Jeanna Kadlec for Bluestocking Boutique was interviewed on September 24th, 2018 by Kelly Reddy-Best via Zoom. The interview was 1 hour and 42 minutes. Photo courtesy of authors. The oral history transcript reflects the history of the brand at the time of the interview.
Oral History Video
Oral History Transcript
REDDY-BEST: So, the first question is: can you tell me about your background—where did you grow up, and where have you lived?
KADLEC: So, my name is Jeanna and I am a native Mid-westerner. I grew up rural working class in Iowa and Wisconsin. I lived in Davenport, Iowa; Waterloo, Iowa; Parkersburg, Iowa. I lived in Albany, Wisconsin, went back to college in Iowa at Cornell [College] in Mt. Vernon. So, that’s where I did my undergrad. We might be getting into the education question here [laughs]. So yeah, did my undergrad in Iowa and then went out to the east coast for graduate school. I grew up rural working class and also grew up very religious, like fundamentalist, evangelical. I did not grow up, in any way, out to myself, and I followed the fundamentalist, evangelical, Christianity, very particular path. For example, I married my college boyfriend, who was my best friend, and the plan was to be professors and to go to grad school together, and be in academia and be the academics. Owning a lingerie business that was geared toward the LGBT community was in no way a part of the life plan.
REDDY-BEST: What did you study? What were your degrees in?
KADLEC: For my undergrad, I went to Cornell College. I triple-majored in English, Politics, and Women’s Studies and then, I got into an English Lit PhD program at Brandeis [University]. I was very lucky. It took me two tries to get into PhD programs. In the humanities, it is really rough, really rigorous, but on my second try I received several offers from a number of places, and kind of had my pick of the litter. I really wanted to go to Brandeis to work with Susan Lanser, because she has a lot to do with narratology and the French Revolution and things like that and I wanted to work on women’s political writings during the French Revolution. That’s a topic that, at the time, seemed, perhaps, less relevant to the current political climate. Now, in 2018, with Trump, it now seems astonishingly relevant due to the current political climate. But yeah, I went to graduate school, the PhD program. As I said, I was married to a guy whose plan was also to be a professor. That was the goal, that was the plan. However, while in graduate school, I came out to myself, and divorced my husband, who was also an extremely conservative Christian, left the church and had a lot of life changes. Ultimately, I decided to leave graduate school. I kind of realized that, while I loved teaching, that the whole – how to put it? Well, it’s just that the job options post-PhD are really rough. The job market is difficult, there’s adjunct teaching at which, you know… I saw a lot of my peers struggling, and not only from Brandeis but from Boston, which also has a very tight intellectual community – there were people who I was in classes with from other schools as well and there is a really great Boston consortium where people from BC and BU and Tufts and Brandeis all take classes together and then are all at readings and events together. So, I saw my peers from Tufts and BU and Harvard also having trouble on the job market. Everyone was having trouble and I was about four years in and was like, “Nope, this is not, this is not going to work for me.” So, August 2014 was when I was when I was set to start my fourth year. I was set to take my field exams, and I was set to do my dissertation prospectus that year, and I was really in the space of having to commit to it, and I was simultaneously trying to come up with literally anything else to do with my life that was not going to be academia [laughs]. It’s like, “Okay, I love this, but I can’t do this. What else could I possibly love as much as this?” Writing was the obvious answer, but I did not trust myself to be able to make a full-time job out of writing. It turns out that now, four years after that passed, I actually am making a full-time job out of writing, but, in the interim period, starting a small business seemed like the best idea [laughs]. So, what led me to Bluestockings was the education route.
REDDY-BEST: Yeah, I can feel you on all of those things. [laughs]
KEDLEC: It’s wild. I have a lot of respect for folks who finished. Most of my peers did finish, and a number of them did get jobs. A lot of them are still grinding it out, looking and it takes a lot. I was very open about the fact that I was leaving. My advisor was not happy that I was leaving. A lot of people were not happy that I was leaving and, specifically, that I was very open about it and very critical. The lack of support that those of us who chose to leave received, because once we chose to leave it was like, you know, we were just sort of booted out and just dead to the program. There was no real support or mentorship provided for those of us pursuing non-academic careers. Anyways, that’s a whole different conversation, but I was just very upfront about why I was leaving with my graduate program. Not with all of the professors, but with all of my peers, the other graduate students knew what was happening. They knew about the business I was starting, they were very supportive and that was really cool to see, but, simultaneously, none of us really had for-profit or business experience. I mean, sometimes you don’t really have people in the programs who do that first and then go into academia, but in my program there wasn’t really anyone like that at the time, who was there. So, it was sort of blind leading the blind situation advice-wise [laughs]. So, yeah.
