Be Out. Play in Style.
Photo by Lisa Iancin, aLIas Photography
That's the message that greets customers who visit Play Out Apparel's website, and it's the ethos behind a lesbian-owned brand looking to broaden the range of underthings available to underwear-wearing people (read: everyone) and, specifically, the LGBTQ community.
Abby Sugar, half of the brains behind the operation (alongside her partner in both business and life, Sylvie Lardeux), graciously sat down for an interview with me to talk underthings, being a lesbian in the lingerie industry, and - of course! - to dish about Play Out's new Kickstarter campaign: their journey to Lingerie Fashion Week (click here to check it out - they are halfway to their goal of $3000, with 16 days to go!).
Where did you get the idea for Play Out?
This is a funny story, actually, that starts with laundry! Like good lesbians, we decided to U-Haul after dating for ~8 months. When we moved in together, Abby was proud to have so many clothes and enough underthings to go two weeks before doing laundry. However, lacking enough underwear, Sylvie insisted on doing laundry once a week. Abby insisted that she buy more underwear. However, Sylvie could not find anything on the market that she wanted to buy, much less wear! All of the women’s underwear available on the market tends to be much too flowery, lacy or pastel-colored. A lot of lesbians we know would wear men’s underwear, but that comes with its own set of problems. Since men’s underwear isn’t cut for a woman’s figure, the shape is unflattering, the waistband is too strong/tight and that extra fabric in the front just gets in the way! After extensive research, we realized that the type of underwear we wanted—not too girly, made from all-natural fibers, and featuring fun and interesting graphics—was not being made. So we decided that we needed to make it.
What has your experience been like as lesbians starting a lingerie business? What has the reaction been from the lingerie industry?
That’s a funny question that has come up recently, only phrased slightly differently. We were asked if we felt any pressure to stand out, since what we are doing is different. To both points—feeling pressure, and being lesbians starting a lingerie business—the answer is that we really feel as if we are being completely true to ourselves, and our community, so we have not had any negative experiences yet. Whether it’s the lingerie industry specifically, or the fashion industry in general, fashion is a very difficult area to break into; it has taken a lot of persistence and hard work.
How has the LGBTQ community responded to Play Out?
Overall, we’ve had an incredibly positive response from the LGBTQ community. This past summer, we traveled to four Pride events all across the country. One of the difficult things has been the labels that the community tends to push on themselves; I know that’s a loaded sentence. What I mean is that Sylvie and I tend to dress and present in the middle of the butch/femme binary (there shouldn’t be a binary anyway, but ya know). Sometimes, we get push back from the more butch-identified people on the spectrum because our underwear isn’t masculine enough. We created our underwear so that people could feel comfortable and sexy wearing them. If it’s not your thing and you want to buy them for your femme girlfriend, go for it. If you normally wear more masculine clothes and you like them, go for it. If you don’t like them, you don’t have to wear them.
We do use the term underwear to describe all of our underthings; not lingerie and definitely not panties. This is because our main goal was to make gender-inclusive underthings, focusing more on the traditional men’s silhouette. Men’s underthings are normally not called ‘lingerie.’ We offer two different cuts of our underwear: the “women’s” cut and the “men’s” cut. I put those in quotes because we don’t want to lock ourselves into those boxes, but people do need a framework from which to understand the cut that they are buying. We have had people of all gender identifications and presentations wear both cuts of underwear, from cisgendered women who want to pack, to cisgendered men who want something a little tighter, to trans* identified people who like the style without having extra fabric they don’t need.
How do you see the lingerie industry responding to the needs of the LGBTQ community?
Honestly, at the moment, I don’t think the lingerie industry is responding to the needs of the LGBTQ community. I think the LGBTQ community is pushing themselves into the lingerie industry. We have not been able to find the type of underwear or lingerie that we want to wear, so LGBTQ-owned clothing brands have started to make underwear. We went the opposite direction—we decided to focus on and only make underwear.
What new directions are you taking Play Out this season?
Our goal has always been to offer a range of graphics for our underwear, and we will be showing three new prints plus three of our most popular prints in new colorways at Lingerie Fashion Week. At the moment, we only offer the boxer brief style because that was the overwhelmingly most popular cut when we took a survey of potential customers. Eventually, we would like to expand into a bikini style cut. And we are always looking to add new graphics!
What (and/or who) inspires you as designers?
Sylvie is definitely the more visual person of the two of us, and comes up with a lot of the ideas for our designs, but I am getting better at it! I think we are both inspired by geometric shapes, as well as modern and contemporary art. In the next year, we are really excited to start working with LGBTQ artists to bring their designs as prints on our underwear.
Tell us about the new Kickstarter campaign and the invitation to participate in Lingerie Fashion Week.
We are currently running a Kickstarter campaign! We need to raise $3,000 by October 20th. The organizers of Lingerie Fashion Week read one of the articles written about us and contacted us earlier this year. They are totally on board with our androgynous style, LGBTQ vision, and really excited to have something new and different on the runway. To get there, though, we need to hire models, stylists, pay for our new looks, so many things! We are also super excited to have a skateboarding performance by two kick-ass ladies from All Girl Skate Jam! But we need to build a quarter-pipe for them to use on the runway…everything just adds up. Runway shows at LFW are closed to the public, so as one of the rewards we are offering tickets to our show and even backstage passes to hang out with the underwear models! Showing at Lingerie Fashion Week is an amazing opportunity for us, and we hope that people will be as excited as we are and help us get there, by donating to our Kickstarter. (Donate here!)
What is each of your favorite undergarment and why?
Abby – Bras. I got cleavage, and I’m not ashamed that I like to show it off!
Sylvie - Underwear with wide men’s-style waistband with a logo that I can show off over the top of my jeans!
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