Victoria’s Secret causes me a not insignificant amount of anxiety, as both a lingerie retailer and just generally as a woman who wears bras.
Victoria's Secret Fashion Show 2015
My frustration with VS had reached She-Hulk levels long before Bluestockings was even a thought in my head. Their bras max out at DD. The hyper-sexualization of the models and hyper-feminization of the stores are marketed in ways to blatantly exclude non-normative representations of womanhood and femininity (not to mention anyone not identifying as a woman). If you don’t fit their conception of that femininity, you’re out.
Though any businessperson worth their salt will tell you that you don’t have a brand until you’re saying no to people, Victoria’s Secret controls 40% of the multi-billion dollar lingerie market here in the United States. People are clearly buying what they’re selling: a pink, plastic, packaged femininity that would do rather well in a Mad Men alternate universe.
A current VS website image for their Lace Trim Cutout Push-Up Bra
But even if you don’t have a problem with the Victoria’s Secret version of heteronormative gender and sexuality, there’s another pretty big ethical roadblock, which is: their lack of ethics. Entirely.
To say that Victoria’s Secret does not manufacture ethically is putting it mildly. They’ve been embroiled in numerous sweatshop “scandals,” been linked to what have been called “rape factories,” and generally capitalize on that significant margin between the cheap labor they pay for and the actual cost of their bras.
I think it needs to be said that I don’t see Bluestockings as competing with Victoria’s Secret. At all. They are in a league all their own, and to even think of Bluestockings as their competition is laughable. Also (and this is the notable part), my readers and customers have very, very different priorities than the people shopping at VS: not better, just different.
Part of what makes y’all different is the desire to shop ethically.
Ethical manufacturing is one of my key values as a retailer, to the point where I won’t buy from a designer or brand who can’t provide that guarantee. And though a lot of industry folks say it’s the customer’s job to do the research, many brands deliberately obfuscate the manufacturing conditions. Moreover, it’s easy to get a “Made in the USA” or “Made in the UK” label if the product has simply been finished here, even if it was actually made overseas in a cheap factory.
Retailers need to take more responsibility for holding brands accountable for ethics. More of the onus falls on us than the lingerie industry (or, I’d wager, any industry) is willing to admit.
So: where can you find ethical alternatives to Victoria's Secret?
Every brand we stock here at Bluestockings is ethically manufactured. We've got you covered.
The Bow Playsuit by Dottie's Delights
Dottie's Delights is handmade in Chicago and Nashville. Independent, retro-inspired brand designed by Stephanie Kuhr, who is committed to the ethics of slow fashion. Lingerie, loungewear, and vintage-inspired underthings. Plus, it's size inclusive - XS to 3X.
Nubian Skin was created as a response to one single question: where is the lingerie for women of color? Designed in London by Ade Hassan, Nubian Skin has completely changed the lingerie in its few short years. Major brands have emerged with their own (exceedingly overdue) options for dark skin tones, but Nubian Skin remains the major player. It was founded by a woman who was creating underwear she needed - and that is a powerful thing.
Bluestockings is proud to have stocked and supported Nubian Skin since we opened. You can find their bras, briefs, and hosiery here.
Goddess Mini Undershorts by harMonica
harMonica is an independent, woman-owned lingerie label manufactured in a woman-owned factory here in New York City. The designer, Monica Ditzler, is entirely committed to ethical manufacturing and sustainability, and it's always fun to see what this inventive indie brand is doing next. S-L.
On the Inside is handmade in North Carolina. Independent designer Elise Olsen often uses organic materials as well as earth-friendly bamboo blends in her designs. Lingerie and loungewear, XS-XL.
Fishnet Scoop Neck Bra in Rouge Noir by Claudette
Claudette is an independent lingerie brand based in the United States, designed in the UK, and ethically manufactured in Indonesia. I've spoken extensively with senior execs on the Claudette team about their manufacturing processes, and the company is deeply committed to working with reputable factories who pay their workers a fair wage.
Plus, Claudette makes some of my favorite bras on the market in an inclusive size range. We've got 32-38 C-G (UK).
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