SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Behind those $10 diamond-shaped earrings with the mysteriously smiling Mona Lisa and that $6 pin with a Monopoly game board on the front is a little something extra a condom.
Joan Rivers called them "cute" on her television talk show, pronounced them as having "class" and then quipped, "giving me a condom is like giving Bart Simpson a book."
Rep. Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo., had an aide call the San Leandro company after she heard about them and word is that most of the women on her staff are now wearing them.
"Our products have a cultivation time," says Brian O'Hare, co-owner with his wife, Lorene, of the disposable jewelry line Profoolery. "We're a novelty, we're jewelry and we are a condom. People initially go 'What?' and then they're crazy, enthusiastic about it."
Lorene O'Hare came up with the idea of condom jewelry four years ago after joking with a female friend about women going out for the evening and wanting to carry a condom, but not a handbag. O'Hare went to a crafts store for supplies and started decorating condom packages, creating the first earrings, which she wore to work at Kaiser Hospital in Hayward, Calif., where she is a physical therapist.
Her husband, a sales representative for a truck freight firm, recognized the potential and decided to take a stab at manufacturing and marketing the line. "We originally called it Prophylactic Jewelry, but it had a medicinal sound, so we changed it to Profoolery which is a little more whimsical," the 36-year-old Brian O'Hare says.
He quit his job in December 1989 to concentrate on Profoolery. Of the firm's progress until today, he says, "it's been one big learning curve." A third partner sold the O'Hares his interest this summer because, O'Hare says, "he got tired of no wages."
First-year sales were $40,000 and O'Hare says he expects this year's to double. Sales have been best on the East Coast and the company is exporting to New Zealand and Germany; it's now increasing its direct mail push with a toll-free number for phone orders.
O'Hare says some stores have rejected Profoolery as too controversial; one merchant told him the products were too good, making his other condom-related novelty items look over-priced.
The biggest customers for Profoolery so far, O'Hare says, are adult women. "We thought the younger crowd would definitely go bananas, but it's the women 25 years and up who see the humor in it and aren't uptight about sexual matters."
The best-selling design is one dubbed "Lucky Pig," which has a floral background with the front half of a pig on one earring and the back half on the other. Other designs include one with Central American worry dolls, pink flamingos, peace signs, bats, pandas and crayons.
Constantly expanding in response to customer requests, O'Hare says the line now has 120 styles available in 375 items from earrings and pins to bolo ties and kitchen magnets. The company has recently started offering seasonal themes and has about 10 holiday designs, including the Lucky Pig inside a Christmas wreath as well as ones for Valentine's and St. Patrick's days.
Christmas ornaments are the latest addition to the line.
A catalog is free by writing to Profoolery, P.O. Box 1858, San Leandro, 94577 or calling (800) 933-6658. Earrings and bolo ties are $10, pins, magnets and ornaments are $6.