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Shape Shifting: Naja Lingerie

by Sahar Khan
eco friendly lingerie

Actress Gina Rodriguez and Naja Founder Catalina Girald.

A lingerie line that showcases women of all shapes and sizes promotes a healthy body image and more. 

A few years ago, Stanford graduate and former lawyer Catalina Girald found herself increasingly interested in the lingerie industry and its portrayal of women by companies like Victoria’s Secret, which dominates nearly 50 percent of the U.S. lingerie market.

“The whole industry is about seduction, and most of the images you see of women are ‘come and get me,’” Girald says. “If you’re telling your little girl that is what you must do to be worthy in life, I don’t think that’s positive.” To present a more empowering image for women, Girald, along with her friend, actress Gina Rodriguez, launched Naja (pronounced “naya”), a lingerie brand that promotes healthy self-image without exploiting sexuality. The line, which recently added activewear, features ads that showcase women of all shapes and sizes in self-assured as opposed to seductive poses. “Let’s present women as strong and intelligent,” Girald says. “You wear lingerie everyday, so it needs to be about you.”

But empowerment came with a challenge. “If I was going to empower the consumer wearing the product, I couldn’t make the product someplace where women weren’t treated well.” To ensure optimal working conditions, Girald set up her own factory in her hometown of Medellin, Colombia. She employs about 24 women who are single mothers or the female heads of households. They receive above market wages and health benefits. Each of her workers’ children is provided school supplies, uniforms and monthly coupons to cover the cost of school lunches and snacks. Additionally, the lingerie comes in wash bags handmade by marginalized women who live in extreme poverty in Colombia’s slums, another Girald initiative called Underwear for Hope. This allows the women to earn a living, and two percent of Naja’s revenue goes to local charities that provide continuing education for the women.

Girald also gives back through an eco-friendly production process. The apparel industry is responsible for about 20 percent of the world’s water pollution from dyeing fabrics, a stat that Girald found appalling. “I wanted to make sure that we could create products that weren’t harming the environment,” she says. Girald decided to use digital printing, with laser inkjet printers to impress images onto cloth; and sublimation printing, which uses heat to transfer dye onto fabrics, thus eliminating the need for traditional dyeing methods. She also starts with a limited number of pieces for each style. Girald says most lingerie brands work with factories that require them to order a minimum of 10,000 units of individual designs, which leads to more pollution when the company can’t sell the remaining products. “Each year, tons of apparel goes to landfills and a lot of that is excess merchandise,” Girald says.

The biggest impact for Girald has been the lives she’s helped improve through Naja. Maria Jaramillo, one of the employees for Underwear for Hope, was forced to flee her village with three daughters and two nieces after gang members murdered her sister. Jaramillo started working with Naja three years ago; as a result, she was able to move from a tiny home with a corrugated metal roof into a larger one with a real roof. One of her daughters is attending college.

“When times are tough, because all businesses go up and down, the thing that keeps me going is knowing we are actually making a difference,” Girald says.

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