REDDY-BEST: Would you say that what you just described sort of describes also your personal background, as well? Is there anything else to add about that?
KADLEC: In terms of pre-Bluestockings, yes. I was just in academia and I had no experience, I mean, aside from working retail. I had no experience in management, or actually working in a corporate job, prior to doing that. I was just in academia, which meant that I had a strong writing background, but it’s different. The transferrable skills totally apply, but it was a very steep, almost vertical, learning curve in terms of how precisely to translate the writing skills and to selling on social media and how to write product-copy. It’s just a different genre, a completely different genre of writing.
REDDY-BEST: Which terms do you use to describe your gender identity?
KADLEC: I use woman and she/her. Yeah.
REDDY-BEST: And then what term do you use to describe your sexual identity?
KADLEC: So, when I started Bluestockings, I was identifying as queer, and now I primarily use lesbian and use queer kind of as a supplementary, umbrella word to use. But, when I started Bluestockings, I was still barely a year out of coming out and I was coming out of a marriage and queer, to me, still seemed the most inclusive word. I was still figuring out a few things about myself, and also in terms of being a very visible founder. I’ve always been a very public face of the company, and a very much like, “This is LGBT-owned and I am a queer woman,” and like, “I’m running it and the reason you can trust this company is because you can trust me.” Queer always seemed just also a good word to stick with for myself because, at least in terms of the very like millennial target audience I was going for, queer is a word that’s often used. I did receive a lot of criticism for it. We can talk about that a little later, actually [laughs]. Anyways, when I started Bluestockings, I was primarily using the “queer” word. I also mentioned that because I had that in social media bios, and things like that, but that has shifted over the years as it’s apt to do.
REDDY-BEST: How would you describe your personal clothing style?
KADLEC: From Autumn? I don’t know. It’s seasonally-informed [laughs]? In the summer I’m wearing dresses and skirts. In the winter I’m wearing blazers and leather. I’m wearing cowboy boots. I really enjoy this term that Autostraddle has thrown around within the last year, and I don’t think it’s in common parlance at all – it’s like, if you read Autostraddle, you’re familiar with it. The term is “mommi,” like M-O-M-M-I. You’ve come across this, right? It’s like, very Reese Witherspoon in Big Little Lies. You know, White House Black Market situation, which, it’s half my wardrobe. So, I very much relate to and enjoy this term. I mean, style-wise, I wear like, four different colors and keep it pretty simple. I’m pretty quick, which is interesting whenever I am traveling. Well, when I’m in queer spaces, I feel like that at this point, I’m competent enough that I am read that way just because I’m to the point where I just don’t care. I think there’s a confidence energy level that’s there, but, based on how I dressed, I think just walking down the street no one would ever assume. Certainly, when I was new to being out, a few years ago, and even, for the first few years when I would walk into queer spaces, I was always assumed to be the straight friend, because I have tattoos, but I’m not super-tattooed or pierced or, you know, otherwise a punk or alternative dressing individual. Yeah, I dress pretty conservatively, so… Sorry, I’m Midwestern, and well, I say this out here, “I give really, really, long answers.”
REDDY-BEST: No. Your answers are wonderful. I love them [laughs]. I grew up in New Jersey, and now I moved … now I’m in Iowa, and so I have this like … [laughs].
KADLEC: You have to reverse it, right? [laughs] When I’m out here, if people are like, “Why can’t you just get to the fucking point?” [laughs]. “I’m sorry, I’m just going to… I’ll get there, I promise. It’s on the way. Like, I’m just talking my way through it.” I grew up in small, small-town Iowa, and everyone talks like this. I mean, I don’t know how Ames is because, I know it’s more of a college town, so maybe it’s different, but …
REDDY-BEST: I think you’re doing great. [laughs] How did the idea for Bluestocking Boutique come about?
