Over the last week, a number of friends have asked if I was going to write a post on launch week. On the one hand, I had always been planning to: partly because writing is how I process stuff normally, like the blog post following my first time at CurveNY, the major lingerie trade show here in the States.
But I also love that a few days had gone by since the store went live, and friends and supporters were publicly wondering where a blog post was. It spoke volumes to the fact that Bluestockings had successfully made the transition from blog-with-a-plan to actual storefront while maintaining the vision and community that are at its core.
People expected a blog post about launch: that was awesome.
On the other hand, the sheer panic these well-meaning inquiries induced indicated how much the shift from mostly-blog to actual storefront had changed the idea of the blog for me.
No matter how much inventory I've had in my house for the last few months, or how often I communicate with designers, no matter how much (or, let’s be real, little) money was in the Bluestockings bank account, the store was still very much an abstract idea. It wasn't yet available for public consumption: it wasn't a material reality. Bluestockings could be what I said it was. To get a bit English Ph.D. on y'all, I was the author -- full stop.
But then the store went live, and everyone got to see, participate, buy, react -- which was, of course, the point!
Bluestockings is no longer an abstract idea we're all talking about: it's an interactive experience for shoppers, for people interested in queer fashion, for people who like to read blogs, for people who just want to know there's a store on the internet that is committed to doing a better job by the LGBTQIA community. But I'm also keenly aware of how articulating (and rearticulating) my vision, and perhaps more specifically the limitations of that vision, has the potential to sound defensive. (I'm human, y’all. I'm working on developing a thicker skin, but I’m not a robot.)
To an extent, fear of criticism has kept me from writing over the course of the week, and that’s new for me. I experience fear in other areas of writing -- fiction, for example. But not this blog -- never this blog, at least before the store went live.
But now, I’m a little scared. And the only way to address that fear is to move through it. Audre Lorde once wrote, "When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid."
I want to still interact with people and not be afraid to talk about what I want Bluestockings to become, and what I hear all of you saying you want Bluestockings to become. I'm very lucky to have an incredible partner and some really awesome friends who have held my hand this week as a lot of well meaning people have pointed out what they want to see, what they don’t like, and sometimes, how they think Bluestockings is failing the LGBTQIA community.
Let’s be real: Bluestockings was always going to fail the queer community -- if our expectation was that it was going to perfectly serve every segment of the community and address all the wrongs that have been done us by dominant discourses and mainstream society. This is one store. One brand new, baby store launched on a shoestring budget by a 27-year-old white, queer lady trying to make a dent.
Last fall, way back when Bluestockings was barely a blip on anyone’s radar, I did a video interview with my friend Kim Caldwell of Hurray Kimmay. We talked about how when a brand or store emerges to serve the need of an underserved community, they are held to the standard of needing to serve the entire community.
When brands like ours emerge, there tends to be a celebratory attitude in the mainstream press, i.e. "Oh, that group is covered!" For example: "Isn't it great that black women have a brand now?" (Nubian Skin) or "Isn't it great that trans women have a brand?" (Chrysalis). And this attention blows these brands up and incites a maelstrom of criticism. So often, instead of letting brands grow -- because they're baby brands and stores on limited budgets -- we expect them to be everything we've ever wanted and more right away, perhaps instead of looking at the dominant culture, the dominant narrative, and asking what is wrong with the Big Picture: why is there only one brand or store dedicated serving a specific community? Why do people participating in the dominant narratives of our society (straight, white, etc.) get a multiplicity of options, while we get so few?
I think that’s an important thing for all of us to keep in mind as Bluestockings continues to grow. I have mentioned Nubian Skin often in my own writing (and am thrilled to have them in stock) in part because I see Ade Hassan, the founder, as an example par excellence of how to respond to such an onslaught of criticism: with transparency, with pragmatism, with compassion. I’ve read and watched many of her interviews prior to Bluestockings’ launch and throughout this week as an example of an entrepreneur and founder within this industry who is serving a desperately underserved population and walking the tightrope that is staying true to her company’s vision (and honoring its limitations) while listening and responding to her customers’ needs. I hope to do so with the same grace and professionalism.
Part of what has made the Bluestockings Blog such a valuable resource is that it was never just one person. It has really been a community, from the interviews with designers and lingerie bloggers to the fabulous gchats with Rose Wednesday, LGBTQ lingerie columnist. Both of those series will continue, and there are some fabulous interviews coming your way soon!
