It’s the first thing you put on in the morning and the last thing you take off at night. Underwear, panties, lingerie – whatever you call it, it’s something that women of all ages in North America don’t have to think twice about. It’s a basic necessity, whether you’re a lacy thong type of woman or if you like something with a bit more coverage – the choice is yours. The same can’t be said for young girls in third-world countries like Zambia, who are forced to stay home from school as soon as they start menstruating. Statistics show that on average 155 girls in every village in Africa have dropped out of school due to the simple fact that they can’t afford sanitary towels or the appropriate underwear to get them through that not-so-fun time of the month. This limits these young girls from so much. From an education, from a social life, even holding a job would be stretch. Christina Norman and Laura Kerr have joined forces to try to eradicate this problem by offering a simple yet powerful solution. You & Her lingerie designs and manufactures beautiful, comfortable undergarments for you and the profits go to funding a sewing center in Zambia to make underwear for her. The sewing center is set to open in September and Christina and Laura will be there to cut the big red ribbon. We had a chance to chat with the duo just after their launch event in February and see what they are up to now.
Stylust (S): Firstly, congratulations on your recent event being such a great success! After months of planning and organizing it must have been so surreal to announce your collection (and your message) to the world and to see your hard work come to life. What was going through your minds as the collection went down the runway?
Laura (L): Oh just like, [sighs] I can’t even put it into words. Just a deep sigh of contentment. I just loved it. And the models just I loved the models they were just so amazing. They rocked the runway, and were really engaging everyone. It was exactly what we wanted it to be.
S: Yes, the photos were amazing. I wish I could have made it out but alas, I am stuck in here in LA.
Christina (C): Los Angeles is actually our goal to have our next party. We wanna do a research trip whenever we can but that our goal to stop in LA next.
S: Oh, fun! Definitely keep us in the loop! In your recent blog post (you&her tackles the runway ) you mentioned the struggle that may come from making the runway work for your brand without compromising your message or contributing to a negative or objective message. This is something I know I have faced working in the fashion industry and being a part of the media, how did you tackle this and what would be your advice for other women in the same boat?
C: Actually the way that we planned to tackle it was really, really grand and we didn’t have the funds to make it happen. We wanted to hang chiffon from different lengths of the ceiling so the models would be walking through this maze of chiffon. But the whole idea of it was that it was less of a spectacle that people were watching and more of an engaging experience and that they felt like they were a part of the community that we are building (we are all about community). And for lingerie it can be a big comparison to spotlight and we didn’t want to feed that and promote it. We didn’t want to display their bodies – even though they are beautiful, they are incredible women – we wanted so show the woman inside rather than their bodies. We wanted them to be able to express themselves and have an amazing time and just feel and have that emotion of feeling amazing and aware.
L: And we just told them that and they did it. We chose an upbeat song, they were in bare feet, it was low lighting. I think with our personalities we are really laid back so the whole environment of the night was laid back, come as you are. And the models loved it. Some of them were jumping and dancing to the music, and some of the them stepped really straight and walked like a swan. It was beautiful. Everyone was doing their own thing and it was awesome.
S: How did you cast all the models?
C: One of them I went to high school with and others we knew through friends or networking. We found them within eight hours, people were so excited to do it.
S: That’s amazing! How did you two both meet?
C: We met over a phone call. I got her contact information as I was planning and organizing the way that the company would work. I really wanted the jobs to come within Africa as we provided the underwear. So one of the first steps was to meet with the only person and one of the most trusted people I knew in Africa and that was the Villages of Hope directors. At the end of the meeting they gave me her contact information because she had been there for a year the previous year teaching sewing at their orphanage. I called her up and I was like I have this idea, do you wanna do this. And the first time we met was on our first photo shoot.
S: Incredible. Our readers would be curious to know how your business model is sustainable?
C: It’s sustainable because the profit margins in [the] lingerie we are using that and funneling all the money in building another business in Zambia. So our idea isn’t so much a not-for-profit but building businesses that do good. We want a business that does good here in Canada – and makes money, we aren’t afraid to make money. And [the] business in Kitwe we want them to have killer business training and bank accounts and to start saving for their own dreams and train them in a way so that they are able to set up a really profitable, awesome, do-good business of their own.
S: In Caroline Heldmans Ted Talk (another one of your amazing blog posts), she lists a compelling number of steps that we can take, as women and as men, to stop the never-ending cycle that is sexual objectification in media. It does seem so simple on paper but we all know it takes a lot to make a change to something that is so grand. What are some things that you do in your personal life that contribute to this change and what is your advice for other women who want to do the same?
C: I think my first advice would be think globally. Because it can be so easy to think of what our standards are for our culture but it effects the way the entire world thinks and views women. Like today we were packing up a bridal present and I was driving here thinking, this is such a joy to be putting together this bridal gift. But the reason its such a joy is because she chose who her husband was and she chose when she was going to get married and the choice was in her hands. Just to think globally that isn’t everyone’s case. A huge percentage of girls at five years old are growing up thinking this is who I am and that’s all I offer. So for me, that’s how I gauge all my decisions is does it benefit globally? Does it open people’s mind up to whats going on with all of us woman across the world rather than just us in North America?
L: I guess in my own life the way I contribute is the way I act and the way I dress and the way I represent myself. I am pretty confident in that and even though I am a lingerie designer I don’t wear my lingerie on the outside. Audrey Hepburn is the most classy lady in the world and she is my style icon. I think a lot of the celebrities in the media, they don’t wear a ton of clothes sometimes and that’s kind of the face [of media.] Audrey Hepburn is still popular and she’s so classy and charming and um she dressed amazingly and she was so stunning. So I choose to dress like that and to tell others that. I don’t have any immodest pictures of myself anywhere. I hope [laughs]. I mentor youth sometimes when they come to me at a church function or whatever and want to talk to me about anything, I really just try to display the way I act, dress, and my confidence with my own body image.
C: Women have to be confident, that’s the first step. Everyone has an inner beauty, everyone does, but it takes confidence to actually own it. In your own way. and it takes confidence to go and find it too because girls think that they can’t. That’s why we want to encourage young women.