Interview: Dana Marlowe Of Support The Girls, Part One

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I came upon Support The Girls on Instagram. (Yes, that’s how I’m finding out about women doing things that are helping the world. Through the pictures on Instagram.) Immediately, I wanted to donate my bras. I reached out to, what I had hoped, was the person running the Instagram feed, and as it turns out, it was Dana Marlowe herself, the founder of Support The Girls. We got to Insta-chatting, and I knew right away, that Dana was a Lady Like Us: fierce, smart, like-minded. We talked for a long time. So long that I am presenting this interview in a series of parts. In today’s post, we find out how a CEO of a successful company decided to start donating bras and feminine hygiene products.

Enjoy. And…support the girls! Go to isupporthegirls.org!

I love that you are doing Support The Girls. I just put a few bras in the mail to you.

Support the girls has been one of the most magical experiences and tiring and exhausting and thought provoking moments that I’ve ever had. If you had told me a year ago, “Dana, you’re going to be regularly on stage talking to thousands of people from all walks of life talking about bras and tampons,” I would have thought you were crazy.

What were you doing a year ago?

I work a 50/60 hour work week regularly that has nothing to do with Support The Girls. I run an IP consulting firm that makes technology accessible for people with disabilities. I’m a very big practice what-I-preach so you get what you get with me; the same goes for my company. 85 percent of my employees are people with disabilities. I don’t mess around. And I’m raising a family.

So, that’s a pretty full plate.

And the problem with that is I had forgotten to take time for myself.

Yes, that happens with when you’re running on all cylinders.

Right, but its normal, there’s nothing atypical about that. For a lot of women entrepreneurs who are busy running successful companies, they forget to do stuff for themselves. I started the company when I was on maternity leave; I wrote the business plan while I was nursing my newborn.

Of course because, that’s what most women do while nursing their newborns. 😉

I was working so hard but I wasn’t exercising. I sure as hell wasn’t eating right and I gained a lot of weight. And then I lost it and then I had another kid. At that point, everything was fine. I have a very close relationship with my mom and my aunts. They were all like, you need to take better care of yourself. But really, do you think I’m gonna listen to my mom? So when my two very close friends—we were all sitting out on the deck watching the ocean and drinking wine—were like, “Dana, we’ve known you for a really long time, we know (your company) is successful and you have these two amazing kids but at the end of the day we need you to look at taking care of yourself.”

So they really got in there.

Yeah, but that’s what close friends do. I’ve always been tall and lanky and suddenly I wasn’t. I’m a person who swims with my kids, I go in the ocean, I don’t give a crap what I look like. And that’s why nothing had changed. So I started cracking down and eating right. One of my colleagues said, “I want you to run a 5K with me.” I don’t run 5k’s, I don’t run any K’s! So I didn’t do a couch-to-5k-program; instead I did a 5k-to-couch program. I ran the 5k and I came home and collapsed on the couch, but I did it. I set a goal, and I will tackle it, I will do it. I just proved to myself I can do it. And so suddenly I did six 5k’s and then I did a 10k and I did a ten mile-r, all in about a year and a half. I wound up losing 35 pounds.

Wow.

Yeah. You don’t know me so when I tell you I’m a fashion train wreck like legit I dress for comfort. I didn’t care that my clothes were baggy, I didn’t care that they fit right. My professional attire was always very much what you would expect: I wore a lot of black business suits. And my mother, my employee, my best friend from childhood and another close friend of mine since grad school, got together and nominated me for a TV show called “What Not To Wear.” I feel like that that really says something.

So you start getting back into shape, eating right, and your clothes are hanging off your body and the people in your life are again saying, Girrrrrl.

And one morning my husband said to me, “Look I know you’re not going for new clothes. We’ve had so many friends offer to take you. But for God’ sake. You need to buy new bras. Your bras are not fitting you. There’s like zero support. The only thing they’re doing is preventing you from being nipple-y. You’ve lost 35 pounds. You need to cancel your meetings. I don’t care what you’re doing today get yourself to the mall, get fitted and go buy some bras, end of story.”

That’s a good partner, that one.

Yeah he’s great. I basically blame him for starting the NGO. Because he told me to go buy bras. So I went to the mall. As I’m getting fitted, I asked the sales associate, “I have a drawer full of perfectly good bras. Can you refurbish them like a laptop?” She said, “Are you an IT consultant?” And I said, “I am.” And she said, “Well, no we can’t refurbish them.” And she told me four words which were really important: “Homeless Women Need Bras.”

And that’s when you had your a-ha moment?

I mean, I’m a disability rights advocate. I’m into social justice. I’m into women’s rights, human rights, and civil rights. I’m into supporting traditionally marginalized populations. We regularly donate our clothes, our kids clothing, our children’s books, furniture. We’re part of that typical donation culture. And I had never opened my drawers and pulled out my bras and donated my bras. I always felt it was too personal. And many places, like homeless shelters, don’t collect undergarments.

Why is that?

Because then people will send a lot of underwear. There’s a big difference between worn, used underwear and a used bra. So instead of specifying bras—because maybe its too sexualized—they just say no undergarments.

So this woman in a bra-store ignited something in you?

I was like, I need to research this because maybe there’s something I can do. I found this shelter in DC and I said, “Hey, I have 16 really good bras. Do you want them?” And the Director of Volunteer Services said, “We’ll take them as soon as you can get them. Nobody donates bras.” And so I said, “What else do you need?” And he said, “Maxi pads and tampons.” That was like a double whammy. It made me think about women and girls who are homeless who have their period every single month. And then you have to choose between am I going to buy a box of tampons or a package of maxi pads for eight dollars or am I going to spend that 8 dollars for a hot meal. It’s really not a choice, like you really have to be able to not-bleed all over your clothing. Like they don’t have the privilege to be like “I want to free bleed the London marathon.” When you’re homeless, you need to take care of the few items you do have. And so that’s kind  of how it all started.

In tomorrows’ excerpt with Dana Marlowe of Support The Girls, Dana tells us what happens when more and more people start throwing their bras at her. 

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