KADLEC: So, initially, it came about quite accidentally. As I mentioned, I was, on the one hand, in this space of just being deeply dissatisfied with my graduate work and wanting to get out of my PhD program, and just very much looking for a way out. One night, though, I was not thinking about that. I was drinking with a friend on my porch in the hot August heat, in Somerville, Massachusetts and we were just shooting the shit. My friend’s a lesbian, she’s actually the wife of a friend of mine who’s still in the graduate program at Brandeis. I don’t even know how we got on the topic, but we got on the topic of lingerie, probably because like, I mean, women wear it, but for me, it’s like a hobby. I enjoy going to boutiques. I enjoy fancy design fairs. Queers enjoy things like that. So, anyway, we somehow got on this topic about how heteronormative boutiques are. We were bitching about Victoria’s Secret. We were just, you know, going down that rabbit hole and somehow ended up in the land of, “Why aren’t more [lingerie boutiques] LGTB friendly? Why isn’t this just a more accommodating place to our community?” So many people have really uncomfortable experiences. I think I just randomly spat out, “Oh, I just should start one.” Like, “Why not me? I should just start one.” I was drunk. So, this idea should not have taken root, in hindsight. However, I was up the next day and clearly remembered the whole conversation and couldn’t shake it and I just kind of started looking around and doing some digging, doing some research. Does anything like this exist? What kind of grants are out there? You know, just doing some very intensive, obsessive digging, which, as a graduate student, I was very well trained to do. I quickly determined within 72 hours, that nothing like this was out there and that I could very easily put something like this together. I was also probably the best person to do it because, “Why not? It wasn’t going to happen anyway.” So that’s how it came about. It was very much an impulsive thing, that I just quickly put feet under, and put a plan underneath and did the research to figure out how I could make it work. I look back on it and I’m like, “That is some wild confidence that I had,” because I also didn’t have the money. I figured out a way to get the money, and it’s just bonkers to me when I look back on it. I’m like, “What kind of just wild confidence and asinine desperation I had to get out of my program.” I don’t know what. I also had the idea that I could do it as kind of a trial run during my last year of graduate school, because I was already sure I was going to be doing my fourth year of school. I was signed up and I had teaching obligations. I was definitely committed to one last year and I figured that this could be like a side project, the test-run, trial-run to see how it could go.
REDDY-BEST: Can you talk about the significance of the name?
KADLEC: Oh, yeah. Bluestockings. Again, it’s just something that you probably know already know. It’s the name of a group of super intellectual and bad-ass women who ran literary salons in London, in the early 18th century. So, I was inspired by my graduate work. It also was not lost on me that the name was, conveniently lingerie-oriented [laughs]. I have had a number of people that have complained that I do not, in fact, I have never stocked blue stockings. So, that’s a thing.
REDDY-BEST: So, 2014 was the year where you were thinking about it, and I’m just kind of interested in the timeline of when, officially, it became a vision and you were thinking about doing it.
KADLEC: It was really fast. So, August 2014 was the idea. Within a month, I had my social media accounts—the site, the blog and my DBA—my Doing Business Certificate. I started talks with designers. I was figuring out my funding, and then, I launched in April 2015. So, it was a very short timeline to get there. So it was like August, and then September, in terms of actually getting a social media presence and a blog, and starting to build some groundswell interest. One of the people who immediately jumped on board was Cora Harrington, who runs The Lingerie Addict, which is the largest lingerie website in the world and Cora is queer herself. She has since become a very close personal friend. People like that immediately took notice just because I’m not a journalist, I’m not in publishing. I was coming at it from a very academic perspective. I had a very different way of talking about what I saw as major issues with representation in the lingerie industry, and a lot of people paid attention to it, which was kind of surprising to me. I was hoping to resonate with some people specifically within the community, but I did not expect a lot of people to pay attention. When it actually launched, it got a lot of press attention, which was very surprising to me. It was very welcome, but very surprising.
REDDY-BEST: Can you tell me about how the business model works for the boutique?
KADLEC: It’s e-commerce retail. It’s actually a very traditional retail business model and I buy wholesale, excuse me, I buy wholesale from independent designers and then do a 40% to 60% retail markup, for the store.
REDDY-BEST: What kind of products did you offer and then, what were the prices?
