Thongs, Bikinis, and Philanthropy: Founder of San Francisco Lingerie Company Naja Launches Underwear of Hope, Helping Poor Colombian Mothers [WATCH]
Silk, satin, nylon, and lace: Lingerie has many purposes… chiefly to flatter, arouse and titillate, but the visually appealing undergarments pioneered by Lady Duff-Gordon of Lucille during the late nineteenth century to relieve women of the binding constraints of corsets is now also purposed to empower impoverished single mothers in Colombia. Colombian-born Catalina Girald, the founder and CEO of San Francisco-based lingerie startup Naja, proved the latter when she launched the Underwear for Hope program — a program that enables Colombian mothers to receive sewing lessons and gain jobs with Naja, ultimately lifting them out of poverty.
Girald launched Naja in December 2013 with $100,000 and a personal philosophy, stating that her mission was to “inspire and empower women” and that her underwear was made for “women who aren’t afraid to speak their minds.” Prior to earning her MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business, Girald was an attorney but abandoned that life so she could offer luxury lingerie to women at an affordable price while at the same time emboldening women.
Hand-harvested Peruvian Pima cotton panties, inspirational quotes printed on the interior, high quality and custom detail is what’s offered to buyers of Naja’s undergarments. Comfortable, high-quality fabric at comfortable prices; and that comfort trickles down to the Colombian mothers working behind the scenes as the company helps to make their lives more pleasant.
Najas partnered with the Golondrinas Foundation in Colombia so that, each time a bra is purchased through the Naja website, a fraction of the revenue goes toward the Underwear of Hope program, and customers receive a wash bag constructed by the women involved in the program.
— Catalina Girald (@UnaCatalina) April 27, 2014
The company website lists a number of women and their personal stories.
36-year-old Maria Jaramillo from Barrio Caicedo, Colombia, lost her sister to gangs and was forced to leave her village with her sister’s daughters. She now works with a group of 50 children, teaching them the danger and destruction of war, gangs and violence. Where she dwells, it is violent, but she stays there because the children need her. She hopes to use the funds that she earns from Underwear for Hope to build a playhouse for the children.
Another 36-year-old from Caicedo by the name of Zulli works with Naja. She was displaced from the Choco region of Colombia, along with her four daughters, one of whom is deaf, blind and mute with developmental issues. Zulli’s lifelong dream has always been to sew and be a seamstress. When she and her family moved to Medellin, she was taught business skills by Project Fenix, who helped to finance a sewing machine for her. Since November of last year, Zulli has worked full time from home with Underwear for Hope and has fulfilled her dream of being an entrepreneur.
Girald, who arrived to the U.S. as a 4-year-old, moved around quite a bit before she got to where she is today. She lived in Connecticut, Texas, Massachusetts, Switzerland and France. She studied law at Boston College, worked at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP in New York, started her own company, and then began studying fashion at FIT in New York and completed her MBA at Stanford before she created Naja.
“The company has a very clear philosophy: to inspire and empower women. I don't believe that most fashion brands do this,” Girald said. “Most lingerie brands portray women as catering to men. I wanted to create a lingerie brand that was first about the relationship between the woman and herself because this is the relationship that we must first master.”
Dismissive of the notion that a Latina-created lingerie line promotes the “stereotypical sexy” image of Latinas, Girald remarked that it’s normally men who claim that she’s endorsing stereotypes and also made a point of saying, “Latinas know sexy. That is why [men] should buy my brand for [their] wife or girlfriend.”
If those men were to purchase an item from Naja, he would be helping women in the developing world; half of the proceeds from lingerie wash bags – created by impoverished women – will fund the Underwear for Hope, which helps women from some of poorest neighborhoods in Colombia.
Naja currently only offers limited sizing as it’s still its development stages, but it looks to accommodate all shapes and sizes one day. The company and Girald respects and honors the female form in its various molds, evident by the company small messages of inspiration imprinted in the cups of bras and within the underwear so that women are reminded that their bodies are beautiful, strong and incomparable.
“I learned that there is a need for women to feel better about themselves when they buy lingerie. It is more than just fit. If your body doesn’t look the way fashion tells you to look, you feel bad about yourself. So I decided to put quotes on the inside of our panties with the objective of making the wearer laugh, smile or feel inspired. For a split second, several times a day, you can feel better about yourself,” Girald said in an interview, which is featured on Storyboardist. “Another idea I had came from a 33-year-old woman who had recently had a child. She said she felt awful about how her body changed after being pregnant and that the only undergarments that fit her anymore were boring and beige. She was embarrassed to take off her underwear in front of her husband. I came up with idea of printing designs on the inside of the [bra] cup. She knows what is inside even if no one else can see it, and when she takes it off, she feels sexier and more powerful.”
Girald and her company Naja has promoted the idea that women can do good by looking and feeling good.
Please like Naja on Facebook and follow the company on Twitter. Also, follow Girald on Twitter.