One of the lingerie industry’s most uplifting stories came to a sickening halt yesterday when fire destroyed a Texas house occupied by the founder of the charity-driven Cherie Amie lingerie.
Only four hours before the 2 a.m. blaze, Tara Smith had returned from a month-long trip to the West African nation of Cameroon, where she worked with local artisans to produce Cherie Amie‘s first collection.
Smith, who was sleeping when fire broke out in the Irving residence, suffered minor burns and was able to save some of the company’s inventory along with her dog. She told a Dallas TV station she is unsure what will become of her fledgling label now.
Tara and her fiancée Ryan Schuett were days away from launching Cherie Amie’s online store, after Tara brought the company’s hand-made inventory back with her from Africa.
Tara and Ryan, who previously worked as Peace Corps volunteers in Africa, established Cherie Amie as a way to promote social change and economic empowerment for women in one of the world’s poorest countries.
Cherie Amie adopted a fair-trade model, employing seven women in a seamstress centre in Cameroon to produce their lacey intimates. It was also one of the earliest partners in the Good Return micro-finance project, which raises money to provide small-business loans to entrepreneurs in other countries.
Cherie Amie pledged to give 100% of net profits to charitable projects like Good Return and Peace Tree Africa, which finances sustainable development projects.
“We wanted to choose a product that women like to indulge in and men like as well, and turn it into a vehicle for social change,” Tara told Lingerie Talk shortly before leaving for Cameroon last month. “After the Peace Corps, I could imagine myself indulging in something like lingerie unless it’s contributing to social good.”
The couple saw lingerie as a logical way to advance women’s issues in sub-Saharan Africa.
“There’s a lot of cultural and social repression that removes women from any occupation. They are unable to secure their financial futures, access justice mechanism or participate in the wide variety of activities we associate with women’s empowerment in the United States,” said Ryan, who previously founded a fair trade apparel company in Uganda.
“We associate lingerie with these social goals. We believe that lingerie can serve a very powerful social purpose.”
The company adopted the slogan, “Be Sexy, Buy Fair”.
Tara had previously worked in an orphanage in Bandzuidjong, Cameroon from 2007-9, where villagers anointed her a tribal queen. They even gave her a name, maveu napteu, which translates as “queen of fixing things”.
“It means they have a lot of respect for you, they see you as an agent of development and change in their lives,” said Ryan.
Cherie Amie recently completed a 2013 lingerie calendar using volunteer models known as ‘Our Fair Ladies’. The calendar was scheduled to go on sale this month.
Its lingerie line include teddies, briefs babydolls and accessories, with such names as the Humanitarian Hottie boyshort and Goodwill garter.
The company held a launch party in Dallas earlier this year and was planning to introduce a men’s underwear line as well.
Ryan and Tara made local news earlier this year when Ryan proposed to her (with a conflict-free diamond) during a live TV news broadcast at the African-American Museum of Dallas.
The photos below were posted on the company’s Facebook page during Tara’s production visit to Cameroon last month.