The announcement yesterday of its new partnership with actress Gina Rodriguez gives U.S. lingerie label Naja something few intimates brands can claim: an authentic entry point into the vast and underserved Latina market.
But the deal — which brings together the star of the CW comedy Jane the Virgin and the made-in-Colombia indie startup brand — is much more than the savvy marketing strategy it appears to be.
In fact, Gina’s relationship with Naja began by chance, and eventually required the blessing of her large and supportive Puerto Rican family.
And, unlike most celebrity collaborations in the fashion world, it has less to do with Gina’s looks than her values.
“She’s there because there are messages she wants to get across to women,” Catalina Girard, a former lawyer and Colombia native who launched Naja in San Francisco in 2013, told Lingerie Talk yesterday.
“Naja is a brand targeting all women, but I am a Latina and we realize the impact we can have on Latina women,” she added. “We are not trying to be a Latina brand, but we would love to play a part in that market.”
In Gina, who joins the company as part-owner, Naja has found a brand ambassador with tremendous appeal and influence in America’s large Hispanic community. Her Golden Globe win earlier this year for best actress in a TV comedy was one of those thrilling underdog triumphs, and was widely seen as a long-overdue validation of the growing presence of Hispanic creatives in Hollywood. The 31-year-old confirmed her star power with a gig this summer as co-host of the Teen Choice awards.
“Gina is a very, very good role model for Latina women,” Catalina said. “She’s very pro-women, pro-Latina and she’s really changing the way Latinas are portrayed in the media.
“We always get the slutty roles,” she noted. “But on Jane the Virgin she is hardworking, down-to-earth, and pursuing her dream of writing a book. … Gina embodies this image of a woman who really perseveres and follows her dreams. She is all about beauty on the inside.”
Gina and Catalina first met in early 2014 — before Gina landed the Jane the Virgin role — when both were included in Procter & Gamble’s Nueva Latina program to celebrate up-and-coming Hispanic women.
“We started talking about body image issues and how the media portrays us,” Catalina said. “And we realized we saw eye to eye on a lot of issues. Plus she liked my lingerie.”
After Gina’s Golden Globe win, Catalina asked if she would consider modeling a new collection for Naja.
“She said yes, but she really wanted to do more. She wanted to become a partner in the company.”
But nothing was going to happen without Gina’s family’s approval.
“We met at her sister’s house in L.A., with all her cousins scoping me out to make sure I was legit,” recalled Catalina, who agreed to relocate Naja‘s office to Los Angeles. “I actually see her family more than I see her right now.”
With Naja, Gina will have a credible platform for her ideas about empowering women and promoting more realistic beauty standards.
Naja is among a new breed of cause-driven lingerie brands whose products reflect the company’s ethical values, social responsibility and environmental commitments.
Launched with a mission to “create a culture where women help each other,” the company owns a factory in Colombia that trains and employs local workers. Its Underwear for Hope program also diverts a portion of profits to help educate and employ single mothers, and provide meals and school supplies for their children.
“Gina will give us a much bigger voice,” Catalina said.
The actress will be in charge of spreading the word about Naja‘s women’s empowerment program, and will interview role models who will be featured in the company’s ‘Wonder Women’ profiles on its website.
Gina won’t become the brand’s go-to lingerie model, but she will star in a photo campaign for “a very particular collection” that was designed with her in mind. She’ll also work with Catalina to develop photo campaigns for product launches that involve “more realistic” models.
Ironically, despite its Colombian ties, Naja has never really targeted the Hispanic market. Instead, its polyglot design aesthetic has in the past featured collections influenced by Japanese geishas, 1960s British Mod style, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, and 19th Century French courtesans. Its next collection, due in a few months, is inspired by Chinese women.
The brand’s defining signature is actually found on the inner lining of its garments, where it prints inspirational messages of empowerment.
“Some people have questioned whether my aesthetic is all over the place,” Catalina said, “but you can always recognize a Naja piece from the inside.”
Naja is currently sold only through its online webshop, but the company is in talks with two major retailers aimed at expanding their distribution.