Cora Harrington is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Lingerie Addict, which is quite literally the most popular lingerie blog in the world. But it wasn’t always that way. Seven years ago, TLA was called “Stockings Addict,” Cora went by the pseudonym “Treacle,” and the lingerie industry was even quieter and stodgier about addressing subjects like race, gender, sexuality, size, and age than it is now.
Quite a bit has changed, in large part due to the influence of The Lingerie Addict, which has grown exponentially under Cora’s strong voice and leadership. TLA is now Cora’s full-time job and boasts numerous regular columnists and contributors who have professional experience in various areas of the industry and who range in age from their mid-twenties to early forties.
All of that work doesn’t go unnoticed. By way of an introduction, I asked some industry experts to talk about TLA’s impact on lingerie:
Cora Harrington. Photo by Lydia Hudgens.
Tell us about yourself and your background.
I grew up in Georgia and lived there until my mid-20s, when I moved to Seattle. My background is in the nonprofit industry, and specifically, I did a lot of crisis work with victims of violent crime (domestic violence, sexual assault, assault, robbery, family members of homicide victims – those kinds of crimes). I went straight from that world to working on The Lingerie Addict full-time about 4 years ago. I’d almost forgotten it’s been that long!
You’ve spoken often about what brought you to lingerie. What keeps you here?
I love lingerie. I know that sounds really straightforward and simple, but if I didn’t genuinely enjoy talking about intimate apparel, I couldn’t do my job. What I love most right now is that I’m always learning something new, even after being interested in lingerie for roughly a decade. There’s so much history and detail stored within a few scraps of carefully sewn cloth; that’s fascinating to me.
But besides all that, I’m also very interested in using lingerie as a lens to discuss social topics like age or race or size or sexuality. My background is in sociology, and it turns out there are a lot of implicit assumptions to unpack in the world of lingerie. Challenging these unspoken norms and really getting people to think about the language we use to describe lingerie and women’s bodies and sexual norms is as source of endless enthusiasm for me.
Finally, I remember what it was like to be interested in lingerie and to not have any resources at all. TLA is the kind of blog I wish I’d had access to a decade ago. Creating a space that’s welcoming and positive and inclusive and nonjudgmental, especially for people who are usually on the margins of the lingerie world, is so important, I think.
TLA has a tremendous mission statement (which I understand to be “We believe lingerie is for anyone who wants it - no matter their size, age, sexuality, ethnicity, ability, or budget”). What kind of work does it take to keep representation and intersectionality at the heart of the site?
It takes a lot of deliberate effort, especially since intersectionality requires, by its very nature, a displacing of more normative or popular perspectives. It also takes a willingness to have people be mad at you, quite frankly, because deliberately upsetting the paradigm is incredibly unnerving and disorienting to people who’ve never had to consider that there are multiple perspectives and approaches to this whole lingerie thing.
I’m very grateful to TLA’s readers in that I think they really “get” what we’re trying to do and are supportive of it. I’m also incredibly thankful for TLA’s advertisers because backing a blog that’s explicitly and vocally in support of women of color and plus size women and trans women and gay women is a radical act; most people in the lingerie industry are not interested in that kind of inclusivity.
In terms of the actual labor, I spend a lot of time reading about and trying to stay current on social topics, especially those outside of my metaphorical wheelhouse. You can’t see inclusivity and diversity as a destination. It’s an ongoing process with occasionally shifting goals…and that means I’m constantly working towards a better version for the future.
What are some primary challenges you face as founder and EIC of literally the most popular lingerie blog in the world? To get down to nitty gritty brass tacks, what kinds of everyday challenges do you face as a small business owner?
Oh, this is heavy. I’d say our biggest challenge (and one that’s common to many small businesses) is cash flow. TLA is a bootstrap business. I don’t have deep pockets. We don’t have outside funders or investors. And the message we’re pushing for is completely misaligned with current industry ideals. So staying on top of the financials is critical.
The other challenge (and again, it’s one that’s common to small business owners), is that there’s always so much work to be done and never enough time or money or staff to do it all. That makes everyday is a constant juggling act. High priority items have to be handled immediately, but lower priority things can’t be neglected ad infinitum either. Related to this, scaling the business as it grows has been challenging. I don’t come from a business background and TLA was a hobby for years, so learning how to run a business while I’m running the business is definitely a challenge.
Finally, self care and managing my own personal resources (in terms of energy and rest and recharging) is something I’m constantly working on. It’s very easy to keep pushing until you’re burned out when you’re a small business owner, but that’s a good way to drive your biz into an early grave.
How has your approach to interacting with brands and designers changed over the years? Specifically, how do you approach interactions with industry professionals when disrespectful, insensitive behavior is at play?
I would say I’m a lot more confident than I used to be when it comes to confronting brands or discussing issues I might have with someone’s marketing campaign or customer service.
