretch the condom to see if they will break.
Moving along the belt, we came across a group of women actually flicking the condoms over and onto the rods. Now the speed at which these women could do this was simply frightening. You could not see it with the ‘naked’ eye. The first few attempts I tried at capturing this was with a shutter speed of 1/250th. Nowhere near fast enough. Let’s try 1/800th. Nope. Surely 1/1250th. Wrong. Now I was getting in trouble. It’s dark, and my ISO (I so want to use ASA but that would be showing my age) is already at 4000, and any higher the images will start to be to ‘noisy’ (this is not a pun, just a way of saying how the higher the ISO speed, the more blue pixels become evident in the shadows). So, I had to accept some movement on the condoms.
The next place was really hilarious, the testing room. Every 20 seconds or so, a condom is taken from the production belt, put inside a small glass container, and blown up. They reach about one meter in height before exploding with a great ‘bang’. Next to this, was a testing apparatus using liquids, aimed at seeing how much the condoms would stretch when filled. Again, they exploded after what seemed like a massive amount was emptied into them.
From here, we moved into an area where hundreds of condoms were placed into what looked like washing machines. This was the disinfecting stage of production, and every 30 minutes or so, a man would empty the machines and sift through the contents like he was going though a load of washing. Amusing.
Next came the packaging area, with about 10 ladies placing individually every single condom onto a small belt. Imagine this if you will – Safedom sold around 200 million condoms last year, with the intention of selling around one billion this year, and these ladies have to touch every single one. WOW!!
When it was finally time to say thank you and goodbye, I was offered a bag containing what must have been hundreds of condoms. Of course, I told them I could not accept such a gift for two reasons. Firstly, it was against my ethics to accept any free products when ‘on the job’, and secondly, I never mix business with pleasure.