This last week, I had the chance to talk with Kim Caldwell of Hurray!Kimmay. Kim is an industry veteran and, truth be told, is something of a Renaissance Woman, but she calls herself a bra fitter, first and foremost. She’s been fitting people of all shapes, sizes, and identities for more than ten years, and she’s recently expanded into the world of small business, turning her blog into a brand. Kim is passionate about empowering women, and she just hosted her first event in New York City, “Say Hurray!”
Kim took the time to chat with me about bra fitting, body image, and her experience working with customers from marginalized backgrounds as a fitter in high-end department stores and boutiques.
Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I started as a bra fitter ten years ago at Linda’s in SoHo. At the time, I was making $8/hour working in shoes, so when I heard that a boutique in SoHo was opening up that paid $10/hour, I was like, “Yes!” I was hired on the spot.
Linda’s wasn’t just a raise, though. Before working in retail, I had gone to school for theater. So I was constantly around these thin, in shape girls who were dancing a lot, and I had a very poor image of myself. In reality, I was 19 years old with a healthy body that I took for granted, but I didn’t know that. Starting work at Linda’s was a major turning point for me in terms of body image. There were women coming in who were all shapes and sizes, women who were pregnant or had just given birth, women who had cancer and had undergone mastectomies, women in all stages of life who had varying images of themselves. So I really started using bra fitting as a way to give women confidence.
I did a lot of things after—I worked for Saks, La Perla, in ready-to-wear—but I always saw myself as a fitter first. I went back to Linda’s after a few years and worked my way up to Marketing Director, which was really great preparation for being a small business owner and getting ready to start my own thing.
What is Hurray!Kimmay?
I just went full time on my own in July, which is really exciting and really terrifying. There are two sides to the business. The first is the media side—working with clients on social media, video production and hosting. Most of my clients are in the lingerie business, but I’m also doing a musical theater project, which is really great. I enjoy working with anyone who really fits with my message and purpose.
The second side is my brand, Hurray!Kimmay. The name comes from my maiden name. Growing up, one of my best friends was Kim E, and I was Kim A ("Kimmay"). I started it as a blog unofficially in 2007, just for fun, and then abandoned it to work on “real things.” But I rebooted it a year ago and decided to make it a business. My mission is to help women feel great and say “hurray” on the inside, outside, and underneath. The inside is your soul, nutrition, heart, purpose. The outside is your clothing, hair, home, environment—things you interact with. Underneath is your undergarments, body, image. They all relate to one another.
Your passion for your work is palpable in your videos. What do you most enjoy about bra education and helping affirm women in their body image?
Helping a woman find the right bra is about helping her find her confidence. The breasts are on such a vulnerable part of the body—it’s right over your heart. That's where the wire is digging, the straps are falling, when it’s uncomfortable. As soon as all of that is supported and secure, you’re able to stand up tall and lead with your heart.
What are some of the most common issues you see with bra fitting?
The biggest challenge that I feel I have to overcome is what people think a cup size looks like. Women have such an emotional connection to cup size. There is such a negative stigma around large cup sizes. The most popular cup sizes I see are F’s and G’s, hands down. So helping women get over the stigma of that is a challenge.
Can you speak more about your experience as a bra fitter and blogger working and interacting with people who are coming to lingerie from a marginalized position?
Absolutely. One of my first experiences ever with this was when I was at Saks. A businessman came in in a nice suit, very buttoned up, and I just assumed he was shopping for a wife or girlfriend. I was very young—still 19—and he started picking up a bunch of items, and I was like, oh, this is gonna be a great sale! So when he asked if he could try the items on, I was like, what?! But I said “Sure!” and so he went into the fitting room, and I went and found my manager to ask if it was okay, cause I wasn’t sure what to do. And she was awesome. She said, if he wants to try on lingerie, that’s totally okay—if other customers are uncomfortable, we can show them to other fitting rooms. Then when the gentleman came out of the fitting room, he found me and thanked me. He said he’d never been helped by someone like that before. He felt so affirmed in that experience. That was a really big moment for me in realizing exactly who lingerie was for. He just wanted to feel great—and doesn’t everyone?
Regardless of how you identify yourself on a spectrum, I think a challenge is that lingerie is considered feminine. I’ll have lesbian couples who come into the store and are very clear about “She’s the girly one, I’m not, I just want a sports bra.” But feminine doesn’t need to be girly, pink, pretty, and bows. It can be powerful and confident and strong. Even the women who are not lingerie-lovers, I’m like, “Let me see if I can help you find something that fits and makes you feel good.” Helping a woman feel powerful and confident and secure—that’s what I want to do. It’s not always possible, and I accept that the options in the stores definitely aren’t for everybody, but I try my hardest to help everyone that I can.
How do you see the lingerie industry responding to the needs of the LGBTQ community? To the needs of women of color?
Yes, more brands are embracing different neutrals for women of color. In the past, you had a lighter nude and maybe a darker nude, and maybe a fashion color one season that was a chocolate. But over the last ten years, I’ve really been seeing it improve. Nubian Skin is the latest to come on the market, but it’s been a process. Where it’s not happening is with mass market, department store brands, which serve a much larger market of women. Hopefully they’ll catch on soon!
In the blogger world, there has definitely a boom in terms of representation. The Lingerie Lesbian immediately comes to mind, and twitter has added so many voices to the conversation. But I think that representation is more than an issue of sexual orientation. Feminine definitely used to mean “straight female.” But now you have different sides of the story, where you have women who are identifying not only as LGBT but who are also saying “I’m not just wearing this to please a man—I want to please myself.” Lingerie is increasingly a personal thing. If someone happens to see the lingerie, good for them, but the message is that lingerie is something you do for yourself. To me, that is a big revolution in the industry in general.
This all comes with the caveat that I have lived in New York City for eleven years. The women who would come into the shop are so many skin tones and are from so many different countries, and it’s the same thing with people who are LGBT. I went to a very liberal school where a lot of my class identified as non-normative. Even though I may identify in a traditional way, I’ve never felt like there was a need to treat people differently. Anyone walking into the shop is just another person who needs my help.
And one thing Kim said during our conversation that is too good to go unquoted:
"Make sure you’re pleasing yourself first.”To find out more, visit her website Hurray!Kimmay and be sure to follow her on twitter - I do! P.S. Check out Kim's latest lingerie review of up and coming Créme Bralée's "Olivia" set. Folks with full busts on a budget should definitely take a look!