KADLEC: So, I offer pretty much anything you would buy in a lingerie store. When I started, I wanted to offer as much as humanly possible and in as large of size ranges as humanly possible and as many kinds of products as was humanly possible. I wanted to have something for everyone and I wanted everyone to be happy. This is not actually possible with the store and I have since narrowed the store’s offerings quite significantly. In hindsight, I just should have been doing that all along, but, you know, hindsight is 20/20 and you learn. So, what kinds of products? In terms of underwear, I carry basically all kinds of cuts that you would find in a typical boutique. So, thongs, bikinis, that kind of thing, but also gender inclusive items like packing briefs that you would not, for example, find in a normal lingerie store. I shouldn’t say normal – mainstream is the word that I would typically use. When it comes to bras, I was offering underwire and then also bralettes, and a pretty large size range from extra small to XXX, which is very atypical. Then for the bands, I opened with 28 to 42 bands and A to G cups, which is kind of wild. I remember telling some boutique owners who I knew that that’s what I was opening with and their eyes almost popped out of their heads. On the one hand, stores and brands get a lot of flack for opening with a very limited band size range. However, when you think about it like, each of those bras…I should have done this now before I talked to you here. If you’ll let me do this really quickly. That’s okay 20 … let me like count really quickly. 28, 30, 32, 34, 36, 38, 40, 42. Okay. That’s eight bands and – A, B, C, D, double D, F, G – just seven cup sizes. So, that’s 45 sizes. It’s about 45 SKUs and let’s multiply it by $35 wholesale per bra. These bras are retailing at $70. So, that’s about roughly $1600 – it’s actually $1575. That’s almost $1600 per run for just one type of bra like in one color for a wholesale order. That’s insane [laughs]. That’s so much money for one item in one size. I mean, considering that with my whole opening inventory, I had a budget of about $15,000 that I was working with and the fact is that like, one run of one style of bra can run you $1500 obviously eats up a lot of that money. So yes, it’s a major thing. I did not open with a lot of loungewear. I had very limited selection. I did open with sex toys. I thought that that would be a bigger part of my business than it ended up being. They basically didn’t sell. That was fine. I wanted to offer them. They didn’t go and that’s cool. Another thing that I very much cared about doing was offering nude bras for women of color. Nubian Skin, which is the preeminent brand for that, had also just opened around the same time and I was one of the first … if not the first to pick them up, I think I was the second or third retailer, maybe the first e-commerce though. This was before, like long before Nordstrom pick them up. And yeah. So, I was offering Nubian skin like from the start of, of the thing, and having nudes for everyone, which was really, just really important to me. It was like either you can or you can’t. Like, you don’t get to just offer nude bras for one skin tone. That’s not an option! Since they exist now, that’s not a thing you get to do, not that plenty of boutiques don’t still do it. So, I don’t know if that answers your question [laughs], but that’s kind of the general overview. Oh, and also binders! That’s the other important thing that I really wanted to offer, was gender inclusive under things – so packing briefs and also the binders, which have continued to be bestsellers since day one because I also offer them in several different cuts. I’ve always offered only black, but I’ve offered full tank, half-tank and then also a strapless option, which is obviously the least compression, but it has been a really popular option for people, and also looks more stylish than some of the more medical looking binders that people have had access to historically.
REDDY-BEST: What brands of binders did you carry?
KADLEC: So, I carried ones by Danaë [Danaë Trans-Missie], she is a designer based in the Netherlands. I contacted several brands, and have continued to contact several brands about stocking wholesale. UnderWorks never got back to me. They’re the ones that are by far the most well-known and then gc2b debuted, I think, a year into Bluestockings being open. I have talked to them a little bit. I very much wanted to stock gc2b once they debuted because they got such rave reviews from friends who wore them and just uniformly well-viewed. They offer them in so many colors. It’s just very fashionable looking. I really like how it looks. It’s well made. I think it’s made in the US, they tick all the boxes in being ethically made. They look great, et cetera, and are comfortable, all of the things. That’s a whole other piece of being a retailer is contacting a bunch of indie brands, like gc2b, who only work direct-to-consumer and do not actually work with retailers. Often, I’ll get feedback from the community being like, “Why don’t you have this brand? We want this brand.” But of course, there’s this whole behind-the-scenes conversation of like, “I’ve been talking to them and they don’t do it!” It’s looked at as like, “You know, why don’t you have everything?” And it’s like, “Actually I would love to, but either they don’t do it, or like the minimum order is too high.” There are some brands who are like, “Well, your first order has to be over $1000 or you have to order a certain number of pieces.” And I’m like, “That is so out of my budget,” and it’s just not a feasible conversation.
