Last week, one of the most spectacular events in all of lingerie happened…and no, I’m not talking about the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. The event was Lingerie London and it brought together two powerhouses in the lingerie industry – Agent Provocateur and Atsuko Kudo, for a good cause – the microfinance non-profit The Seven Bar Foundation. I had the opportunity to interview Renata Black, chairwoman of Seven Bar, the day after the show and I’m so excited to share what she has to say on The Lingerie Addict. I’ve always believed lingerie can be more than just bras and panties, and here’s a wonderful example of how lingerie can do good for women all over the world. All photos are courtesy of Seven Bar. You can also view video highlights of the show here.
1) First of all, congratulations on another successful fashion show! Lingerie London happened just last night, and people have not stopped talking about it. I even think the #LingerieLondon hashtag was trending for a little while on Twitter. Second of all, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions for TLA readers! I’m sure you must be exhausted, so let’s get right to it. I know that the last show was Lingerie New York 2010. What made you choose London for 2012?
Thank you very much! We were so excited with the event. The first thing we did was look at all the luxury lingerie designers in Europe as we wanted to make sure we worked with the strongest designer for our next Lingerie event. After careful consideration we realized that both of them resided in London—Agent Provocateur and Atsuko Kudo—so it was a natural move for us to have our first European Lingerie event in London.
2) The production value of your fashion shows is incredible…from what I’ve seen, they’re truly an experience. How long does one take to put together from start to finish?
We started working on this show over a year ago, as we wanted to make sure it was a quality event. We partnered with Total Management UK, who helped tremendously with putting the show together and making it a success.
3) Agent Provocateur and Atsuko Kudo are two of the most well-known and well-respected names in high-end lingerie. How did they come to be involved? Did they approach you? Did you approach them? And why these two specific brands?
Both Agent Provocateur and Atsuko Kudo are brands that we have a long-standing relationship with and have shown in the past. When we were curating the show and looking at all the best couture and luxury lingerie brands we felt that Atsuko Kudo and Agent Provocateur were truly the best in their class. Additionally, we decided to work with AP and AK because they are both completely different and we could reach two different audiences with the message of the empowerment of women.
4) There’s a ton of press being given to all the gorgeous lingerie, but what a lot of people may not know is that this fashion show is actually charity event benefiting The Seven Bar Foundation, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization. Can you tell us more about The Seven Bar Foundation? What’s its mission and what does it do?
The Seven Bar Foundation is the cause brand for the empowerment of women, with the pink ‘ladder’ icon as its logo. The Foundation generates funds for microfinance, enabling women to climb out of poverty and into business. We want to empower women and enable self-sufficiency—it is about giving them a hand-up, not a hand-out.
We generate funds through our Lingerie Shows as well as through cause-marketing campaigns, allowing consumers to empower women by purchasing products with the ladder icon. We also have our very own panty line called Empowered By You, of which 20% of the profits go to the Foundation. All these partnerships provide Seven Bar with consistent revenue streams, so that we do not have to rely on donations to fuel our empowerment fund.
5) There are so many causes worth funding…what made you choose microfinance as a way to make a difference?
I truly believe that microfinance is one of the strongest poverty alleviation tools today. Microfinance fosters self-sufficiency and allows women to break the cycle of poverty for themselves and their children. With a small loan, a woman can start a successful business and send her children to school, which in turn creates more opportunities for families and inspires girls to follow in their mother’s footsteps.
6) I love that! How did you come up with the idea of combining lingerie and activism? Did you ever think the shows would be come the kind of internationally recognized events they are today?
The idea came to me shortly after I returned from India, where I had started a grassroots microfinance program for 800 women. I was watching the Victoria’s Secret Annual Fashion Show, and saw how much attention this show received for no benefit. I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if all of this attention was redirected back to the empowerment of women?”
It seemed natural to me to position lingerie as inner armor for outer empowerment, and align myself with top lingerie designers who already had this idea in their DNA and had already been making women feel empowered through their clothing. Through our shows, we have been able to redirect the attention of the fashion and luxury lingerie industries to microfinance and the empowerment of women. Our goal is to reach as many people as possible with our message, so we are thrilled about the response our shows have received.
7) Many of my readers (myself included) will probably never be able to attend one of your luxury lingerie fashion shows. How else can we get involved and help your mission to eliminate poverty?
That is where the Empowered By You panty comes in. As I was doing these lingerie shows I was thinking, “How can I have more people help us empower women into business?” I saw need for a perfect everyday panty that could make the transition from yoga to cocktail party, and decided to design a panty with the help of my great friend Hun Kim (former head designer of Ralph Lauren Blue Label) – Empowered By You. As previously mentioned, this panty retails at $20 and 20% of the proceeds goes to the Foundation. Anyone who purchases a panty helps us further our goal and empower more women—whatever empowers you, empowers women everywhere. Our goal is to empower 250,000 women into business by 2020. The panty is available for purchase at www.empoweredbyyou.com.
8) Can you share with us one story of someone The Seven Bar Foundation has helped?
Yes! One of the organizations we’ve worked with is Genesis Empresarial, a microﬁnance bank in Guatemala. $100,000 was lent to them, and 250 women have been impacted with an average loan size of $400. Here’s the story of one of those women – Carmen.
Carmen started her artisan work to help create extra income for her family. She worked for her neighbor, creating beautiful woven textiles that were sold in the market place. Carmen received little of the proﬁts from the ﬁnal textiles but was able to slowly save extra funds to hopefully send her son to school.
When Carmen’s husband died, she had to take sole responsibility for providing for her family. With a fund from the Seven Bar Foundation, Carmen was able to buy thread and fabric supplies to open her own textile business. As the owner of her own business, Carmen was able to make a bigger income from selling her artisan work directly in the marketplace. When Carmen speaks of her loan you can see how her back straightens out as she says, “I am able to take care of my family on my own. I can send my oldest son and daughter to school, and also use my proﬁts to ﬁx up our house. Now I have the resources to provide for my family.”
9) How inspiring! Thank you so much for sharing. Last question…where and when will the next Seven Bar lingerie show be?
Our phones have not stopped ringing since the final bow at Lingerie London and we are very humbled to say that we are in high demand so another show in London is looking very possible. However, we do need to get back to our roots in the US, as we have built quite the following that has yet to experience Empowered By You, so Los Angeles is also an option.
Thank you again for taking the time out of your very busy schedule for TLA’s readers, Renata! You’re doing wonderful work, and I can’t wait to hear about the next show.