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Two Business Women Uplift a Foreign Economy With Lingerie BY ELIZABETH CHANG Sunday, December 30, 2007 Heidi Rauch has found a somewhat unusual approach to addressing the problem of global poverty — she's started a lingerie company. Heidi, 38, grew up in Buffalo, attended college and graduate school in the District and took a job with the Organization of American States in 1991, fighting drug abuse in poor neighborhoods in South America. One point kept hitting home, she says: 'If you can create jobs, you can create a dent in the problem of poverty.' A former modern dancer who had designed form-fitting costumes, Heidi had noticed that lingerie and swimwear made in South America were better cut and more comfortable, she says, and at a 2000 Christmas gathering had mused that she should import them. Sure, her father said, and you could sell them on the Internet. Heidi mentioned the lingerie concept to friend and fellow George Washington grad Alyssa Weiss, 38, who was living in New York and at a career crossroads. 'I thought it was just a funny idea, but worth a try,' says Alyssa, whose eclectic work experience includes acting, designing costumes for children's theater and experience in retail sales. 'We started looking for suppliers, basically knowing nothing about the sewn-garment industry,' says Heidi. 'But I knew how to get things done in South America.' The duo discovered a factory in a lingerie outlet town in the state of Rio de Janeiro, designed some samples and placed a small order. They named the company 'Belabumbum,' Portuguese for beautiful bottom. Its lingerie and swimwear is designed for what the company Web site calls 'fun-loving, sassy women' using 'innovative cuts and fabrics.' Belabumbum made its trade show debut in November 2001. Alyssa had her first child in 2002, inspiring the addition of maternity lingerie and loungewear to the line. She deals with customers and the company's 20 salespeople, while Heidi handles production. From 2001 to 2004, 'I worked at the OAS and funded the entire business,' says Heidi, who is the majority owner. Her father was the company's only other investor. After leaving the OAS in 2004, Heidi married and moved with her husband, Lars Krutak, to Arizona, where he attended graduate school. 'It was time to really just run this business,' which she calls 'my little microdevelopment project.' She and Lars, an anthropologist and a tattoo expert working on an upcoming Discovery Channel series, moved back to Washington this year. Their first child is due in March. Belabumbum, which has been a hit with Hollywood stars such as Lindsay Lohan and Halle Berry, is available online, as well as in upscale boutiques, chains such as Anthropologie and maternity stores. 'I think it's a great line. It's fun, it's sexy, it's comfortable, and the maternity's great,' says Cyla Weiner, co-owner of SyLene in Chevy Chase, where Bellabumbum's popular boy shorts run in the mid-$30 range and racerback bras cost $35 to $45. And, especially important to Heidi, it has created about 60 jobs in Brazil, and the factory it uses has won social and environmental responsibility awards from the state of Rio's small business agency, she says. The company hopes to break $1 million in sales this year. Heidi can envision selling it someday and consulting with bigger companies that want to make a difference in the developing world. 'It's possible for brands with big resources to do good,' she says. 'But they need help to actually do it.'