REDDY-BEST: How many folks worked at Bluestockings? Was it just you? Did you have any employees?
KADLEC: It was just me. I have hired contractors, or freelancers, to do specific projects over the years. For example, my friend Melissa, who also I met at Brandeis in the graduate program, while she was a terminal master’s student. She switched careers and became a web developer. I hired her to design the first iteration of the Bluestockings sites. So, she was someone who I paid to do a project and whatnot. I’ve had bookkeepers over the years and hired people to do the logo and shit like that, but I have never had an employee. I do not even pay myself. So, it’s interesting in terms of having the ethics of like, ethical fashion and sustainability, but simultaneously I’m not taking a paycheck from it. So, and could not afford to have someone on because of the margins.
REDDY-BEST: Where was the store located? What was the address?
KADLEC: Oh, it’s e-commerce.
REDDY-BEST: Oh, okay. I apologize for that.
KADLEC: No, you’re good. I get this question, all the time. So, it’s online-only, but when I started, it was in Boston and then I moved to New York in January 2016. So, I had gone through the process of applying for a sales tax stuff in two states and I will never do it again. It’s a pain in the ass, but yeah, the fact that it was online-only is what allowed me to even move to New York. Obviously, having a brick and mortar would have been financially impossible, and also would have been a tether.
REDDY-BEST: What is your role? So, you do everything?
KADLEC: Yes. So, for order fills… I mean, the parts that I enjoy the most or what led me into actually convincing myself that I could write full time. So, my full-time job now, for the company that I worked for, is as a copywriter and I do a bunch of freelance writing, but a lot of that confidence came from doing the Bluestockings blog and doing the social media and interacting with customers in that way and really building a very devoted following. Through all of that, which is surprising to me, but I learned how to interact with people through the brand, but in a way that was still very real and that was more limited than when you’re in-person but that was still very true to particular values. That clearly resonated with folks, and then a way that they wanted to support, and that if they could support at that time, because of finances or whatnot, they wanted to tell other people about so that they could support it. So, that was great. That was always my favorite part of the business. What has always been my favorite part of the business is the people I’ve met through it, people I’ve interacted with through it. Accounting and order fulfillment, and things like that are definitely my least favorite parts, but they have to be done.
REDDY-BEST: Did you ever do any production? Or did you strictly buy wholesale?
KADLEC: We bought wholesale and given what I know now, you could not pay me to get into fashion production or anything. It’s all done and I know it will come to me. I’ve learned a lot though like about how protective designers are once they’ve made those connections. Like, even if I wanted to and even though I have a number of very close friends now and have history, they would not give up their suppliers. They’re like, “No! We knocked on doors. We literally went down and knocked on every door. You go knock on doors.” It’s like, you know, “You go do that work. We’re not just going to give you our contacts.” [laughs]. They wouldn’t even if I asked. I mean, it’s theirs.
REDDY-BEST: How did you decide which brands or products to carry? And I feel like you touched upon that a lot.
KADLEC: Yeah, I mean, the only other thing I’ll say is that I did a fair bit of research about brands beforehand and I did pretty quickly narrow down that I wanted to work exclusively with independent companies, or independent brands I should say, that were manufacturing ethically. Although, at a certain point is kind of a given, since it takes a lot of money and a lot of production power to either be able to afford the minimums that you have to be able to have to order and to work with factories in China and Malaysia and Morocco and places like that.
REDDY-BEST: Did you think about whether [fashion] trends important were to your boutique or was it not something that you necessarily thought about?
KADLEC: Honestly, no, because I was going for very basic cuts, and pieces that would be people’s staples. I would occasionally splurge on seasonal colors, but also ones that I thought would still do well and sometimes I was right and sometimes I was wrong. So, I’ve only ever really been wrong about something I thought would do well one time and it was about a piece that was black and that given that black is uniformly always thought to be a safe option in lingerie, that was astonishing to me. [laughs].
