Why am I here? What is the purpose of life? 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 grew up hearing stories about how my parents had died and I was kidnapped out of Colombia to keep me from being brought up by my incapable grandmother. My aunt would tell me stories about how border control was at our door in Miami looking for me. 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 else? Leave my life in New York and start 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 not just “living it up” like a normal teenager. In my heart I felt I had to make my life count for myself and for everyone else whose destiny changed because of me, especially my adopted parents – my aunt and my uncle.
When I graduated University of North Carolina, I decided to travel around the world and volunteer in different places from Hong Kong to Egypt.
I went to India right after the 2005 Tsunami and witnessed utter devastation there. As I was cleaning 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 her giving us free things and handicapping my people and myself. Why don’t you teach us how to make money?” In that moment my life changed forever.
Long story short, I studied microfinance under Mohammad Yunus, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and 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 group 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 method created a 98% repayment rate globally, and has made microfinance the strongest alleviation tool today and has helped break the cycle of poverty for the children of women empowered through business.
However, while living in India something odd happened to me consistently. Women would come up to me and tell me that they felt sorry for me. They asked how painful it was for women in the U.S to have to show their cleavage, shoulders and legs to get a man. Weird thing was that I was feeling sorry for them having to be wrapped up like a burrito everyday, donning a long, heavy sari in 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 show, I realized they were right. Why do we use sensuality to objectify women? How powerful it could be if we could redirect sensuality to empower women?
Since my 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 empowerment via microfinance with designers such as Agent Provocateur, Atsuko Kudo, and Fifi Chachnil; garnering support from phenomenal women like Rosario Dawson, Eva Longoria, Michelle Rodriguez and Sofia Vergara, creating over 3.8 billion media impressions.
However, the reality was that we needed more than awareness to fuel Seven Bar Foundation successfully. I needed a product that people not only wanted but also needed. For the next 2 years, I focused my energies on developing the perfect seamless panty, with 20% of its net profits going to microfinance women.
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 around, it enables Empowered By You to fuel the empowerment of women.
Who would have thought that slinging thongs would end up being the best use of my life, but there it is. True story.