Lingerie Shopping in the Era of BLM Webinar Digest
In June, Eurovet Americas hosted a roundtable of prominent Black voices in lingerie to discuss their professional experiences and what the Black Lives Matter Movement means for the intimate apparel industry. The following is an abbreviated version of a longer, more complex conversation. We encourage you to watch the full webinar if you have not already, available on Curve’s website.
Cora Harrington of The Lingerie Addict moderated the conversation alongside panelists Tina Wilson, Designer and President of The Underfashion Club, Amber Tolliver, Founder of Liberte, LaTimberly Johnson, Creative Director and Owner of Loulette Lingerie, Rosa Harris, Owner of Vy’s Closet and Wencillia Querbel (Wen), Founder of Comics Girls Need Bras.
The conversation started by addressing the recent #blackouttuesday, where supporters posted black squares on their social media feeds to signal that they would temporarily take a step back from posting to make way for BIPOC voices. Tina was pleased to see so many intimate apparel brands and retailers taking part, but was hesitant to applaud those that are not truly on board with the movement or are not hiring BIPOC and are just using this as an opportunity for some good PR.
Amber commented that in order to make change businesses must systematically change the way they are run, which includes creating diversity through representation of models. Echoing the calls for more diversity in hiring Rosa added that as a retailer she needs to feel welcome when curating products for her store and it can be uncomfortable when the teams she works with from brands have no reps that look like her. She encouraged brands that were unsure of how to go about hiring a more diverse team to work with professionals that are experienced in this area of business development. LaTimberly also added that one of the hardest things is not seeing BIPOC in higher positions. She had felt, as a Black woman, there was no way for her to reach these positions, so she had started her own business.
Wen said in addition to diversifying staff, brands need to be conscious of the wording they use to describe their garments, citing that “invisible” or “nude” undergarments are not exactly universal.
Each woman made it clear that it is not enough for a company to say they support Black Lives Matter, and that substantive actions need to be taken in all aspects of the business to encourage equity.
With a group of Black lingerie industry professionals that each hold different titles their individual experiences varied, but when the topic of microaggressions came up, each had examples to share. Rosa mentioned feeling that her time was not valued or respected the way it would be if she were not Black when a meeting gets interrupted on the busy Curve show floor. Wen also discussed the frustrations of not being as respected as her White counterparts, specifically bringing up one instance of her partnering with a brand, working with them and providing all of her information and still having the content tagged as Cora’s, not her own. Wen mentioned feeling really hurt by what she perceived as a disregard for the hard work she put into the collaboration. Tina reflected on a time when not only were there not many Black lingerie industry professionals, but when she was the only Black member of the Underfashion Club board. Amber and LaTimberly both talked about being met with disbelief when they would introduce themselves as the owner of their brand, and not just the model.
As the panelists continued to discuss a broad range of topics, the conversation shifted to their individual experiences as Black professionals in the industry.
Cora: Amber and Timmy, you both run and design brands, and are you both fairly new designers in comparison to more well-known legacy brands. Can you share some of your experiences in this industry as Black women?
Amber: It’s been a beautiful journey, it’s been scary but I had the privilege of actually meeting Tina early on, who became a guiding light for me and a source of encouragement and guidance to keep me from completely going off the cliff. I want to start on a positive note of saying representation is so important. I saw Tina speak at Interfiliere a few years ago. It made me realize, there are other Black female professionals within this industry - it is possible, I can do it. That was really wonderful but again going back to what we discussed earlier this constant need of not only proving myself for going above and beyond which is sometimes really exhausting. Especially then if you look at the product and you actually take time to notice the amount of work that went into it a number of questions I get all the time there would be no need for them because my pieces speak for themselves.
LaTimberly: It’s been very tough when you don’t see a lot of other people that look like you. I have been very excited this past year because I have started to meet other Black women in the industry and it gives me hope. In the beginning it was super hard. Growing up I had nothing, so for me to try to start a business, you need funds, investors, you need all of these things, so it was very hard to get the funds to even start. I remember trying to get a business loan and personal loans. My credit is good but I still cannot get it, I still can’t find an investor. That has been one of the things that was kind of eye-opening to me, it was something that I had never really thought about until I tried to start. That support that many other people might have an easier time getting, it’s a little harder when you’re Black and you might not have met anyone that can invest in your entire career. I think it’s important for me now to be there for people who are younger, who have the same dreams as me and to help them wherever I can by mentorships or whatever I can do, so maybe for them it’s easier and it’s not so much of a struggle.
Cora: Tina, this next question is for you, though I don’t know you personally you came highly recommended by Raphael from curve and you have been in this industry longer than any of us. What changes have you noticed over the years? Do you believe there should be more mentorship and cultivation of Black designers? What have you seen in a broad view regarding how the industry treats Black people?
