Evelyn Lauder: Remembering a Leader
Big things often start out small.
Like the little pink ribbon, which was created by Evelyn Lauder, who endured breast cancer treatment herself. Lauder and her friend, Alexandra Penney, former editor-in-chief of SELF magazine, created the Pink Ribbon campaign in 1992 to increase breast cancer awareness and remind women to get regular breast exams.
This was a cause Evelyn cared about enough to finance herself; initially she and her husband paid for the small pink bows handed out to women at department store makeup counters. Her efforts added up. She continued to hand out Pink Ribbons, promoted the color pink as a breast cancer awareness symbol, received media attention, used the advertising Estee Lauder placed in popular magazines, and persuaded many influential friends who were also in the health and beauty industry to promote breast cancer awareness.
In 1993, Evelyn founded the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, establishing the Pink Ribbon as its symbol; it has raised more than $350 million.
Responsible for international breast cancer awareness, today the “Pink Ribbon” makes headline news. It’s a brand strategy, and it’s responsible for raising millions of dollars for breast cancer research. It’s even spun off some backlash.
Activists talk about “pinkwashing,” and several media outlets have suggested that “Pink fatigue” has set in. Concerns include whether or not “pink products promote a false sense of doing something about breast cancer, the funds collected are directed effectively, the pink campaign fosters gender stereotypes, and if some pink products are actually harmful to women's health,” according to medpagetoday.com
Whether the buzz is good or not-so-good, the Pink Ribbon has done exactly what Evelyn Lauder intended: increase breast cancer awareness, and help fund breast cancer treatment research.
In a way, the Pink Ribbon campaign’s rise to success and popularity replicates that of Evelyn Lauder herself.
The daughter of Austrian immigrants who fled to the U.S. from war-torn Europe in 1940, Evelyn grew up in Manhattan. She met Leonard Lauder in college, married him, and helped with the then-small family business wherever she was needed.
"We had five products in the line,” she told cable news channel NY1 in 2005. "It was a baby company." The Estee Lauder Companies grew in popularity, prestige, and profits. Fulfilling many different roles, Evelyn eventually became the Senior Corporate Vice President and head of fragrance development worldwide.
Evelyn Lauder didn’t start out as a leader, and her Pink Ribbon didn’t start out as an icon. She started out working hard, doing whatever she could for the causes in which she believed. The Pink Ribbon started out as one ribbon handed to one woman at a cosmetics counter.
Evelyn Lauder lost her battle with ovarian cancer this month, but the campaign she launched continues. The Pink Ribbon is everywhere. More than 115 million Pink Ribbons have been handed out worldwide. Breast cancer treatment is being researched internationally. Survival rates have increased significantly, and the messages that breast health and early detection saves lives are prevalent.
Like the Pink Ribbon, it’s the small things in life that make a difference.
Jesse Langley lives near Chicago. She divides her time among work, blogging and family life. She advocates for online mba programs and has a keen interest in women's leadership roles in contemporary society. She also writes for www.professionalintern.com.