Tag Archives: business

where can LGBT people buy lingerie?

The easy answer is, wherever they want! But that’s also kind of like saying that anyone in America can achieve the American Dream and be a billionaire if they work hard enough (and we all know that’s not true).

A lot factors into where we shop. Just look at how your own shopping habits have changed from the time you were a teenager to where you are now. Consider such basic factors as where you grew up, changes in socioeconomic status, education level, and also social factors like the brand loyalties of family members and close friends. Major influences.

Sexuality is also a component that informs us as consumers. On the one hand, it can be political — seriously, find me a queer or an ally who will eat at Chick-Fil-A. But it can be more subtle. Some environments range from uncomfortable to hostile for LGBT people, for a variety of reasons. So if we reframe the question more carefully: where can LGBT people buy underthings where…

Chantal Thomass' flagship store on the Rue Saint-Honore in Paris. An intimidating storefront, even for me.

Chantal Thomass’ flagship store on the Rue Saint-Honoré in Paris. An intimidating storefront, even for me.

a) they will be treated like a potential customer

— meaning: they won’t be judged for what they look like (e.g. gender presentation, “alternative lifestyle haircuts,” piercings/tattoos, and/or the general assumptions about socioeconomic class that boutique owners make on a regular basis. also includes how they’re treated when shopping with someone who is obviously their partner — is the staff comfortable around them? does the staff prohibit partners from seeing each other in the dressing room?)

Gap Body Window Display - cause men and women are "born to fit together"

Gap Body Window Display – cause men and women are “born to fit together”

b) assumptions won’t be made about their sexuality

— meaning: In a store, solo shoppers won’t have to deal with staff saying “Your boyfriend would love that!” (Even if he would). Online, they won’t have to deal with gift buying guides, wish list registries, and general language explicitly tailored to male customers, implying that the only people who would buy lingerie as gifts are male partners. This is harmful for EVERYONE because it not only reinforces lingerie as 1) heteronormative but 2) it positions lingerie-wearers as objects for the male gaze.

Victoria's Secret - Chicago

Victoria’s Secret – Chicago

c) they have options in styles they find appealing

— meaning: LGBT people are people! They don’t just want to wear the high femme underthings stocked in so many brick & mortar and online boutiques. This is a particularly acute issue for LGBT persons with a more androgynous and/or butch sensibility.

Hopeless Lingerie

Hopeless Lingerie

d) they actually feel comfortable

— meaning: safe. accepted. valued. seen.

So, is there a place for LGBT people to buy lingerie that is explicitly identity- and values- affirming?

A scant handful. Sway Lingerie is one of the only explicitly queer-identified lingerie websites in existence, and their claim to fame is in pairing erotic stories with lingerie. Wishes and Kisses is explicitly geared towards men and trans* people who buy lingerie, and their selection is excellent. The language the owner uses about the trans* community is outdated, but the desire to treat her customers with respect is also communicated. I have mixed feelings about the language used on the website; it’s ultimately a personal judgement call.

A lot of the issues that face LGBT customers are not uncommon. The desire for a wider range of styles, the frustration with the singular presentation of heterosexuality in the industry, and the general feeling of a lack of safety and comfort when lingerie shopping is something I hear about on a regular basis. It’s disturbing. Customers should not feel unsafe in a store. People should not feel unsafe, ever.

My goal with Bluestockings is to create a safe space in which people can explore and play with lingerie and underthings. It’s fun! It’s for us. So, how do we make that space?

1. Include you. Use inclusive language that doesn’t make assumptions about how you live your life.

2. Show you our values (which may be your values, too). Offer a range of styles from indie designers (a lot of the designers we want to stock are women). Give you the chance to support a number of designers who are manufacturing ethically and/or staying local.

3. Represent you. And listen to you when we don’t. We take that “range of styles” thing seriously. And when you aren’t seeing what you like? Tell us! Let’s talk about it.

In curating this collection, I hope that the LGBT community gets just one more option — Bluestockings isn’t the answer, it’s not the end all and be all to what is a massive and systemic problem of representation in the lingerie and fashion industry, more broadly. But it will, hopefully, be a dent. Hopefully, a few brands will be willing to take a risk on an unknown online boutique with a mission. And hopefully, a few people will feel a little more seen.

P.S. Just cause we’re not open yet doesn’t mean we can’t start talking about what you as a customer want to see. And if you’re a designer who is on board with Bluestockings’ message and would be interested in talking options, you can email me at jeanna@bluestockingsboutique.com or message me on Twitter. It’s never too early to connect.

