Interview with Cora Harrington
Tell us about your experience as a Black woman in the lingerie industry. How do you think your experience has been different from other industry professionals?
My experience with the intimate apparel industry has been they're often conservative and exclusionary, on the axes of gender, sexuality, disability, and, of course, race and ethnicity. Brands are more likely to ignore Black professionals, to assume Black professionals are working for other people (as opposed to owning their own brands), to confuse Black professionals with each other, and to avoid working with Black professionals. This has not only been my experience, but also the experience of other Black professionals I've spoken to... including the 5 women on my panel. More than that, in terms of how products are actually sold, brands are reluctant to use Black models (especially darker skinned Black models with kinkier hair), reluctant to work with Black influencers, and many brands refuse to offer darker-toned nudes or even change the names of their bra colors from words like "nude" or "skin" to more neutral names that don't imply whiteness is the default.
How do you think companies can seriously integrate Black people in a way which can have a lasting impact on the intimate industry itself?
Consistency is key as is listening to Black people in this industry. It's not enough to post a black square on Instagram. Do Black people work for your company? Are there any Black execs? Are the Black people in your company offered mentorship? Are you more likely to hire through friends or previous industry contacts instead of searching for and interviewing more diverse candidates? All of this takes effort, and it may feel uncomfortable. That's good. It means you're reaching beyond what's familiar to you. That discomfort is necessary if we want a more inclusive and diverse industry that is welcoming to Black people.
Do you think the lingerie industry should support Black-owned businesses and if yes in what way?
Absolutely, and there are a variety of ways to do this. Are Black people included on panels at industry events? Do Black people lead and moderate panels? If not, why? Are Black people present at networking events? Nominated for industry awards? If not, why? Are there more than a handful of Black-owned brands on the tradeshow floor? If not, why? Are Black-owned brands present in your shop or boutique? If not, why? An absence of Black people should not be the norm. It should strike you as unusual. You should notice the absence and then wonder why it exists. We know it's not because of a lack of a talent or a lack of desire, so what is the reason? And be honest with yourself when you answer.
What advice would you give to a Black entrepreneur who wants to start in the intimate apparel industry?
Oh goodness...I think I could write a novel on this, but I'll start with three things I wish I had known. The first is to not be afraid to reach out and introduce yourself to others, especially to other Black people in this industry. I love to hear about and support indie brands. I know the Black women on my panel said they also support up-and-coming industry professionals. We are a resource that didn't exist when many of us started. The second, unfortunately, is something we all know and are familiar with and that's having a very thick skin. I've had people say rude things to me. I've had people insult me. I've had people tell me I don't belong because I didn't do things the "right" way. For me, that was motivation. There is power in digging your heels in and refusing to be thrown out. The third bit of advice is to know when to leave. No one starts a business with the intention of it going awry, but sometimes, the reasons why a business goes under have nothing to do with you. Black entrepreneurs often don't have access to the funding, factories, mentorship, and networking channels other entrepreneurs do. Sometimes you'll have a great idea as a Black entrepreneur and then see that replicated by brands with more resources. You are not a failure if you have to stop. You are a success just for trying to make it here, and don't let anyone - not even yourself - tell you otherwise.
CORA HARRINGTON is the author of In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie as well as the Founder and Editor in Chief of The Lingerie Addict, the world's leading online lingerie magazine. Named "the woman changing the way we think about lingerie" by Forbes, Cora is currently obsessed with peony season, vegan food, and rewatching Avatar: The Last Airbender for the 5th time. Visit The Lingerie Addict page at www.thelingerieaddict.com