When I first started my lingerie blog, there weren’t many of us at all. I remember the names of all the lingerie blogs in existence when I started and it was less than ten. In addition to that, the lingerie industry was extremely distrustful of the internet. I remember getting kicked out of tradeshow booths when I told brands I was a blogger, and I’m pretty sure that doesn’t really happen anymore. Besides all that, because I was very open about my non-fashion, non-lingerie, non-PR, non-NYC background, I had brands telling me flat out that I had no business writing about lingerie because I didn’t come up through the “appropriate” channels. So all that pushback, both implicit and explicit, made me reticent to talk about certain things.
However as the blog grew, I realized I was in a unique position to address certain topics or behaviors head-on that had never been discussed before…and not always in the form of a public confrontation on a place like Twitter. Sometimes, it’s as simple as responding to a press email or sending a private Facebook message explaining some of the language a brand is using has been out of date for a few decades.
What do you see as some of the primary issues facing the lingerie industry?
A lack of responsiveness and flexibility, especially when it comes to an online presence, is the primary issue facing the lingerie industry today.
Intimate apparel as a sector is lagging decades behind the rest of fashion when it comes to things as basic as having a website. There’s this innate mistrust of the internet, from both retailers and manufacturers, that I find mindboggling. I still talk to brands at tradeshows who brag about having no digital presence to speak of, and that makes no sense at all in 2015. More and more companies are realizing now that completely ignoring the internet is a fast track to obsolescence, but how do you make up for 5 or 10 or 15 years of deliberately staying behind the curve?
I also see a profound lack of diversity as being an issue that will affect the lingerie industry in greater and greater ways over the next several years. There’s a not small amount of casual racism, sizeism, homophobia, and transphobia in the world of intimate apparel, and consumers are becoming increasingly unforgiving of it. It’s critical for brands to seek out diverse perspectives now so they can easily sidestep those kinds of avoidable mistakes in the future.
You engage with TLA readers on a variety of social media platforms. Have you noticed changes in TLA readership and/or social media engagement over the years? What are some of the most common reader questions?
Social media has made all the difference in being able to reach new readers. I only wish I’d signed up for everything sooner! As someone who has almost no advertising budget to speak of (see my bootstrap comment up above), I’m very reliant on word of mouth for reaching people, and social media is word of mouth marketing writ large. Because the social landscape is constantly changing, the type of engagement I get from each platform is also constantly changing. However, the one constant is that people want to connect with you on social, so you must be easy to find.
In terms of reader questions, they tend to match whatever’s currently trending in the larger conversation. When pinup and retro lingerie was more popular, I received a lot of questions about garter belts and stockings. When everyone was talking about bra fit and the +0 method, I got a lot of questions about where to buy bras in one size or another (this is still a fairly popular question). Now that corsetry, tightlacing and waist training are trending again, I’m getting a lot of questions about where to find corsets. Of course, these trends are happening over the space of several years, but it’s very clear that people want reputable resources to turn to when they have a lingerie question, and being readily accessible on social media is one way to become that kind of resource.
Practically everyone we’ve interviewed here at Bluestockings cites TLA as one of their must-read blogs. What are your must-read blogs in lingerie and fashion, more broadly?
In terms of more general fashion, I love The Curvy Fashionista and Nicolette Mason. I also read everything Arabelle Sicardi writes. Speaking to lingerie specifically, I adore Sweet Nothings, and I also check in with The Lingerie Lesbian whenever there’s something new. Scarlet’s Letter is another fave read of mine, and I’ve also added The Technicolor Lover and Marionette Mew to my must-read lingerie blogs list. For slightly more industry-focused lingerie blogs, A Sophisticated Pair, Kiss Me Deadly, and Esty are definite faves. And then, of course, I read the Bluestockings blog!
Last but not least, I want to ask about the personal/professional divide. How do you approach talking about issues that may not seem directly related to lingerie on social media, or on TLA? (I’m thinking of things like Ferguson or gay marriage going to the Supreme Court or [insert any other issue here].) How do you approach that intersectionality of your personal and professional lives?
As Audre Lorde once said, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not lead single-issue lives.” I don’t have the luxury of thinking about my life within the context of a very narrowly prescribed set of “acceptable” issues, and because of my sociological training, I see many of the issues I face within lingerie as a continuum of or a slightly different expression of larger, structural problems.
For example, when someone I’ve literally never interacted with before talks about how scary, threatening, frightening, angry, and intimidating I am, I don’t see that as divorced from the kind of assumptions that lead to people of my complexion being shot to the death in the street. It’s a less physically threatening interaction to be sure, but the social construction of black people as monstrous figures who are ready to snap at any moment comes from the same kind of ignorance that directly led to the murders of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, and Yvette Smith. It often makes no sense to impose an artificial distinction between what affects me personally and what affects me professionally as they’re frequently part of the same metaphorical ball of wax.
In other words, if the struggle for LGBTQ rights or racial equality or size acceptance seems “completely unrelated” to lingerie to you, then that might be because you’re in a position where these things don’t affect you… and one of the most obvious indicators of privilege is never having to think about something. I see part of my role as reminding people that these are not theoretical concerns affecting nameless, faceless groups of people, but rather these are important issues personally affecting someone you know.
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