Opening a small business is already a feat in itself, but being a small business owner during a pandemic just adds another layer to the grind. And there are venues around Philadelphia that still strive to not only keep their doors open and customers happy, but to also help others in need at the same time.
Take Je Suis Jolie, one of Philadelphia’s only luxury lingerie boutiques. Next Wednesday, Je Suis will be hosting Cloud 9, a bra drive for the nonprofit Free The Girls and a special evening of shopping on Sept. 29. The aim of this event is not just to have fun, but to support a cause that is helping victims of human trafficking around the world.
The path for this event, however, started with a love for fashion and a will to make women more comfortable when shopping.
“From a young age I always wanted to own my own boutique; and in my early twenties, I learned about the fine lingerie and intimate apparel industry while working at a local suburban store. After spending my entire life in Philadelphia, I came to realize that what Center City really needed, I had to offer,” explains Je Suis Jolie owner Jennifer Rosen.
In 2012 Rosen worked to open her very own store, and launched under the name Hope Chest before rebranding in 2019 as Je Suis Jolie.
“I put everything I had, and all of my experiences, into building my store from scratch and focused on creating a comfortable environment for women to be fitted for a bra and find their perfect intimate apparel. Taking that risk at such a young age was the best decision I have ever made.”
Shortly after being in business and having discussions with customers, Rosen was also connected to Free The Girls, whose mission is to provide a life of freedom and opportunity for girls who were once enslaved in sex trafficking.
“I had so many customers who would tell me that they were going to throw out their bras after purchasing new ones and I was determined to find a better way to recycle them,” says Rosen. “After doing a little research, I came across a CNN story about Free the Girls on YouTube that really touched my heart, and I have been a partner and a third-party drop box location ever since. It is an incredible organization and I am so proud to support their mission.”
According to its official website, Free The Girls launched its first pilot program in Mozambique in 2011 after co-founders Dave Terpstra and Kimba Langas envisioned a way to provide safe economic opportunities for victims of sex trafficking. They wanted to answer the question, “What are these women being rescued to?” Since then, their efforts have been able to generate over 1.2 million new and gently used bras from women all over the world and even added a program in Costa Rica.
During next week’s event, Philadelphians will have a chance to help, while simultaneously joining a special celebration.
“To start: [The event will feature] good music, great food, and as always, a unique shopping experience,” Rosen explains. “I know people usually celebrate their 10th anniversaries, but after such a difficult year and a half, we thought: Why not celebrate this year instead? We made it through a really uncertain time and the resurgence of our business makes us feel like we are on ‘Cloud 9.’ And after nine wonderful years, we can’t think of a better reason to celebrate.”
Aside from the shopping, people who head to the boutique will also have a taste of some local flavors and gifts all showcasing what the city has to offer.
“We wanted to serve desserts to celebrate nine sweet years in Rittenhouse and we are so lucky to have ‘fluffy’ treats from Chef Abby Dahan,” continues Rosen. “The event will also have some awesome giveaways from local brands, like X Training Bryn Mawr and Home Appétit, gifts with purchase and of course, the bra drive. After all of the support we have received from our community this year, we are most excited to be in the position to be able to use our platform to give back. If you are cleaning out your closet or ready to upgrade your bra or camisole styles, we really hope you’ll stop by and donate what you no longer need.”
Overall, Rosen and Je Suis Jolie have worked as a partner and bra drop location for Free The Girls for almost a decade. Bras and the second-hand clothing market provide a safe and powerful economic opportunity for women in the developing countries they serve, and survivors can earn a safe income selling bras in the second-hand marketplace. Je Suis would love to get as many people as possible to donate during the event.
“I’d also say to come camera-ready (with your mask) and ready to shop. We are going to have all of our new fall lines available and a little something for every pandemic style. Whether you are looking for lingerie or perhaps some cozy loungewear for the new season, we’ve got you covered. We can also do bra fittings upon request if it’s something you haven’t done in a while… I know some of us took a little break from our bras during the pandemic and that is ok, but if you feel like you are unsure of your size, we can get you in the styles that will fit and make you feel your best,” Rosen says. “Also, gentlemen, don’t be shy. Come by and grab a drink and have a treat…everyone is welcome.”
Overall, the last year and a half has been daunting for all industries throughout the city, but at this time Rosen feels she needs to step in to remind everyone there are better days ahead and chances to continue to serve others. If there’s anything we’ve learned during COVID-19, it’s that communities can make a difference when they band together.
“Philadelphia is known as an underdog city, but in the end we always come out on top. The Philly small business community is incredibly tight-knit and as resilient as any group I’ve ever seen. This event isn’t just a celebration of my store, but a celebration of the entire Philadelphia retail community,” explains Rosen. “When I look at pictures from our first-year anniversary party to our recent social media posts, I feel so proud of all of our accomplishments, growth and contributions to the city.”
For this specific event, guests are asked to bring a new or gently used bra (all sizes and styles will be accepted), including sports bras, nursing bras, and camisoles to be donated. Cloud 9 will be open to the public for walk-ins, but RSVPS are suggested. They kindly ask that you email, firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to attend. In an effort to keep everyone safe, they will be requiring masks and limiting the amount of people in the store throughout the evening, but hope that guests will take advantage of their special anniversary window installation and photo opportunities outside.
“While we are so excited to be celebrating nine years, I just have to say that after the event we really hope that shoppers will continue to come out and support all of the small retail businesses in the neighborhood, especially as we get closer to the holiday season,” finishes Rosen. “We are a very small staff and appreciate every little purchase; and ultimately we want to be able to remain here to celebrate a decade with everyone in 2022.”