By Renata Black, Founder of Empowered By You
Why am I here? What is the purpose of life? Is my only purpose to be a consumer, enjoy life and procreate? These were the questions that I asked myself at a very young age. Never did I think 15 years later I would be selling underwear to empower women out of poverty and into business via microfinance.
I am a brunette with brown eyes and dark Hispanic skin. My mother is blonde with blue eyes and pure white skin. I grew up hearing stories about how both my parents had died and I was kidnapped out of Colombia, keeping me from being brought up by my incapable grandmother. My aunt would tell me crazy stories about how Border Control was at our door in Miami looking for me, but she knew that my future would be more than grim if I got sent back to Colombia. I was a kid she barely knew, and she uprooted her life to move to the States to give me a chance.
Now at 36, I ask myself if I would do the same for someone? Would you? Leave my life in New York, and start all over with 3 kids, even if it was in Europe? I don’t think so.
When you are old enough to realize what people have done for you to have a fair start, you’re just not “living it up” like a normal teenager. In my heart, I felt I had to make it count. I had to make my life count for myself and for everyone else’s destiny that changed because of me, especially my adopted parents – my aunt and my uncle.
When I graduated University of North Carolina, I decided to take a trip around the world and volunteer in different countries, from Hong Kong to New Zealand to Egypt.
When I got to India in 2005, it was right after the Tsunami and it was utter, I mean, utter devastation. As I was cleaning the villages a woman in her native language came up to me and said, “I know you are from the United States. I don’t want you coming here giving us free things and handicapping my people and myself. Why don’t you teach us how to make money?” In that one moment, my entire life was forever changed.
Long story short, I studied microfinance under Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh, who later on won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 — and I ended up living in India for 2 years overseeing a microfinance program with 800 women. Basically, we would get groups of 15 women, teach each one of them a skill, and give each one a loan to start a little business. In 4 months if everyone didn’t pay their loan back, no one would get a secondary loan. This has created a 98% repayment rate globally, and has made microfinance the strongest poverty alleviation tool today — empowering women through business. Not handouts, but a hands-up, thus breaking the cycle of poverty for their children.
While living in India, something really odd would happen to me consistently. Women would come up to me and always tell me that they felt sorry for me. They always asked how painful it was for women in the U.S to have to show their cleavage, shoulders, and legs to get a man. The nutty thing is that I was feeling sorry for them, having to be wrapped up like a burrito everyday, donning this super long, heavy sari in the scorching heat!
How about that for a paradigm shift?
Two years later, when I moved back to the States and was watching the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, it hit me. They were right. Why do we need to use sensuality to objectify women? How powerful it could be, if we could redirect sensuality to empower women.
Since this last epiphany in 2009, I have set out to reposition lingerie from a symbol of seduction to one of empowerment. I have hosted 3 luxury lingerie shows, in Miami, New York, and London, to raise awareness for the empowerment via microfinance - with designers such as Agent Provocateur, Atsuko Kudo, and Fifi Chachnil. We garnered the support of phenomenal women like Rosario Dawson, Eva Longoria, Michelle Rodriguez, and Sofia Vergara, creating over 3.8 billion media impressions.
However, the reality is that more than awareness is needed to fuel Seven Bar Foundation consistently without asking for donations. You see, hope is not a strategy, and to have a transformative impact you cannot rely on sporadic generosity. I needed a product that people not only wanted, but also actually needed. For the next 2 years, I focused my energies on developing the perfect everyday seamless panty, with 20% of its net profits going to microfinance women. We like to think of it as, “Saving the world on a g-string rather than a shoe-string.”
Empowered By You was born.
Our ethos is, “What Empowers You, Empowers Women Everywhere.” When women wear our undies and share what empowers them or how they have turned breakdowns into breakthroughs, it enables Empowered By You to consistently fuel the empowerment of women.
Imagine if everything we wore in some way went to pay it forward? Imagine if every store had even just one small product dedicated to impact the world. What would our world look like? If it isn’t us empowering women, then who? In the end of the day, isn’t it fashion that is setting the trends?
Who would have thought that slinging thongs would end up being the best use of my life but the truth is, that it is. True Story.
Renata Mutis Black is the founder of Seven Bar Foundation and Empowered By You. After the Tsunami, Renata lived in India for 2 years creating a microfinance program with 800 women. During that time she developed a deep understanding of the respect sari-covered women held for something as intimate as their lingerie. Renata returned to the States to reposition lingerie as a tool of empowerment, as opposed to one of seduction. She created an awareness platform that generated over 4 billion media impressions with this message.
In 2012, Renata launched social enterprise, Empowered By You, representing “What Empowers You, Empowers Women Everywhere.” It’s the perfect everyday seamless panty, with 20% of net profits going to empower women via microfinance. A collaborative cause brand found in Calypso, Equinox, SCOOP, Alice & Olivia, and Opening Ceremony, Empowered by You aims to use inner armor for outer strength.