I am particularly excited to introduce a new series, starting this week. I’ve been putting out calls on social media for guest pieces, and a few folks have responded in surprisingly consistent ways, which has led to the birth of the series, "Real Stories." This will be an entirely reader-driven series in which the Bluestockings community (an umbrella term for blog readers, customers, and general fans) talk about their underthings stories and histories.
Since it’s reader-driven and relies entirely on submissions, it will be as representative as the submissions we get. I’d love to see a wide array of essays from every nook and cranny of our community. The only guideline is that it be in first person, one to two thousand words. Submissions can be published anonymously to protect your privacy.
And now, a quick overview of the week, from my perspective. Not really sugar-coating things here, y’all:
Day One: (sings) We are on fire! Oh shit, we’re actually on fire.
The beauty of launching an online business is that you can do so while sitting in bed, in your super ratty PJs with a hole in the butt, sipping coffee, with your girlfriend gently nudging you, telling you "It’s okay, you can do it. No really, you can do it."
Of course, the website launched, I blasted it on social media… and then the cart pretty much immediately went down. Luckily, that problem arose almost immediately, because my girlfriend tried to buy something to surprise me and then couldn’t. There’s a certain tone of "Uh, babe" that you never want to hear.
So I got my web developer/BFFL on facetime while we took the site down and tried to figure what was happening. The good news? The site was up and running in an hour. The bad news? Problems with the international cart persisted through the weekend, hence why international customers got a discount for the entire first week. Cause they are the most patient and awesome people.
Day Two: Social Media Blow Up
Jodie Layne from Bustle has been an awesome supporter of ours for a while, and she wrote a really lovely and nuanced article about Bluestockings. Her feedback was thoughtful and warm, and I am so grateful for her early support.
The Bustle article led to the first social media blow up of the week.
Day Two, cont’d.: My printer needs coding, WTF?
I waited to set up my printers until the night before the first orders went out (procrastination). Probably not the best idea.
My software engineer girlfriend got roped into helping, with the caveat that I said, aloud, to her face, "I know that just because you work in the tech industry doesn’t mean you know anything about printers.”
(This tends to amuse tech industry people.)
Except then one of the printers had installation software that wasn’t Mac-compatible so actual coding was required. So, I needed her skill set after all.
Day Three: Oh yeah, I still teach.
It’s the end of semester right now (to all my fellow academics and students out there: congrats!). For those who don’t know: I’m in the fourth year of an English Ph.D. program, which I’m leaving at the end of this semester to focus on Bluestockings and other opportunities. However: it’s still the end of the semester! And last week, I woke up on Monday morning to all of the social media attention still going strong, except with the reality of having to go to campus.
While I was on campus teaching and grading and meeting with students, the Hello Giggles article happened and completely exploded our site and generally gave me a lot of anxiety.
Day Four: Never read the comment threads.
I grabbed beer with one of my best friends, who reminded me that Bluestockings had literally only been open for three full days and to calm the fuck down because everything was going to be fine. And to never read the comment threads.
Day Five: Therapy
Enough said. (I’ve written about why therapy and general self care is critical for entrepreneurs for Ladypreneur League, a site side hustlers, girlbosses, and entrepreneurs of all stripes should check.)
Day Six: My students are having end of semester meltdowns so I can’t: or, "Go Hug Yourself, Kadlec."
Emotional exhaustion was kicking in, and let’s be honest: reading comment threads isn’t good for anyone’s psyche.
One of my real life best friends, blogger Tea & Strumpets, said it pretty well: "No one ever called a 1-800 number to tell the company that the installation went well and that the instructions were written clearly. They call when they need to fix something."
Meanwhile, end of semester papers meant students were in my office in varying stages of end-of-semester meltdown, so luckily I couldn’t go on social media that much.
Day Seven: The first batch of trans underthings arrived! YAY!
The arrival of items from independent designer Origami Custom marked a major influx of items specifically designated for the trans community. When we opened, we had binders in stock from Danae, but no bottoms were specifically trans oriented (our OC order had yet to arrive due to a major mistake on my part -- yay entrepreneurial failures!). Having gaffs and packing briefs was essential, so I’m thrilled they’re now in stock.
Day Eight: Breathe. Cry. Drink. Maybe at the same time? Judgment free zone, y’all.
A lot of people - from "real life" friends to the online Bluestockings community to independent designers and bloggers who totally get it -- have reminded me that all you can ever do is your best. The coverage we’ve received so far is tremendous. Numerous lingerie bloggers have already independently reviewed us. And tomorrow, we’ll be included in a piece going on a major mainstream news site. My attitude about that:
Everything is going to be okay.
The first week is over.
It’s all uphill from here.
And I can't wait to see what next week brings.