Premium Lingerie with a Social Impact: Do-Good Underwear!
When you think of lingerie, “socially conscious” are not typically words that come to mind. Naja, a small business based in Medellin, Colombia, is setting a new standard. As part of our FedEx series on women entrepreneurs, see how Naja founder Catalina Girald is not only reshaping the lingerie industry, but also the physical and social environments where she’s based.
How did you start Naja?
I was an attorney and started a software company, but realized I wanted to do something that could make a positive difference.
I knew ecommerce. I knew fashion. So I started to research where in the fashion industry I could really make an impact and found it pretty quickly.
Lingerie is marketed in a way that is often overly sexualized with the message that in order to be worthy, you must be pleasing to a man.
My first mission was to change that.
Traditionally, lingerie is lacy, strappy and overtly sexy. Our products are bright and bold with wild prints. We’re colorful and make products for women of all shapes and sizes.
We’ve since expanded into active wear with the same idea – to empower women to be who they want to be, not what society or men want them to be.
NAJA is eco-friendly, with a key mission to save water. How does a clothing company do that?
The apparel industry uses an incredible amount of water in order to dye clothes. Also, dyes used for clothing can pollute the water and ground. There are whole villages in India that have had their farmland decimated because of fabric dying in the area.
I couldn’t be part of that.
We digitally print about 70 percent of our product. Our material comes straight out of a printer, like a computer, ready to be cut and sewn. No water or dyes are used.
You are also a socially conscious brand. How do you do this?
If our goal is to empower our customer, then we also need to empower the women on our team.
We employ primarily single mothers or women heads of households. These women don’t have a lot of opportunity in the area. We provide school lunch coupons for their children. The kids also get school uniforms and school supplies twice a year, and all of their textbooks.
We have a wonderful and dedicated group of women who work for us, and I feel great knowing we impact their lives as well as their children’s lives.
But it’s not just your team; you work to help community as well.
When starting the company, I talked with a lot of foundations to see where Naja could help in Colombia.
The Golondrinas Foundation builds schools for underprivileged children. The foundation director took me to a beautiful school they built in one of Medellin’s most poverty stricken areas.
That visit changed my life and put Naja directly on the path to helping more kids.
During my visit, I met a 12-year-old girl who was especially passionate about starting her own business after doing a project on entrepreneurship.
She made up her logo and had a well thought out business plan for a candy store. She was just full of life and excitement. When I walked out I told the director how happy I was that this girl had the opportunity to study here.
She said the girl was especially lucky to be there – she was rescued from prostitution when she was only 9 years old.
To this day, it still makes the hair on my arms stand up.
What happened after that?
I wanted to partner with the Golondrinas Foundation, so we committed to donating a percentage of our revenue to support local schools.
There was a school that had been built, but still had empty spaces, so we provided funding to make one a working classroom.
At the same school we sponsor service dogs to meet children under the under the age of 5, one-on-one, who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from extreme violence they’ve witnessed, or as a result of sexual abuse or neglect.
The dogs also visit classrooms to help the children associate learning with pleasure. It makes school fun for them.
You didn’t stop with the schools though, did you?
The foundation also wanted us to do something for the women in the neighborhood around the school.
One thing you have to realize is that this area is gang-controlled and very dangerous. The residents are subjected to violence that most people can’t imagine. On a regular basis people are shot on the street. This is a place where people can’t leave their homes after 6 p.m.
Many of the women in the area are the sole childcare providers and cannot leave their kids alone. It makes it virtually impossible for them to make a living.
We knew this was an opportunity for us to help these women.
In the garment industry, bras have to be bagged individually and most companies use plastic. That doesn’t fit our business model of being eco-friendly.
We created a program called Underwear For Hope to employ single mothers to sew wash bags as packaging for each of our bras. They work from home and set their own schedule so they can be with their children.
These are women that would otherwise not have access to employment and this is a way for them to support themselves while taking care of their children.
It’s part of the reason why customers are so loyal to us.
They love our products, but what really captures their heart is that we do good things for the community and give back with everything that we do.
What advice do you have for women who want to run a business?
If you want to be an entrepreneur, think about why you want to do it.
Entrepreneurship is something that calls to you; it’s something that you just have to do, but it’s very hard and time consuming.
If you find something where you say, “I can’t do anything but this,” then go for it.
It doesn’t matter what anyone says. Stay positive, listen to yourself and go out and do what feels right.
Missed any of our stories in our series on women entrepreneurs?
Check them out here.
- Atsuko Banno and her three friends were considered some of Japan’s first female entrepreneurs by starting their company, Familiar, in 1948 in Kobe, Japan.
- Alina Lucía Imbeth Luna from Medellin, Colombia founded Pure Chemistry, an organic, vegan and cruelty free skin care company.
- Catherine Moutet, of Tissage Moutet in Orthez, France, took a family business that was in danger of failing and modernized it to revive the company.
- Tina Wang opened Hyperbola, a fabric company out of Taipei, Taiwan, whose main focus is to put beauty and design into hi-tech, functional fabrics.
- Apollonia Poilâne has carried on her family’s bread baking legacy at Poilâne Bakery in Paris, France.
- Yaneek Page is based in Kingston, Jamaica but travels worldwide with the Vital Voices VV Grow Program to help women entrepreneurs develop skills to grow their business and impact their community.
- Christy Ng started Christy Ng Shoes and became an Internet sensation, first in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, then world-wide.
- Patricia Helding of Fat Witch Brownies in New York, New York was a Wall Street trader who turned her baking hobby into a business with stores in New York and Japan.