Bethenny Frankel of reality TV show Real Housewives of New York City and founder of the Skinnygirl low calorie alcoholic beverage brand recently launched her own denim line, Skinnygirl Jeans, which includes jackets, skirts, knitwear, and of course, jeans. Frankel explains that the line is designed to empower all women, encouraging inclusivity and body positivity.
We caught up with the Bravo star at the launch of her line at Lord & Taylor Eastchester to talk about her empire and recent disaster relief efforts.
Why do you think the Skinnygirl brand is so successful?
BF: I think the brand is so successful because no one has been speaking to women. If you think about all of the popular jeans for women, they sound like they’re all men’s names or owned by men or designed by men, and I don’t think since Gloria Vanderbilt there has really been a female empowerment figure speaking to women and what they want and how they feel and what an emotional purchase it is, and that going into a dressing room [to try on jeans] is very scary.
People get anxiety — they get upset [when trying on jeans]. And also to not try to cover up women’s bodies of any size. People all have flaws and all have assets and the clothes are designed to show someone’s body, and that women should be proud of their bodies. [The jeans are] for every body, and women are embracing that, they’re feeling it, they want to be part of it.
It’s the first time since the creation of the brand that women are really understanding what the meaning of the brand is. It is to allow, to indulge, to not feel guilty, to not shame yourself, to not feel bad about yourself.
The [Skinnygirl] cocktail had agave nectar in it — it had sugar in it. It wasn’t something that was trying to make people deprived, and the jeans are not saying, “You need to be skinny or you want to aspire to be skinny.” [The brand] means that everyone’s unleashing her inner “skinny girl.”
That’s why women are feeling themselves, feeling sexy. Everyone’s butt looks incredible which is the important thing, we were on HSN and the host said that it was the first time that she ever showed her “asset” in 25 years, so I just think it’s a sort of a little bit of a movement in women just feeling good about themselves and just owning it, whatever it is.
There are women that we have who are size 18 who say, “I want to show my butt, I like my butt, I don’t like my ankles.” Someone else doesn’t like her muffin top. Someone else has a flat butt, like me. Everyone has something different.
So the jeans are really comfortable, which is number one because I live in pajamas, so [comfort] was really the most important thing, that I could try to find a way to have [the line] be fashionable and aspirational but still comfortable, and that they’re a high quality denim. They don’t stretch out and get saggy, they don’t make you feel like you’re trapped, and they’re at a good price for the quality of the denim that you’re getting. It’s a premium denim brand. They’re not cheap; they’re not a $29 jean, because I wouldn’t put out a product that a $29 jean would buy.
They sold out, they keep selling out and the largest sizes sell out more. It’s been a little stressful because we overshot the mark. I did say that if we build it, they will come, and this happened with cocktails too.
I don’t think anyone understands the relationship that I have with women and my fans and how loyal they are and how I try to listen to them and beat myself up when we can’t get them the jeans fast enough. I’m invested. I’ve designed every single aspect of [the jeans].
The brand is owned by a woman and designed by women. I think that’s important. I don’t want to name other brands, but if you go and look up the top ten jeans brands, they all have a men/masculine-type name, and that was the same thing with the liquor industry. No one was speaking to women, but no one realized it until I started speaking to women. No one thought about it. That’s the same thing with jeans. If you think about all the jeans women are wearing, they’re male-owned and male-designed.
Why do you think they’re a fit for the Westchester woman?
BF: Oh my God, because this is the land of the mom! I am a mom, I pick up and drop off and I want to feel comfortable, but I want to look cute.
Moms want to look cute and have their “girls’ night out” and I think that [the jeans line is] perfect for the Westchester mom. I would say arguably the Westchester mom, when she goes out, she’s making it matter and making it happen because she’s probably working and has kids and doesn’t have that much free time, so when she’s going out or picking up or dropping off [children], she wants to look as cute as she can but not have to feel uncomfortable and stressed out about it.
Can you tell me a little bit about your initiative “bstrong,” which launched last year, and its recent impact?
BF: bstrong initially was to help women in crisis, and then once the disasters all started happening one after another, it became a relief effort. It started in Texas, went to Mexico, [we’ve been] to Guatemala, [we] just got back from North Carolina.
The biggest effort was in Puerto Rico where we sent approximately $60 million in relief, and we’ve raised well over $1 million in cash. I did a female raise recently with just 10 strong women just seeing how much money and what kind of impact 10 women could make, and we raised like $120,000 in two days.
I was able to distribute cash cards there — not to mention all of the awareness and these people are buying #thisisacrisis t-shirts. It has just become a business to me also, just to be able to be organized and be able to pull together an army of people to help when there’s a disaster. I think that I realize that I like when something’s very dire and immediate and it feels like a business in the sense that I know what to do, I can get it done and execute and actually make a difference.