Introducing Pour Les Femmes by Karen Fowler and Robin Wright
In 2014 actress and activist Robin Wright and designer Karen Fowler founded Pour Les Femmes, a unique sleepwear line that balances luxurious comfort with social consciousness. Its core mission is ‘to give back’, which accords with Robin’s ongoing work in Africa. She first travelled to the Congo with the Enough Project and saw first hand what was happening in the region. She met incredible women in crisis zones who needed a voice. For more than a decade she has campaigned in Washington to support victims of the war in the Congo. To further this effort, she and Karen decided to take one of their passions – sleepwear – and develop a line that would provide women in conflict zones with work that is both sustainable and self-empowering. "Friends for 20 years, we wanted to create something together. We couldn't find what we wanted to sleep in, and Pour Les Femmes was born, to create our version of the perfect pair of pajamas."
“Every time you purchase one of our garments you can go to sleep knowing that you helped a woman in need in a crisis zone.” Robin Wright
STIL: The name Pour Les Femmes has depth to it, can you describe what the name means to you?
Pour Les Femmes means For the Women. Pour Les Femmes is a women's owned business, created for women. We are a socially and environmentally conscious company, where the foundation of the brand is rooted in helping women in Congo by collaborating on a beautiful capsule collection together.
STIL: You are passionate about promoting the equality and empowerment of women in rural communities and conflict zones. How did you get a project like Pour Les Femmes off the ground and to where it is today?
We started with designing a small collection of key pieces, and Pour Les Femmes organically grew from there into a full collection. So many different elements took place to get the brand to where it is today. We evolved, and our idea of having a small sleepwear collection expanded. This was inspired by the time we spent at world economic forums, where we realized there was a great need for slow fashion and socially conscious brands in the sleep space. Through our visits and time in Congo, The Give Work Program reached out to us. We started collaborating with them on a portion of our collection. The women in the program are highly skilled artisans and they help to create beautiful items in our collection, including a Congo Embroidered Pajama Set and Travel Bag.
STIL: With the Black Lives Movement so prominent currently, and seeing how much you have done for women of colour around the globe especially in the Congo - you are in the unique position to be working at a grassroots level in helping so many women of colour who have been born into a world with so many disadvantages. Rosemary Brown, the first black woman to be elected to a Canadian legislature famously said' To be black and female in a society that is both racist and sexist is to be in a unique position of having nowhere to go but up.' What is your long term goal for Pour Les Femmes and do you see it expanding into countries that are not conflict zones but where some women in the West could also benefit from Pour Les Femmes?
We definitely want to organically expand our programs into other countries and want to work with women from all areas of the world. Our long term goal is to continue practicing slow fashion in all aspects of the business, create ethically made collections, and give back to women in conflict regions.
STIL: Can you tell us a little about the fabrics that you use; where they are sourced and how sustainable they are?
We source our fabrics from all over the world and thoughtfully use only natural fibers. We believe in quality vs. quantity. Slow fashion and clean supply chain management is very important to us.
STIL: Many of the designs are so versatile that you could be forgiven for going about your daily business in them - is this intentional?
Yes, this is absolutely intentional. We want you to be able to wear the collection while out, at home, and of course while sleeping!
STIL: Do you think that by virtue of the fact that the women in the Congo are learning new skills they will pass these on to their daughters and that future generations will possibly start projects of their own?
We go by the saying - Each One, Reach One, Teach One. New skills are passed down not only to their daughters but to their villages. We hope these skills are passed down from generation to generation.
STIL: Female empowerment - what does it mean to you and how is Pour Les Femme giving just that to women in The Congo?
Female empowerment is about giving women opportunities. The women we work with in Congo are talented artisans and we are collaborating with them because they are highly skilled. Our partnership gives them the opportunity to take care of their families and their communities. We've read studies that show that when women work, they invest 90 percent of their income back into their families, compared with around 30 - 40 percent for men.
STIL: There is a lot of social media hash-tagging 'WomenSupportingWomen' - it's easy to like these posts without giving it much thought, but how can women in the Western world genuinely help to empower and support each other?
We need to be kind to each other. We are all in this together and it really starts with each individual person's kindness.
STIL: In a nutshell, what are the qualities and strengths of the women who make your beautiful pieces?
Their resilience and positive attitudes; the women are so smart and talented. And these incredible women bond together to help each other.
STIL: The success of the label is rooted in your desire to help the women in these conflict zones. You give them purpose and the ability to form sustainable lives. You have come a long way in achieving this for so many - what motivates you?
The lack of opportunities given to women in Congo is what motivates us.
STIL: Stranded on that Island.....PJ's or a nightie and silk, linen or cotton?!
A pajama set in cotton! They are soft, airy, and can be used for multiple purposes.
Who are your style icons ?
Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Kennedy, Lauren Baccall.
Robin and Karen are passionate about helping women rebuild their lives and become self-sufficient in the face of adversity. They clearly live by the adage ‘We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.' Not only do the women in their programmes get a living wage but part of the profits generated are also reinvested directly into local communities. Stil is delighted to have had this opportunity to delve into the inspiring work of Pour Les Femmes.