Romeo pays more than lip service to raising awareness of dating violence

Jan. 15, 2003 9:17 a.m.

Lorin Romeo, office coordinator for the Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources and Education (SHARE) office, has a motto she lives by: "Share your dreams with each person you meet. If the person can't help you, he or she may know someone who can."

Romeo has put that philosophy to work to start a not-for-profit company that helps raise awareness of dating violence among college students.

The project started when Romeo created a cosmetics company from her college apartment three years ago. Romeo was studying painting at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia when she decided to try her hand at cosmetics. To get the venture off the ground, she made cold calls to cosmetics manufacturers, accountants and marketers seeking advice and help.

"I kept calling one person after another until I found someone who was willing to hold my hand," she said. Romeo funded the venture herself, hiring a chemist to help her design a line of high-end lipsticks and lip glosses. She named the company Toscana, after her Italian great-grandmother, and ordered 20,000 lipstick tubes with "Toscana" embossed along the side.

And then, after two years of work, Romeo hit a serious roadblock: A major cosmetics company said she was committing trademark infringement by using the name Toscana, which was similar to the name of a product in that company's line. Romeo consulted five lawyers, who told her that without deep pockets, there was no way to mount a legal challenge.

"I had to stop," she said. "It was absolutely horrendous for me." She moved on, relocating to Princeton after her college graduation and getting a job at an investment firm. Then in June 2001, Romeo was skimming through the pages of Lucky magazine when she saw an ad asking for donations of empty lipstick tubes.

"It felt like fate," Romeo said. An organization called My Sister's Place, a shelter for battered women and their children in Washington, D.C., was using lipstick tubes to distribute information to victims of domestic violence. Tucked inside the tubes, instead of lipstick, was a small piece of paper printed with phone numbers and information on how to get help. The Washington police and officials at Andrews Air Force Base were giving the lipsticks to women.

"You couldn't give a woman a pamphlet -- what if her abuser found it?" Romeo pointed out. "She would throw a pamphlet in the garbage. But you could slip her a lipstick. It's discreet, and the abuser wouldn't think of looking in there."

Romeo donated her 20,000 unused lipstick tubes to My Sister's Place, and started helping the organization publicize its efforts. Soon she decided to reconfigure her dormant cosmetics company as a not-for-profit that would bring awareness to and educate people about dating violence, as well as give them information on where to get help. She renamed her company the Toscana Fellowship.

The full story is available in the Weekly Bulletin .

Contact: Ruth Stevens (609) 258-3601