Designing eco-friendly underwear

Heidi Rauch and Alyssa Weiss make something that Halle Berry and Jessica Simpson love. The GW alumna don’t design gowns, jewelry, makeup or anything else that would help a style-conscious Hollywood star stand out from the crowd – they design lingerie.

Rauch and Weiss create bras, underwear and maternity wear for their own company, one well-known among Hollywood’s elite and based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Belabumbum, which means “beautiful bottom” in Portuguese, employs more than 70 people, and focuses on environmental issues by recycling materials and using bamboo fabric.

Rauch said she has learned two lessons working in the lingerie business, “job creation is the only way to alleviate poverty and improve people’s quality of life over the long term, and women’s clothing is made much better in Brazil.”

The pair met in 1987, their freshman year at GW. They both lived in Thurston Hall. Rauch majored in international relations and Weiss studied theater and Spanish. In their junior year, they spent a semester studying abroad together in Spain.

After graduation, they parted ways and started their separate careers. It was only in 2001 that they reconvened to start their lingerie business.

Weiss said the company started as “a funny experiment.”

“If we sat down and planned it out we never would have done it,” she said.

Both women were looking for a business venture that would “be there to support their lifestyles but not run it,” Weiss said.

Rauch worked to fight drug abuse in South America for many years, and also has a deep sense of being “body conscious,” a skill to which she credits the GW dance department. Weiss’s main interest is environmental responsibility.

Weiss said Rauch literally “sold the stuff out of the back of her car” during the beginning stages of the business. Rauch targeted boutiques in L.A. at first, and they soon developed a following in Hollywood. Belabumbum has also been featured in fashion magazines, including Lucky, InStyle and Elle.

When asked if they thought that celebrities were aware that their underwear is made in an environmentally and socially aware factory, both women answered with a resounding, “No!”

Belabumbum has evolved over the years and has also adapted to its founders’ lifestyles. When Weiss became a mother, she got the idea to expand the company to include maternity wear. Both women wanted careers which would “tailor to their lifestyles” and they have truly been able to achieve that.

“You plan ahead, but you may be surprised at where life will take you,” Weiss said. “You pack your bags as well as you can, but you don’t know where you are going.”

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