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Kerry Washington is a very busy woman.
Ahead of Scandal's season premiere Thursday, she appeared on Good Morning America and Live! With Kelly and Michael. After a full day of press, E! News caught up with her at an event in New York City in support of the Allstate Foundation's Purple Purse campaign, bringing awareness to domestic violence and financial abuse. Washington co-hosted with Dee Ocleppo, Tommy Hilfiger and Saks Fifth Avenue.
After rushing off the red carpet to see Pope Francis make his way down Fifth Avenue, Washington returned to the purple carpet to shed light on the cause.
"When the Allstate Purple Purse Foundation first came to me about this opportunity, I had never hear the words 'financial abuse' before. I didn't really know that it was a thing, a specific thing, but it makes so much sense that this is kind of the silent weapon that keeps women trapped. It's the No. 1 reason women don't leave abusive relationships and the No. 1 reason women go back, because they feel like they can't take care of themselves financially," said Washington, who designed her first Purple Purse in 2014. "To be able to be part of a solution that has a real, tangible impact that gives women the tools that they specifically need to be able to walk away and end this cycle of violence, it's really gratifying."
Another gratifying moment came Sunday when Viola Davis became the first black woman to receive the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series award at the Primetime Emmys. It was a victory not only for Davis, but for all black actresses—and Washington and Empire's Taraji P. Henson couldn't be prouder.
In 2012, after Scandal took off, Washington told Oprah Winfrey, "We buy into this idea of competition. It is out there, but it comes from a myth that there is a lack. It comes from a belief that if I succeed, someone else can't, as opposed to if I succeed, I create the opportunity for more people to succeed."
Seeing Davis win only validated what Washington said three years ago. "Look at the proof of that! It's such proof of that idea that it's not about competition. For Viola to win, and for Taraji and I to be sitting in the front row and for her to call out our names along with all of the other women who are doing this work right now, that is absolute proof that you don't need to believe that there are limited pieces of the pie," Washington told E! News. "The more pie we make, the more we all get to eat!"
Washington later appeared onstage to unveil the Purple Purse, sold exclusively at Saks Fifth Avenue. A portion of the proceeds from every sale will benefit the Allstate Foundation Purple Purse nonprofits. "Fashion seems kind of simple, seems strange maybe, seems disconnected from the issue," she said. "But I want to explain why it's so important to me that we're having this conversation through fashion."
"I did not grow up being a girl who really knew a whole lot about fashion. My mom really instilled in me the idea that it was very important to cultivate who I was on the inside as opposed to who I was on the outside—she's a college professor. I really learned about fashion very late in life," she said. "I learned about fashion because I started to work as an actress and I started having to show up on red carpets. I started to have to think about marketing myself on the red carpet. I started to have to think about what I was going to wear, because people were going to ask me, 'What are you wearing?' So I began a rapid education in fashion. I think because I came to it late in life, I studied it with the fervor that I study things that I commit to in life. I learned who all the designers were, I learned the history of the houses, I learned what clothes looked good on me, what things I wanted to one day be able to wear. I really drenched myself in learning about fashion. It has become, as many of you know, a very big part of my life, a very big part of my job, but also something that I really enjoy, something that I'm really passionate about."
"I went to the Emmy Awards last weekend and I had the honor of wearing this really incredible dress," she said of her Marc Jacobs design. "I was very lucky. It was right of the runway. I felt very special in it. I was really happy to be in it. When I get dressed for an event, my goal is to wear something that I feel good in, because I feel like if I wear something that is with the goal of trying to impress people or make people like me or make people like it, I'm going to go home upset, because no matter what you wear, no matter what you do, you can't please everybody all of the time. So, I always wear something that feels good on me. This particular night, a lot of people agreed with me. A lot of people liked this dress that I was wearing and it made me, to be completely honest...it made me uncomfortable."
"We have turned fashion into a competition where we've decided that some people are better than other people, which for me, takes some of the sense of art out of it and turns something creative into a race. So, I was really grateful that people agreed with me, but it also made me nervous because I don't want to be seduced by that ever," Washington said. "I want to make sure that in my life I always wear things that I feel great about because I feel great about them."
"When the Allstate Foundation called me about the opportunity to design Purple Purse, I was really excited because this was an opportunity to work in fashion in a way that wasn't about making people feel uncool if they can't afford something, or making people feel like they had to measure up," she said. "It was a way of living in fashion that was about making women understand their power. This purse is not about being an 'it bag.' It's not about being cool and beautiful—it happens to be super cool and beautiful—but the bag is about empowering women."
"A purse is the symbol of a woman's financial well-being. A purse is a symbol of where a woman keeps the things that matter to her. And purple is the color for domestic violence awareness. This purse is a tool to unlock the conversation," the Golden Globe-nominated actress said inside The Oak Room. "It's hard to talk about a broken wrist. It's hard to talk about a black eye. It's hard to talk about having your credit destroyed. It's really fun to talk about fashion...When you make it about a purse, some of the stigma dissolves and the fear evaporates and people open up their hearts—and hopefully their wallets—and become part of the solution."