Brittany Merrill Underwood, founder of Akola, along with Liz Forkin Bohannon, founder of Sseko Designs.
“Everybody needs a leg up when starting a business,” said Blakely. “Mine came when Oprah named SPANX a ‘Favorite Thing’.”
Since the “Oprah-moment” that catapulted Spanx from a small start-up to a household name, Blakely has been on a mission to pay her success forward and empower other women. Leg Up® was created to offer up-and-coming entrepreneurs a chance to be promoted to millions of Spanx fans via the catalog, website and social media channels, including The Rear View blog.
This spring, two companies were selected for their social business models that use fashion to empower women. From handmade jewelry to leather sandals, these stylish products give conscious consumers a chance to make the world a better place.
About the Winners:
Brittany Merrill Underwood, founder of Akola Project, spent a college summer in Uganda, where she met Sarah, a local woman caring for 24 orphans off the street. Their 10-minute meeting changed her life, she said.
“Out of her poverty, she gave her daily bread, while I, who had been given so much, gave nothing,” Underwood said.
Inspired to help, Underwood launched the Akola Project, an accessories brand that economically empowers women like Sarah to sustainably care for disadvantaged children in their communities. In the past seven years the Akola Project has built two vocational centers, employed 400 women and, in turn, cared for 4,000+ children.
“The impact of Akola is so far-reaching” Blakely said. “It’s more than employing women, it’s empowering them to overcome the odds and transform their lives and their communities. Many of these women invest their earnings into starting a business, and the effects are endless.”
Sseko was conceived in Uganda as well. Founder Liz Forkin Bohannon moved there after college as a journalist and began brainstorming ways to employ young women after witnessing the effects of extreme poverty.
A friend reminded Bohannon of sandals she made in college that went viral among her dorm mates. Bohannon set out on a cross-country motorcycle journey to gather the needed materials. She never expected they would end up in Vogue, she said.
Sseko employs young women to make sandals, enabling them to finance their college educations and pursue their dreams. During the time each woman works at Sseko she receives a scholarship to match 100% of her income savings. To date, 100% of women who participated in the Sskeo employment and empowerment program are currently pursuing or have graduated from university.
“These sandals are really innovative – from their design to their mission, they are not your typical “charity purchase,” Blakely said. “I love what this company stands for – helping women break the cycle of poverty and encouraging them to dream big.”
For more information on the program and its winners, visit Spanx Leg Up™ www.spanx.com/legup.
About Leg Up™
Spanx wants to give other amazing women entrepreneurs their leg up! As Oprah gave Sara her big break by naming Spanx ® a ‘Favorite Thing,’ Blakely is paying it forward by endorsing female entrepreneurs and their businesses. “Everybody needs a Leg Up when starting a business,” is Blakely’s philosophy. Through the Spanx catalog, spanx.com and its social media channels, Spanx ® highlights women and her business/products. In addition, each woman chosen receives a lucky red backpack–like the bag Sara carried as her “good luck charm” in 2000 when starting Spanx. Spanx does not profit in any way. The only hope is that another woman gets great exposure and her much-deserved leg up!
Spanx founder Sara Blakely was getting ready for a party when she realized she didn't have the right undergarment to provide a blemish-free look under white pants. Armed with scissors and sheer genius, she cut the feet off her control top pantyhose and the Spanx revolution began! The Spanx brand now houses more than 200 products ranging from slimming apparel and swimsuits, to bras, activewear and men's undershirts. To help women everywhere experience the power of shapewear, the SPANX, Inc. portfolio now includes four brands: SPANX® by Sara Blakely®, ASSETS®, ASSETS® Red Hot Label™ by SPANX®, and Star Power by SPANX. With an array of problem-solving products for every body type and budget, Spanx has secured its place in women’s hearts and in pop-culture with daily mentions everywhere from CNN to SNL. In March of 2012, Founder Sara was named the world’s youngest, self-made female billionaire by Forbes Magazine and one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People. Headquartered in Atlanta, GA and opening retail shops across the United States, Spanx can now be found worldwide in more than 50 countries. In addition to keeping butts covered from Savannah to Singapore, SPANX also shapes the world by focusing on their mission: To help women feel great about themselves and their potential.