Tina: Mentorship is extremely important to me. I was mentored by really great people, none of those people were people that looked like me, but I got that mentorship anyway. So, I’ve always felt it was my obligation to do that. I try to spend time, answer questions, hire, I do have people intern that are people of color and I hope I made an impact because I’ve been very fortunate. The industry itself still has very few Black people in design. It’s been changing and I think now it’s been a very difficult time in fashion for anyone to get hired, it’s really bad. As minorities, we suffer first and then everyone else suffers later. I don’t know how to help that other than to speak up to the people who employ me about hiring other people that look like me and to be vigilant about that and to give people a chance. This industry has been very good to me and aside from going into a few appointments and fabric appointments and having people ignore me in fabric shows all over the world, it has been a pretty good experience. I want to dedicate myself to helping other people have that experience.
Cora: Rosa, you are the only boutique owner on our panel and only two panelists based outside of the US, how does this topic relate to your business and your customer base?
Rosa: Over the years it has been very difficult to cater to my customer base. In the Cayman Islands we have a melting pot of ethnicities, Caribbean people being darker skin toned. When I started my business I had a lot of color, nude, and black. It quickly became a challenge when you’d have a continuity piece when they say, “do you have that in black?” no, it only comes in nude. It really was challenging to find for curvy clients, average clients, fuller busted clients, the right product mix and colorways that would sell. Now I would say in the last three years there has been a shift, a really positive shift, in having options. But, with my boutique catering to busty gals, the size ranges can be limited depending on what you’re looking for. I think there’s still some work to do when it comes to product offering and I feel encouraged with what I see with my brands bringing out mochas, café au laits, caramels, and gingers. I think it’s wonderful, but there’s still a lot more that can be infused in various aspects of the business with various different departments within collections.
Cora: Wen, you’re the only blogger on the panel and you’re also from France, you live in Canada now, what are your thoughts on how the industry treats Black bloggers in comparison to white bloggers? Do you believe there is room for improvement?
Wen: Yes indeed. I’m from France although I grew up in the Caribbean, so I have different points of views. The thing that I don’t really understand right now is that for me it has been harder to work with French brands then it has for US or UK brands. They are not seeing what I could bring to them. First of all there are not a lot of Black bloggers, especially Black lingerie bloggers. I realized that French brands, most of them I see and meet with every year, and still they would rather work with fashion bloggers that know nothing about lingerie rather than working with me. I’d say that it’s simple, for me it doesn’t really make sense because it’s not even about the number of followers, they would work with people with less followers. Brands need to recognize the amount of work [bloggers] put in. When we put together photoshoots, we have to find the location, the photographers, the makeup artists, then we have to model. When we put these pictures out there, we write about it. We are doing so much work, usually for a very affordable price and they still don’t want to pay us. It’s not enough to receive free samples. I have tons of lingerie and I can also buy lingerie. This is a little bit offensive when I see the French lingerie brands treating me as if they are offering me something for free in exchange for this huge amount of work. I hope bloggers stand up for themselves and don’t keep accepting this treatment from brands.
Cora: If there is one way the lingerie industry could support you or if there was one thing you want to see more from the industry what would that look like?
Tina: I would like to see, and it’s already well underway, products that reflect the colors and the shapes and the attitudes towards lingerie reflected in people of color because it’s just beginning and there are a few pioneers out there who have already done a great job, like Nubian skin with the colors.
Rosa: I agree 100% with Tina in terms of the product range. It would be great if brands did diversify the types of models that they are using so that it can be reflected in our global community because lingerie is global. I would love to see more images of people of color wearing the product.
Amber: Taking a chance and opening the doors to people that you may not necessarily would have or you would have thought twice about it. It’s wonderful to be vetted by and approved by someone who’s established in the industry but what makes more meaningful change is for people to break down the barriers. To see something that needs to be fixed or changed and to take action themselves without needing to be prompted by someone else. I think clearing the path and creating a space for people outside of those who look like you is really important.
LaTimberly: I feel like people think they’re taking a chance by offering a drop shipping relationship or a consignment relationship and that’s not really taking a chance. We have inventory to sell and we want to have a real opportunity not just half-assed. We want a full chance; a partnership is what really needs to happen.
Wen: A partnership should not be one-sided. What I give you, I also want something in return because we’re partners. We both want something great to come out of this so I don’t want to feel as if I have to do all this amount of work and you’re not recognizing my work because you don’t want to pay me or you don’t want to help me through this. If we’re going to work together, we work together.
As these industry professionals discussed during the webinar, in 2020 it is near impossible to avoid the topic of Black Lives Matter (BLM) and diversifying the lingerie industry. Amber explained that if you don't want to “get into politics” you don't need to discuss BLM or defunding the police on your page but what you do need to understand is America is a kaleidoscope of people and you cannot ignore or pretend an entire population of people don’t exist. This movement is about evening out the playing field allowing everyone to have the chance to succeed, added Tina. Brands need to step back as human beings and evaluate why murder makes them uncomfortable, continued LaTimberly. As human beings it’s normal to have these conversations in order for things to get better, said Wen. Rosa continued to say the conversation makes some people uncomfortable, and that is okay, but you must educate yourself on why this makes you uncomfortable and have conversations with each other to overcome this.
Curve encourages you to not only to listen to BIPOC in the industry but continue the conversation to make changes within your companies in order for a better future.
UnLingerie Shopping inthe Era of BLM Webinar Digesttitled43