On Saturday March 25th, bloggers, editors and stylists, as well as friends and family of the designer gathered for a #fashionshow featuring Zophia by Betsy Garcete Cohen and supporting the charity Mission: Launch, Inc.
Attendees viewed Zophia's collection of CEO skirts inside The Apollo and learned more about challenges facing formerly incarcerated women from Mission Launch co-founder Laurin Hodge.
“I co-founded Mission Launch with my mother as a result of our experience with #massincarceration,” said Hodge. “Our focus is on workforce development — helping women find jobs, as well as an emotional place of ownership and equity to entrepreneurship.”
Started back in 2010, Zophia has exclusively featured made-to-measure #pencilskirts. This spring, Zophia created CEO suits with a matching blazer for a coordinated look. Saturday’s show not only featured #workwear but weekend as well as date night outfits, co-styled by Refine boutique.
Leyla Jasmin of #BeyondHerCurls
Marisa Gonzalez of #CloverRiot and#DCStyleFactory and Rosana Vollmerhausen of #DCStyleFactory
Nicole Leader of #FollowTheLeader and Ashlee Hightower of #CobaltChronicles
DC style bloggers on their way to the Zophia xMission: Launch, Inc. fashion show.
Leigh George (CEO, freedom)
“I think my favorite look was honestly the CEO suit, because it’s classic. But then again, I really liked all of the looks, especially the metallic skirt,” said Veronica, a model who walked in the show.
The Zophia collection demonstrated a range in fabric as well as embellishments, implying a range of context for its customers. One skirt suit was cut entirely from gray tweed, while after it came a skirt stitched with sequins and another with a gold, metallic sheen.
Each outfit was styled with surprising juxtaposition. A loose, cotton t-shirt was tucked into a sleek leather skirt evoking a contemporary (if not youthful) character. Another outfit paired a slouchy sweater tucked into a pencil skirt with the back hanging out. One model strutted with a flowy, white, lace-trimmed peasant top fully tucked into an atomic red leather skirt with a daring slit up the front. Throughout the show, the tops were loose while the skirts were tight, allowing us to feel as though female CEOs not only need structure but comfort, too.
“As a brand, Zophia's mission is incredible,” said Marisa Gonzalez, a stylist at the DC Style Factory and the blogger behind Clover Riot LLC. “I love that they're working to make women of all sizes feel confident and ready to take on the world… [Her] line effortlessly combines femininity, sophistication, and confidence... “each look stood on its own and together they all told a cohesive story. My favorite look was the white architectural one shoulder blouse and the bronze faux leather skirt.”
“The show itself was amazing,” reflected Phoebe McPherson, the blogger behind Honestly, Though. “I loved see the mix of different skirts and what she's been working on… I could definitely see myself in the copper skirt and the tweed CEO suit — who doesn't like a power suit with a mini skirt?”
Garcete Cohen is a petite, smiling, young woman with family roots in Peru. She points to her mother and grandmother, both seamstresses and both in attendance on Saturday, for inspiration on creating a line that both empowers and enables women to stand tall. And although her friendly and welcoming nature greets you immediately, Garcete Cohen is neither soft nor shrinking. Her wide eyes focus in with direct honesty and attention making it easy to feel that, beneath her fun and creative persona, there is a strong woman underneath.
Perhaps this is why Garcete Cohen and Hodge became true friends back in 2012. “We met about 5 years ago,” describes Hodge. “I used to run a coworking space on #UStreet called Affinity Lab, and Betsy came in and she was in grad school and building Zophia as I was building Mission Launch. We kind of built our companies together.”
Hodge, along with her mother Teresa, co-founded Mission Launch in #Baltimore back in 2012. Teresa was sentenced to 87 months in prison in West Virginia for a white-collar, nonviolent offense. Through visiting her mother, Hodge gradually learned the variety of needs of the many women incarcerated in the DMV area. She started working to address the challenges they face once released.
“Women typically represent family. Helping a woman get on her feet is basically helping a family get back on their feet,” said Hodge. “There’s 44,000 known collateral consequences for having an arrest or conviction record. So there’s 44,000 ways in which people come home and can run into a wall with getting back on their feet.”
Laurin holds a business degree from Johns Hopkins University and is currently working on her Masters of Science and Information Systems.“There are a lot of data points that are in there and there’s actually a lot of data that’s missing,” she says on why her next challenge is to tackle the system -- not just the symptoms. “This issue is an extremely misunderstood issue and it requires collecting all the information and packaging it in ways that don't overwhelm people. The Information Systems degree basically teaches me how to get a bunch of data and frame it, so that we can package it to get folks to get educated and engaged.”
The new branch of Misson Launch will manipulate data and analytics to alleviate formerly incarcerated individuals of as many burdens as possible when they re-enter the world, whether it be family reunification issues, inadequate access to healthcare, or struggles with finding jobs.
“The District has several reentry initiatives,” said Hodge. “There’s Mayor Bowser's Office on Returning Citizens Affairs. There’s also a bill called #IncarcerationToIncorporation. You can support organizations like mine and others in the area, and if you are able to, donate your time, as well as make donations. Less than 1 percent of all philanthropic dollars go to reentry specifically so it’s an extremely underfunded issue. The more you can learn about the barriers to reentry and participate in removing them and then also investing in the community organizations that are supporting people the better the city will be.”
Misson Launch is already helping DMV area women feel supported after their time in prison. Zophia’s skirts zipped up tight giving each model on her runway a lifted poise. It’s not hard to see how these two came together: it’s as if Hodge’s efforts to make women stronger also mirrors the way women in Washington look to fashion to lift them up, pull them up, raise them up and launch them through whatever glass ceiling they aim to conquer.
“With everything going on in the world, it’s important now more than ever for us [women] to support each other,” said Dani Sauter, the blogger behind Blonde in the District. “Having a local female owned and operated brand like Zophia in the DC fashion industry is not only a celebration of style, but a celebration of womanhood. Zophia has created a community of like-minded women who value and support one another, and together we empower each other.”
You can donate to Mission Launch on their page. You can visit this website to learn more about the Mayor’s Office on Returning Citizens Affairs and challenges that former inmates face. You can also call your local council member to ask them to support the Incarceration to Incorporation bill.
Zophia’s collection can be viewed on their website. However, custom fittings and appointments are hosted by Refine Boutique in Cathedral Heights.