House of Cards star Robin Wright understands that her off-screen influence is just as important as her on-screen work. That’s why Pour Les Femmes, her collection of luxury pajamas, co-founded with designer Karen Fowler, is also a philanthropic undertaking. Part of the proceeds from each purchase are donated to civil society groups working to help citizens victimized by conflict mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo, among them Action Kivu.
According to Wright, this sociopolitical issue has been on her mind for a long time, but it is rarely at the forefront of global conversations. Speaking with Action Kivu’s founder, Amani Matabaro Tom, inspired Wright to raise awareness about the Western world’s role in the continued destabilization of the Congo. The mining of minerals like tantalum—used in cell phones, laptops, and other tech products—takes an exorbitant human toll on the Congo and its surrounding countries, where natural resources abound. Profits from the blood mineral trade are used to fund rebel armies in the region, and in the midst of financial, political, and social upheaval, local women are often collateral damage. Pour Les Femmes became her way of making a small, but heartfelt commitment to helping some of these women get back on their feet.
How does purchasing Pour Les Femmes directly impact the well-being of Congolese women?
Part of the proceeds go to a couple of civil society groups—and there are so many of these groups that we help—for services, many of them for women who have been raped repeatedly in and around the mining areas, some of whom have crawled back to the hospital for three days just to be put back together again. So, we thought, Why don't we go to these compounds, see what they need. And basically, they were just concerned that they had a roof over their heads, that they had food to eat, that they were there safe with their children. None of them have husbands anymore, because their husbands have either been killed or recruited by the militia. So, they're having to start their lives over again, and feel empowered again, after their lives have been completely dismantled.
We basically weighed who needed the most right now, and Action Kivu, they just needed so much. But meeting our goal with them means taking a lot of time. They offer vocational training, so women can start their own businesses. And reaching our goal has been tricky, because you have a hard time hitting your margins, because we have to produce overseas and sometimes that production gets messed up or delayed, and then our buyers get upset. You know, it's retail! It's a whole other animal. So, we're three years in and we're hoping in two years we'll really be flowing—but I'm trying to just get the word out. This is a give-back company. It's a socially conscious sleepwear line. And every time you purchase one of our pieces, it goes to helping one of these women have a sustainable life again.
What was your inspiration for starting Pour Les Femmes?
Just that. Because I have been banging down the doors in Washington, D.C. to try to get this put on the list of the Top 10 most important issues on the agenda. It would always get put at the bottom of the pile because we would always have some other crisis that went on in our country or somewhere else. I felt a duty to not only amplify their voices, which are saying “We need help” and “This needs to stop” and “We need security on our ground if you guys are going to be buying our minerals”
Karen—my best friend of 25 years—is a clothing designer, and we had always wanted to build our favorite pajama, because we could never find it on the rack. And she said, “Why don't we just build it—the thing that we love so much and we love sleeping in—and make it a give-back company?” And, she said, “We'll start with the Congo, because you've been there, and you've been shepherding this movement of spreading the word, creating awareness, waking people up to reach out to their technology companies and say, ‘I want conflict-free phones!’” And we're doing just that. Consumers love to be a part of giving back and helping others. So, if you're going to purchase something, which is a decadence in some ways, isn't it great to know that it's also helping someone in need?
Do you feel that it's important to use your platform as a celebrity for a larger purpose?
Absolutely. Because you have fans of their favorite singer, their favorite actor, their favorite athlete. And those fans follow their favorite person. They want to invest an interest in what that person's interested in. You get a lot of people on your bandwagon that way. We can generate more attention because we are high-profile, because we are in the media.
Is there anything specific you want to say now?
Just to encourage people to buy our sleepwear and our loungewear, because it's really tremendous, the give-back aspect of it. If you get on our website, you can go to the cause and it will show you what we've been able to help Action Kivu with. One of our girls is becoming a lawyer—she was able to go to law school. It's incredible, how little we need to do and how huge and beneficial it can be.
Do you keep in touch with each woman as she graduates from the vocational program?
Yeah, completely. Amani [Matabaro], who is the founder of Action Kivu, keeps us posted all the time in videos of their progress and sends us pictures like, “Look, we finally have the bakery!” and “They have their own organic garden!” and “The kids now have a school!” He's such an incredible human being, what he's done for these women.
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