In the coming weeks, there will be a number of trend reports for fall/winter lingerie based on the collections at CurveNY. This is not that post.
What we’ll be talking about today is my experience at Curve as a first time attendee. There are three major groups of people at trade shows: vendors, buyers, and media. I was attending as a buyer and small business owner, looking at what would be available from the big brands in fall/winter but also looking to connect with the wonderful people I have met over the last few months. It was my first time meeting everyone in person (like people I’ve interviewed for Bluestockings, such as Kim Caldwell of Hurray Kimmay and SweetNothingsNYC). It was my first time seeing so many brands in person. It was my first industry event, ever. It was a lot of firsts.
As an industry newbie, trade shows are a great place to put your feet to the fire. I’ve written an article for Ladypreneur League on how to rock your first trade show (because it’s a tremendous learning experience), but since we’re all here at the Bluestockings Blog, I’d like to take a minute or two to be vulnerable (and maybe talk about how I didn’t rock it!). I want to talk about some specific experiences I had: as a gay woman, a white woman (yes, that’s relevant), and as a first time attendee who also happens to be a twentysomething first-time entrepreneur who is new to the industry. Or, to put it another way, what it was like to be an all-around neophyte at the biggest industry event of the year.
Curve Entrance, the Javits. Photo by Jeanna Kadlec.
Curve basically took me on an emotional roller coaster that vacillated between two extremes: excitement and impostor syndrome. To paraphrase 10 Things I Hate About You (that defining film of my young adulthood), I was overwhelmed, underwhelmed, and sometimes, just “whelmed”—and occasionally, all three at the same time.
A necessary preface to this discussion is a mention of my day job. I’ve been in a Ph.D. program for four years, a program I’m leaving at the end of this semester to focus on Bluestockings and other opportunities. Right now, I very much feel the sense of “in between”—leaving one job (but not having left yet); starting another (that hasn’t fully launched yet).
Curve was all lingerie, all the time. Words cannot express how awesome that was. Everyone was in the industry. Everyone thinks lingerie is the best thing ever (or at least pretends like they do). There was no need to justify your interest, to justify why it’s a viable segment of the fashion industry, to justify why it’s important to a person’s individuality. One of my sales reps and I got to talking about our “before lingerie” lives, and she said she’d worked sales in other industries before but could not imagine going back to them—she loved this too much.
Though we are all at Curve for the lingerie, the people truly make the experience. Truth be told, that’s what I was most excited about: getting to meet all the women I had spent months talking to online, and, of course, hoping to meet new friends! And in that, Curve did not disappoint. Though it felt very much like being the new kid on the first day of school (hi, insecurity!), so many people made me feel so welcome. The conversations that arose organically and that flourished with both blogger friends and sales reps were tremendous.
The most unexpected and refreshing blessing was to be surrounded by other #girlbosses—young entrepreneurs who themselves are “one woman shows.” These women absolutely get what it’s like to be at the start of a new business, to wear all the hats, and to have it just be you. Of course, there’s a range of business size throughout the industry, from the single #girlbosses to major corporations. At one point during Curve, I was asked how big my team was for the Bluestockings launch. I smiled and said, “It’s just me!” Being surrounded by indie designers, creative directors, bloggers, and business owners who got it was so utterly nourishing. So many of us are in the same boat, and it affirmed my every impression that those one (and two, and three) woman shows are truly at the heart of this industry.
me, day one
There was a lot of good. And a lot of not so good. Honestly, at the end of the day, a lot of the not so good came from my own insecurity getting the best of me.
I know myself and what I’m about. I mean, I walked into Curve on day one in a Wonder Woman t-shirt with a black blazer, one of the only people wearing any color whatsoever in the entire building. So, yeah. Different.
But that’s why I founded Bluestockings. My mom has been telling me since I was a kid that the only person who controls my feelings is me, and that if my cage gets rattled by some interaction, it’s because I let my cage get rattled. Yes, that person may have said some insensitive, sexist, homophobic thing. Yes, that person may have blatantly objectified a model wearing lingerie. But I’m not going to change that person, and it’s not necessarily my responsibility to do so. I can speak up, respectfully. And yes, sometimes I sit silently, passively, and do nothing. In business, there’s a veneer of professionalism that can allow us to think, “It’s none of our business” if someone is speaking to someone else disrespectfully. And even if we ourselves are being spoken to in such a way, when it’s a vendor/buyer relationship, there’s an air of not wanting to jeopardize the relationship—especially as an industry newbie.
But I am a queer, white feminist coming out of academia. Intersectionality is the name of the game, and I do not know how not to look at the floor of a trade show and not hear the cis-het language (i.e. assuming everyone is cisgendered + heterosexual), not see the overabundance of white bodies (which are also usually young and thin, especially with models). And class? Let’s not even go there.
So yeah, I want to do better at speaking up (respectfully) next time. I don’t know how not to say something—or at the very least, want to say something. A trade show is an appropriate venue for these conversations: if not there, than where else?