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On Business & Social Justice

Entrepreneur Magazine recently published an article by Davis Smith called Before Incorporating a Social Mission, Consider These Five Things. Smith himself is the founder and CEO of Cotopaxi, an outdoor gear company with the slogan “Gear for Good” (they do cool things like offer a “human lifespan guarantee” on their product; lifespan is based on avg lifespan of a person living in an underdeveloped country, according to the WHO). 

So, Smith is obvs a white guy do-gooder genuinely trying to make a difference.

On the one hand, he makes some excellent points. For example, #4: A Social Mission Does Not Equate to Freebies. Excellent point. TOMS has come under fire for flooding local markets in Africa with shoe donations and consequently putting local sellers out of business. In the article, Smith points to Warby Parker as an example of how to do it right, noting that instead of (what Smith notably does not call) the TOMS model of giving a pair for every pair purchased, Parker instead “work[s] with nonprofit partners who train entrepreneurs in developing countries to give basic eye exams and sell glasses in their communities.” Hugely important distinction!

But, good points aside, I have some major issues with the article. 

No, the social mission can’t be an afterthought (point #2), but I cannot express how strongly I disagree with point #1: “money comes first.”

Before you rush to say I’m overreacting, let me say that I understand what he’s saying. Businesspeople have to remember that they are running a business. It’s not enough to pay your bills. Without profit, you can’t expand. Fair points.

But if you found your business as a response to social injustice, the minute you privilege the almighty dollar over serving the people for whom you started your work, you have lost your way.

Money. Cannot. Come First.

I say this as someone who is in the early stages of startup, as someone who is trying to pull money together and figure out how to pitch to investors. Yes, money is important. I get that. Oh my lord, do I get that. But I am not willing to sacrifice principle for a quick buck. 

Smith writes, “Your first objective is to run a profitable and sustainable business. You will have no positive social impact if your business fails.” 

First off, running a “profitable and sustainable” business is necessarily separate from from having a “social impact” with the same said business, and to distinguish the two is to betray the capitalist assumptions/priorities latent in his writing. I can have a marginally profitable business that is run ethically and sustainably, that appeals to customers who share my concerns and values about the world at large. 

But even if the business fails, I will still have a positive social impact — it just won’t be through that particular business. And my profit margins don’t have to be through the roof to keep this going. The point of Bluestockings is not to get rich. The point is to do business differently. To serve a community I am passionate about, that I am a part of, and that has been wholly underrepresented and marginalized by an industry that I want so desperately to love.

That is the point. 

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The Power of Kickstarter Lingerie

Up and coming lingerie companies are increasingly using crowdfunding to back their collections. Like all kickstarter campaigns, these companies aren’t just launching a product — they’re launching a brand. And by using crowdfunding, they are allowing consumers to “talk back” to the lingerie industry.

A number of new brands with a lot of industry buzz have secured funding for first and second collections through Kickstarter, among them Ampere, BlackBird Underpinnings (selected as “One to Watch” at Lingerie Fashion Week A/W 2014), Naja (which did two successful campaigns), Najla, Rachel Rector, Angela Friedman, and Relique. San Francisco-based designer Filiz Rezvan is the latest luxury lingerie startup to go the Kickstarter route (full disclosure: I’m backing them — I love their aesthetic and am a strong believer in startups that stay local).

So, why go the Kickstarter route and eschew traditional funding through banks, venture capitalists, and angel investors? Aside from the fact that Kickstarter can be quicker (barring the time it takes to finish the product prototype and make the movie widely considered essential to a successful campaign), there’s one key component that Kickstarter has built into its system.

Community.

By and large, these designers are doing business differently. They are small businesses with strongly articulated visions that resonate with consumers who want their purchases to mean something and would rather not shop at big chains, where it’s not clear where the money goes, who the business supports, or where the materials come from.

"Krissy" brief -- Filiz Rezvan

“Krissy” brief — Filiz Rezvan

Crowdfunding facilitates easy communication between creators and backers, who are often existing or potential customers. Creators can quickly and clearly share their vision, which in the case of lingerie designers often includes keeping it local (e.g. Filiz Rezvan, who wants to train local San Francisco seamstresses and do business family-style) but can also have a more global scope (e.g. Naja’s founder, Columbian-born Catalina Girald, brought her company to Columbia in order to give a livelihood to single moms). When the vision is clear, potential backers are empowered in the opportunity to put their money where their mouth is. Put simply, it feels good to support people who do business in a way you can respect.

