Just in time for environment month, we invited entrepreneur Jeanna Kadlec to tell us about her idea behind her new lingerie business, Bluestockings. We were interested in the steps she is taking to ensure that her business is eco-friendly while also working connect a wide range of the queer community. - Sonny
By guest blogger, Jeanna Kadlec
When people ask how I got the idea to start a lingerie boutique, I think they’re expecting… not the answer they get.
I’ve loved lingerie for years, but I only got the idea for the boutique a few months ago. It was a disgustingly hot, end of summer night in Boston, and I was sitting on my porch drinking beer with a fellow gay lady friend. I remember asking, “Why isn’t there a lingerie store for queers? Like, a store where anyone can walk in and feel safe and secure and accepted and not judged because of their body or their gender identity, where you could walk in with your partner and not have to worry. Doesn’t a store like that exist?”
I did some research and realized that no, a store like that really doesn’t exist. Explicitly queer-friendly brands are slowly emerging and often have their own e-commerce platforms, but they are virtually never stocked in lingerie boutiques and department stores. Still more common is for lifestyle brands to develop their own line of underwear. What’s especially disappointing to me, as a lingerie enthusiast, is that I see so many independent designers doing awesome work that doesn’t even ping the radar of the queer fashion community because the markets are so segmented.
Days after that initial conversation, I couldn’t shake the idea and the desire to do something to bridge that divide. I kept researching. I joined twitter. The name for the store immediately came to me (courtesy of my graduate school education—Bluestockings were a badass group of literary ladies in 18th century England). Before I knew it, I was applying to the Small Business Administration for an EIN (Employer Identification Number).
I founded Bluestockings to empower people who have been marginalized by the mainstream lingerie industry and to offer them an experience that reflects their bodies, their identities, and their values. The store’s motto is “underthings for everyone,” because I believe that everyone deserves a safe, affirming experience. Shopping for underthings is a really vulnerable experience, and it’s especially important that in that environment—of all places—you see your body and your identity represented. This means making sure that language is inclusive for everyone: MAAB, FAAB, genderqueers, cis-queers, anyone who has had it up to their ears with the patriarchy. Is there anyone whose hand isn’t up?
In order to create a safe space for people who are used to being kept on the margins, I’m focusing on three main areas in which it’s essential to be inclusive: size, style, and sustainability.
Suffice it to say, I believe that stocking items is showing someone that you care about representing them. Yes, it is really hard—borderline impossible—to be all things to all people. However, I think it is definitely possible to represent more than those who fall within the S-L and 32-38 A-D range, which is what the industry regards as normative. Representation is not an idea—it’s a practice.
Style is harder. The word “lingerie” is strongly associated with femininity, which is an understandably problematic construct for many within the queer community. The aesthetics of lingerie boutiques themselves don’t help much: the light, pastel colors, vintage décor, plush furniture, chandeliers, and the lingerie itself (lacy shit everywhere) definitely furthers the impression that this stuff is for the straight girly girls and high femmes in your life.
But honestly, style in underthings isn’t just about stocking boxer briefs and binders. I mean, on the one hand, it totally is, because that’s not something you can walk into most lingerie boutiques and find a plethora of. Style is about presenting options: options that have been curated in a thoughtful way. The one thing I don’t want to do is try to tell queer people what “queer lingerie” looks like. Fuck, I don’t know what it looks like. It looks like what I wear—which is different from what my girlfriend wears, which is different from what my friends wear. It’s about having the option to wear something—or not—and having that choice validated in the language that’s used on the website and in the availability of other things that are clearly also for you.
What’s more, underthings are a much-neglected area of our wardrobes when it comes to using our buying power for the environment. When it comes to underthings, eco-friendly shopping means supporting independent designers who use ethical and sustainable manufacturing practices and/or who utilize organic and/or vegan materials in their designs. It’s easy to buy cheap undergarments, but what makes those undergarments cheap is the fabric and especially the labor. For people who are interested in shopping ethically, lingerie and underthings are an easy (and small) area of your wardrobe to transform, piece by piece. It can admittedly be a mindfuck to start paying $20 (or more) for a pair of underwear where you were used to paying $5, but not only will that item be of better quality, it will have been made by someone who was paid fairly for their labor and who was working in ethical, humane conditions.
Starting a business is a steep learning curve. I don’t have a business background, and I’ve definitely thought “Why me?” one or two or twelve times over the last few months. But I see a need, and I’m not willing to wait for someone else to fill it. We need more safe spaces within the lingerie industry, within fashion—I could keep getting broader but I won’t—that are value and identity-affirming. Admittedly, no place is perfect, and a store isn’t a perfect vehicle for activism (hi, capitalism). But it’s another small dent, another small win. And right now, queers need all of the small wins we can get.
P.S. Hey Qwear readers! Feel like going the extra mile to help an LGBTQ-identified entrepreneur out? Take this survey and help Bluestockings with a little market research ☺