If you want to empower women, give them brand-new, proper-fitting underwear.
“Embracing your body shape, loving who we are” begins with intimate apparel, the clothing next to our skin, says Skidmore College student Stella Langat.
Langat, who came to Saratoga Springs from Kenya to study economics, is a co-founder of Double Dee’s, a business that designs and produces bras for plus-sized and large-busted women in Africa.
By the end of this year, Langat and her three female Kenyan partners plan to open a lingerie store in the capital city of Nairobi. It will be the first such store in the country.
Her 10-year business plan?
“To be everywhere in Africa. There is so much potential,” says the 23-year-old Langat.
At first, Double Dee’s bras will be made in China or Hong Kong but the goal is to eventually end outsourcing and make them in her own country.
“There is no place in Africa making bras. I wish to have a facility in Kenya making bras,” she says.
Finding an attractive, affordable brand-new bra in Kenya is a challenge for all women, but especially those who are large-busted. Second-hand bras are available in open-air markets but used lingerie is considered unacceptable. And the labels have been cut off.
“Nobody knows their size,” Langat says. “New bras are really limited and the biggest sizes are D. They are not sized for African women.”
Double Dee’s designs will fit women who wear sizes 38DD to 56 G. At the store, women will be measured and fitted and their size will be registered.
“It will feel like a woman’s home, it will be like heaven,” Langat says.
In 2015, Double Dee’s won first place in the New York State Business Plan Regional Competition and the top prize of $20,000 in Skidmore’s Kenneth A. Freirich Business Plan Competition. Harvard’s Undergrad Women in Business Innovation gave Double Dee’s a $2,000 award.
Langat is a “very tenacious and savvy businesswoman” with an “innovative product,” says Skidmore economics professor Roy Rotheim. “Stella has done her homework about the industry in which she intends to enter.”
Langat dreamed up Double Dee’s three years ago, when she was in Kenya on a shopping trip with her girlfriends and none of them could find a bra.
“There were no sizes and no labels,” she says.
Langat was also concerned about the practice of buying second-hand clothes because of her mother, who suffers from a chronic skin condition caused by a fungus she contracted from second-hand shoes.
Stella and her friends researched the bra market and launched Double Dee’s.
Last August, they hosted a fashion show in a Nairobi mall and invited plus-sized women of all ages to model lingerie. They surveyed and measured as many Kenyan women as they could.
Today, Double Dee’s is a 24-hour operation because of the seven-hour time difference between Saratoga Springs and Nairobi.
In Saratoga Springs, Langat gets up at 5:30 each morning to do her Skidmore homework and then go to class.
Her business partners Constance Tipis and Millicent Wanjiru live in Kenya. The third, Charity Migwi, is in New York City.
At 1:30 p.m., when it’s early evening in Kenya, the partners talk on Skype.
“We speak every day,” Langat says.
Last month, the young women signed a lease for the store. They are waiting for a shipment of bras from Asia.
Double Dee’s basic line is called “Back to My Roots” and will be available in four “nude” shades named Stella, Charity, Constance and Millicent, for dark and brown skin.
“You should wear a bra to match your skin tone. It should melt to your skin,” Langat says.
Bras will cost about $15, with one dollar of each sale supporting education and accessibility of menstrual products for girls. Not having these products forces many girls to miss school.
Launching Double Dee’s has had its challenges.
“Outsourcing, working with manufacturing, sending the product back and forth. Also, the money,” Langat says.
Skidmore College, its alumni and the Saratoga Springs community have been extremely generous and supportive, she says. “Without them, I would never do this.”
On May 21, Langat will walk across the stage at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and receive her degree in economics.
Langat’s mother, who is a teacher, is traveling from Kenya for the graduation. Her late father was also a teacher.
Stella grew up in Kericho, in a hilly and forested part of Kenya, where tea and other crops are grown.
She has nine siblings, and every year since she has lived in Saratoga Springs, she has bought bras for her sisters back home.
“I have five sisters, and all of them are double Ds and above,” Langat says.
Soon, if all goes according to plan, they’ll be able to get their bras at Double Dee’s.
Reach Gazette reporter Karen Bjornland at 395-3197, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @bjorngazette.