"Lily" Set -- Ampere

“Lily” Set — Ampere

The best Kickstarter campaigns foster a sense of transparency between creators and backers. A number of these brands, perhaps most notably Ampere, have tapped into lingerie buyers’ dissatisfaction with current industry practices. The simple takeaway from Ampere’s campaign was that lingerie buying should not be as hard (or expensive) as it is. Ampere provides an enormous range of sizes (which are clearly explained), sends multiple sizes for home try on in the mail, and then gives free shipping and returns. It’s an easy message for backers to get behind.

"Josephine" bloomers -- BlackBird Underpinnings

“Josephine” bloomers — BlackBird Underpinnings

When vision and transparency come together, it’s a recipe for success. BlackBird Underpinnings packed a lot of information into their video that (successfully) sought funding for their first collection. The creators shared their design background, how they met, their frustration with the fashion industry, how their product answered those frustrations, and key questions like how and where their collection was being made (locally at a factory in San Francisco), all offset by beautiful shots of models walking around in pieces from their “Maven” collection to the lilting sounds of old music from the 1920s — all in under four minutes.

Kickstarter isn’t just about giving people the chance to invest in a cool product; it’s about giving them the chance to feel like they’re a part of something. And with an industry as frustrating and obscure as lingerie (and fashion, generally), giving people something a little bit different, that resonates with them on a personal level, makes all the difference.

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bluestocking’s core four values

True story: trying to title your company values in a non-cheesy way is kind of impossible.

In the end, I shamelessly stole the title from my mother. My mom has a nickname for the four most important people in her life: she calls us her “core four.” It’s not surprising that I thought of relationships, because it’s the people — the community — that are driving this idea.The idea for the store is about curating a collection of items and special delivering it to people who aren’t used to having those items chosen with them in mind, in an industry that all too often privileges particular kinds of bodies and identities and, however unintentionally, leaves those who don’t fit feeling — well, like they don’t fit.

With all of that in mind, these are bluestocking’s core four values:

1. Underthings are for everyone. Everyone should be able to shop in an environment where they feel accepted and safe.

2. Consent is critical. It’s not enough to say I’m a feminist-minded businessperson — I’ve got to follow through. This means prioritizing consent at every stage, from how I conduct market research right now in the startup phase to how sales associates interact with customers in the eventual brick & mortar store (read: not pressuring people to buy).

3. Representation is a practice, not an idea. It is vital to actively curate a bold selection of high quality lingerie in a variety of styles and sizes that is identity-affirming and ethically made. The most important piece of the puzzle? To have it in stock and not in the back corner.

4. Support the community we’re a part of and the broader world we live in. This is a small business. That means putting a premium on connecting with other small businesses. It means supporting and stocking independent designers who use resources local to their regions and who engage in ethical, sustainable business practices.

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meet bluestockings: an alternative lingerie boutique

When I asked my friends if they would shop at an alternative, feminist-minded, queer-friendly lingerie boutique that stocked hard to find sizes and decidedly non-traditional underthings, the response was an overwhelming yes, quickly followed by, why the hell doesn’t this exist yet? and, when are you opening?

This was tremendously encouraging, since I am passionate about bringing this shop into being: first as an online boutique, and eventually as a brick and mortar store that will be both lingerie shop and safe community space.

Creating a store that is a safe, welcoming space — that is feminist in its founding principles — is crucial to my approach, even as I work on the online boutique. Being “safe” and “welcoming” means explicitly communicating that anyone who likes wearing lingerie is welcome here. It means not having to wonder whether we will stock your size. It means not having to worry about whether you belong here based on the layout or marketing of the website, implicit assumptions about your life in the language that is used, and the brands that we carry. Stocking a variety of sizes is about allowing various populations to see themselves represented and valued. Stocking clean-cut boxer briefs alongside lacy thongs literally removes the physical and metaphorical space that we place between those items when we designate them as being for one gender or another, as “fancy” or “casual,” as if such adjectives were the same thing to all people.

Underthings are just underthings, no matter who they are worn by. They should fit you well. They should be comfortable. And they should make you feel awesome and downright giddy. Basically how I feel when I put on my Wonder Woman underpants.

So, my friends.

If you walk into a lingerie boutique and everything is a bit too frilly for your liking, we are here for you.

If you walk into a lingerie boutique and have serious doubts about being able to find your size—whether because you wear a 28D, a 30A, a 38B, or a 40J—we are here for you .

If you aren’t a cis-woman and would like to be able to find all of your underthings under one roof, we are here for you.

If you want to get on the ground floor of a startup alternative lingerie boutique and have input in what you would like to see in your ideal store, jump on in! It’s all hands on deck.

Welcome, friends. I’m so glad you’re here.

Jeanna

– Jeanna

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