Victoria's Secret helps 'boost' the assets of cash-rich women around the world, with its bust-enhancing bras. But according to reports the lingerie company is also improving the lives of thousands of rural Indian women who are responsible for creating the garments.
Traditionally confined to the house, spending their days doing chores, making meals, cleaning and looking after the family, an increasing number are said to be realising the benefits of economic freedom. Indian villager Jaya, 22, who has recently been making up one of Victoria's Secrets most popular innovations - the padded 'Very Sexy' push-up bra, said: 'I knew nothing but the village before.
'My parents just wanted me married as quickly as possible. 'They never saw me as an asset, just a burden. They did not think a woman could earn money, but look at me.' On Intimate Fashion's massive factory floor, in India's Tamil Nadu state hundreds of women can be seen wearing aprons and headscarves, in the Victoria's Secret signature pink. The firm - which also produces bras for Victoria's Secret brand 'Pink' and the La Senza brand - is one of thousands of companies that have cropped up in the area over recent years. And Mamandur village, just a 30 minutes drive away, provides a steady pool of young women for the factory which employs around 2,500 workers.
If it wasn't for this project, we would be in big trouble.' The World Bank provided a $350 million loan to fund the Pudhu Vaazhvu (meaning 'New Life' in Tamil) project, helping to identify jobless youths in local village committees. Firms are then connected with individuals and hold rural job fairs at least once a month - giving presentations, answering questions on qualifications, training and salaries - in particular focusing recruiting on young female employees.
Officials say firms have to adopt 'culturally sensitive' approaches such as bringing parents to see their manufacturing units to show them the environment their daughters will be working and living in as some girls must stay in hotels set up by employers. 'Initially, it was strange to see rural women working. Our society has kept women at homes in their traditional roles as homemakers,' says Shajeevana R.V. from Tamil Nadu's Rural Development Department. 'But now, these young women are breadwinners. Not only that, we are seeing positive social changes taking place due to these jobs.
'Divya earns more than I thought possible. My two younger girls can go to school and we have bought a fridge, a television and even tiled our floors in our house. She is like the son I never had. She brings me and my family respect.' Most villagers in the region are dependent on manual labour, working on farms for a daily wage of 100 rupees ($2). The U.S. lingerie giant is currently racing to open its first UK stores before July 28 in a bid to capitilise on tourism driven by the London Olympics.