In 1964, that exciting year of the Tokyo Olympics, a pharmaceutical manufacturer approached Sagami Rubber Industries to ask whether we could develop a polyurethane glove for surgeons. As that work was underway, one of our researches wondered whether, given the high strength of polyurethane, the technology could be transferred to condoms.
That proposal was adopted, and in 1965 we officially began joint research with a manufacturer of polyurethane. Natural latex was the conventional choice in the condom industry at the time, so this was a groundbreaking concept. Later, we built a dedicated plant, began developing the required manufacturing equipment, and obtained patents for our manufacturing methods. The start of production trials followed in 1977, but with very high capital costs forecast for the move to mass production, and with demand for condoms rising with the AIDS crisis and population increases, our development emphasis shifted to mass production of natural rubber condoms. As a result, the project was essentially frozen between 1984 and 1990.
In 1991, we decided to once more shine a light on this once-frozen project, reorganizing our development division for research and beginning work on redevelopment. Research resumed the following year, and in 1994, we finally succeeded in establishing the necessary manufacturing technology. This accomplishment came nearly 30 years after the project was first proposed.
In 1996, our executive board approved an investment in the project, and construction of a production plant began in Ipoh, Malaysia, work which was completed in May of the following year. That marked the start of production of Sagami Original.
On February 16, 1998, sales of Sagami Original, the “condom that’s not rubber,” were launched nationwide in Japan. The condom sold well, and after just two weeks on store shelves, succeeded in dominating the top of the market, coming in 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th in the condom rankings for February.
Unfortunately, Sagami Original’s strong sales didn’t last long. On April 8, just a little more than 50 days after the product’s launch, microscopic holes were found among unshipped products at the plant. On April 9, we decided to initiate a total product recall, and held a televised press conference. We then reviewed all of our plant facilities and inspection systems from the ground up and began preparing to re-launch the product. Our decision was that, with such strong customer interest in the product, we needed to check our production line.
Looking back at the product recall, our staff in charge at the time had this to say: “During the recall, we brought all hands on deck to answer phones, handle returns and refunds, and explain the situation to the authorities. We were all running around. The phones didn’t stop ringing day and night for two weeks, and none of us had any time to think. Still, our way forward was clear—we needed to investigate the cause and establish a response—and that helped us get through what we knew was the most critical time.”
After the recall, our most urgent task was to identify the cause of the problem. After repeated re-examination of our production equipment and testing systems, we determined that a momentary power failure—a brief, instantaneous interruption in the plant’s power supply—was to blame. One day, the plant in Malaysia experienced a short, heavy rain accompanied by lightning. When that happened, the supply of power to the plant stopped for an instant. Because this occurred in the midst of a 100% inspection, condoms with microscopic holes were able to slip through the inspection process.
Once the cause had been determined, we installed an uninterruptable power supply in the plant, as well as equipment to handle momentary power failures. We also completely revised our production equipment troubleshooting manuals, adopted a system of double checks for all products, and implemented quality inspections through a third party organization directly attached to England’s royal household. These and other preparations for the re-launch continued for 678 days following the voluntary recall. On February 16, 2000, Sagami Original was finally re-introduced to the market.
About two months before the product was to go on sale, we placed an ad in the newspapers in preparation for the re-launch. This was to announce to the public the cause of the total product recall and the steps we were taking to address it. By publicizing our full product double-check inspection process and other systems for ensuring product safety, we were making an effort to provide customers with peace of mind. This ad brought approval for the company’s good faith approach, and that year we were named a winner of the Nikkei Advertising Award.
Because Sagami Original had already set a record as a major hit product, expectations for the re-launch were high among distributors and retailers. Fortunately, customers also welcomed the product back, and after the re-launch, Sagami Original once again returned to its No.1 spot.
In February 2005, we began sales of Sagami Original 0.02, the world’s first condom in the 20 micron range. Within one month of the product’s launch, it had captured No. 1 in sales by volume. After that, we continued our relentless research and succeeded in making Sagami Original even thinner, achieving 24 microns in 2011. Sales by volume rose steadily with each achievement in thinness we made over other condoms, as we firmly cemented our position as the No. 1 condom in the market.
As we sensed the enormous need among consumers for greater thinness, we continued to pursue greater thinness in our research.
The result was that in November 2013, we finally completed work on Sagami Original 0.01, the first condom in history made from a film in the 0.01 mm range.
Initial sales were limited to the Tokyo area, but significantly exceeded our forecasts, and at the end of May we were forced to temporarily suspend sales. In September 2014, Sagami Original 0.01 went on sale nationwide in Japan. We invite you to experience for yourself what the world’s thinnest feels like.