With networking, seminars and high heels, N.O.’s FestiGals is a ‘girlfriends getaway’

Women are leaving their men at home and heading to New Orleans for FestiGals, a four-day festival for women by women, in and around Hotel Monteleone.

“FestiGals is about empowering and enriching women while adding that New Orleans flair to it,” founder Diane Lyons said.

The “girlfriends getaway weekend” grew from an idea Lyons had post-Hurricane Katrina. Witnessing firsthand the strength and endurance of women, Lyons wanted to celebrate that and what makes the city great. Now in its fourth year, local professionals and entrepreneurial women have embraced FestiGals, and out-of-towners are quickly catching on.

Workshops, seminars, networking, luncheons, shopping, tours and a second-line parade are on this year’s lineup. A new addition is the “Branding You! Day” on Friday.

“I think no matter if you are a CEO or a soccer mom, we all have a brand, and Branding You! is all about making you a better person professionally and personally,” Lyons said.

Entrepreneur, author and ABC’s “Good Morning America” contributor Tory Johnson will be spearheading the day’s Power Luncheon.

“I plan for a very candid conversation about my challenges and triumphs and how I have overcome all kinds of adversity, and how you can, too,” Johnson said. “There is nothing that we can’t accomplish with some fierce determination applied to our goals. I am very much about how to break through some of the excuses and how to make things happen.”

The weekend is also about giving back.

One of FestiGals’ signature events, Bodacious Bras for a Cause, auctions off bras that have been turned into pieces of collectible art.

“Some people will pay $200 for a bra, and others will pay up to $7,000. People buy them, wear them, put them on their wall or hang them in their office,” Lyons said.

One hundred percent of the proceeds from the auction go toward the support of women’s causes, charities and foundations in the Greater New Orleans area.

“The Bodacious Bras for a Cause is my baby. My sister died of breast cancer in 2009, so it was about giving back to her memory and with a fun and crazy event. It is not a typical fundraising lunch; it is over-the-top funny,” Lyons said.

Jill Conner Browne, author of the Southern-fried-humor “Sweet Potato Queen” books, is the keynote speaker for the Bodacious Bras for a Cause luncheon and auction.

“I tell my story. It ends up being uplifting and motivational for anybody, no matter who they are and what is going on with them,” said Browne, an advocate for those with breast cancer. “And hopefully they will laugh a few times.”

Later, women will have the chance to stretch their legs and show off their high heel form at the Stiletto Stroll and Sprint.

“If you have never participated in a second-line parade in your life, this is the chance,” Lyons said. “We have about 20 of the women’s marching crews participating.” Marching bands, a grand diva and the FestiGals are in the middle of it all.

“We also have a sprint event — women running for two blocks in high heels,” Lyons said.

At Friday’s Sip and Shop, participants will wander the Shops of the Upper Pontalba on Jackson Square, wine and cocktails in hand.

“I think anytime you can take a break in your routine and get together with like-minded women, something good has got to come from it,” Browne said.

Said Johnson: “I am always excited to hang out with a bunch of smart, fun, crazy women — a bunch of women who are excited to make things better, better for themselves, their community, their families, their businesses.

“They believe in the power of camaraderie, and they believe in using their collective power to make good things happen.”