It is important to continue these conversations “off site,” to keep them in the air, to set up the conversations prior to the show. Change, ultimately, only comes from within, and internal change is helped along by broader, cultural change that prompts self-reflection.
[enter the work being done by a host of other wonderful bloggers, indie designers, and brands committed to a dialogue about diversity]
catch the 5 to brooklyn, or the 6 to the upper east side.
During my four days in New York, I stayed with one of my best friends from undergrad. She lives in Brooklyn, but not gentrified or hipster Brooklyn. She lives in a predominantly black, lower class neighborhood where we were the only white people in the building. When I would walk to the subway, I was usually the only white person for multiple city blocks.
The neighborhood that housed me those four days offered a sharp juxtaposition to the environment in which I was participating. One morning, I took the 5 train into Manhattan, then transferred to the 6 at Grand Central Station, rode up to Lexington & 53rd, and walked a block to the Waldorf Astoria, where I was seeing a designer off-site. The only black people I saw at the Waldorf that day were women in maids’ uniforms. It looked like something out of an old Hollywood movie (or, unfortunately, even a new one).
I’m keenly aware of the fact that I’m a white person participating in a dialogue about diversity in the industry. And honestly, I mess up a lot. I don’t always have the words. I tripped and stumbled over some of my conversations that addressed race at Curve. It’s a learning process, and hopefully one I will continue to improve on as I learn how Bluestockings can serve people of color.
What I see as a commonality is that, in lingerie, both black and queer members of the industry are addressing deeply underserved demographics. Coming from an academic background, I am very cautious about making “like race” arguments when it comes to comparing the plights of black people in the United States with the LGBTQ community. Both suffer discrimination, and black LGBTQ-identified persons keenly suffer discrimination (just google how many trans women of color have been murdered this year already—there are simply no words). But, there are significant differences: the history, the cultural lineage, the present day reality. For me, it’s about learning how to appreciate the differences, serve the differences, and learn when to step back and let others do the talking.
i should take advice from the awesome harmonica posters. harmonicadesign.com
Insecurity is deeply unpleasant. It manifests in really ugly ways. It can eat away at confidence like a fungus, or can petrify you like some kind of super gross internal Basilisk.
(Okay, I’m done with the metaphors now.)
My head knew that this was my first time at a trade show, so hey, take it easy on yourself. But I don’t think the rest of me got the memo. Conversations with vendors were easier, because there’s a script that you’re supposed to follow. But other conversations, where you just run into people, were harder. I got introvert-y and awkward and felt like I said the wrong thing and worried if people liked me and name dropped (like, seriously, who am I impressing) and apologized for being a first timer and generally felt like I was in middle school.
Anybody else ever been there? Ever? I’m just gonna assume y’all have felt that way at some point in your life, and there you go, that was my first time at Curve, a lot of the time. Impostor syndrome, rearing its gross, ugly head, telling me I didn’t belong, telling me I was fucking up, that I hadn’t prepared. Like I said: middle school.
Logically, I know that impostor syndrome is something we all go through, usually at the start of something new. New job, new relationship, new responsibilities in a job, firstborn child, new anything.
Consequently, I am really grateful that I was staying with one of my dearest (and most patient) friends who was able to reassure me that no, you are not a failure; no, people don’t hate you; yes, you’re fine; here, have some wine.
walkaway sass from one of erica m.'s looks on the curve runway ericam.com
Everyone starts as a beginner.
Everyone has a first time.
You don’t have to apologize for being a beginner, and you don’t have to apologize for what you are still learning.
(I say this as someone who did apologize, a lot. [Cue obligatory note about women's tendency to overapologize.])
The thing is, you don’t have to know everything right away—which I kept forgetting. I've been in this industry as a professional (rather than a consumer) less than a year, and it’s not even that I don’t know as much as the people around me (which is true), but sometimes, I don’t know what I don't know.
In my day job, I teach freshman writing, and when I ask “Any questions?” my students will sometimes look at me blankly—always an indicator that they're either bored, or (equally likely) that they are pretty sure they should be asking something, but have no clue what they should be asking.
Which is how I felt, most of the time.
Curve was a matter of figuring everything out from the ground up. I was like, do I get to even touch the stuff? I should? But for how long? I don’t want to slow the sales rep down! I asked questions that were pretty much level one.
But again: I teach, and you don’t get answers if you don’t ask questions. I tell my students that there’s no such thing as a stupid question… okay, let's be honest, sometimes there is. Being in a new industry, though, I have no idea which are the stupid questions and which aren’t. So, I could let my ego get in the way and just freeze (which honestly, I sometimes did cause I didn’t want to look like a complete asshat). Or, I could ask the stupid question and learn something and hey, let someone in on the fact that I epically do not have my shit together.
By the end of day one, I was definitely on the “Fuck it, I don’t have it together, let it all hang out” end of things. I was still battling impostor syndrome like no other, but I came to Curve to meet people and to see stuff in person (finally) and to learn. And when I opened myself up to conversations with people—even people who I thought I had no business talking to (like luxury retailers)—cool things happened.