REDDY-BEST: Did you ever look at any celebrities or style icons or artists for inspiration for products to buy?
KADLEC: Not really, just not really.
REDDY-BEST: Can you talk about some of the imagery that you used to promote your boutique and who and why?
KADLEC: Yeah. So, initially I did not have any imagery of my own to use and something that was important to me when I was choosing brands was based on which brands had what images. Like, who was conscientious about about their models and about how they represented themselves in a very thoughtful and smart way. I didn’t want to be partnering with brands who were exploitative about how they represented women, and how they represented people. Queer-inclusive imagery is hard to come by on a good day in lingerie, so I wasn’t necessarily hoping for that, although I did make a point to stock a few queer designers, like Play Out, which is Abby’s brand and like, FYI by Danny Reed. I don’t know, have you talked to her?
KADLEC: So, there was some imagery that I was able to get that was very explicitly queer, which was fantastic, but for most of it I was just aiming for images that were basically “anti-Victoria’s Secret.” On the one hand, I think it’s a bit reductive to say that, but you also know exactly what I mean when I say that, which is that I didn’t want sexy pouts and only white models just looking seductively at a male gaze-camera. I wanted people who looked thoughtful and engaged and were in everyday life settings. I wanted to work with brands that were exclusively women-run, basically, who showed their models and who wanted to show their products in ways that were reflective of that. So, a lot of the imagery on the site is actually produced by a variety different people and a variety of different brands, but to my mind it looks cohesive. It doesn’t necessarily look cohesive as it would on one brand’s website, but it is similar in that it is not male gaze-y [laughs].
REDDY-BEST: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
KADLEC: It is definitely more diverse in terms of the fact that there are those brands. I specifically partner with brands who use models of size and women of color and are very purposeful about showing their work on a variety of body types. When I had a place to actually do my own shoots, I did calls. I did not work with any professional models ever. I wanted to work with people in the community and so I did model calls. They were pretty diverse. I wanted to have people of color, and I wanted to have people who are trans and either non-binary or gender nonconforming. Like, people who were bi, lesbian, gay, and were like basically covering the whole fucking spectrum and that’s represented in every shoot I ever did and I’m very proud of that. In some of them, there were actual couples. In some of them, we just kind of put people together and were like, “Do what you’re comfortable with.” In my second shoot that I did, I partnered with Qwear Fashion, if you’re familiar with Sonny Orom’s website.
REDDY-BEST: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
KADLEC: So, Sonny and I met because we went out on a date [laughs] once in Boston. We were neighbors and we met years ago and this was long before, they were doing Qwear. I think they were just starting Qwear at the time. I had not started these type of things, but anyway, it didn’t work out with us. A long time later I started Bluestockings and they reached out. We were like, “Oh my God, this is amazing.” Years later we ended up partnering on this fantastic photo shoot in New York City and it was amazing… So, you never know how people in your life are going to come back around and, the connections we form based on mutual interests. So, it’s been really, really great to kind of see how that’s come around, but I definitely have been into my shell with always wanting to have models who were representative of the queer community. I think the one piece that I do, in hindsight, looking back, wish that I had paid more attention to, is that there were never any models who were disabled who were in shoots. That it’s something that I am very keenly aware that like lingerie, like ability with lingerie is a thing. Having front-closing bras for example, is a huge thing that we don’t think about a lot of time. I am just very aware that that’s not something that I was conscious of or paying attention to, and, wish that I had been. So, again, a very long answer for you.
REDDY-BEST: It seems like you’re super aware. I think it makes sense that you have a really critical perspective. How do you think customers found out about your boutique?
KADLEC: They found out about it in a lot of ways. So, some people just came across it through social or through the blog and they were exposed to it really through people like Cora. They weren’t following people like Cora Harrington, The Lingerie Addict. Also Arabelle Sicardi, who was, at the time, writing for Buzzfeed and then had a big blow up with Buzzfeed over a very critical article about Dove [soap brand] that they wrote. And then, like Buzzfeed took it down, because Dove was a advertiser and then they put it back up. And like they left Buzzfeed over that. Arabelle very quickly found Bluestockings prior to me even opening. I only bring them up because Cora and Arabelle are people with very substantial followings and very devoted followings and very clear followings. I know a lot of people came through them and then it just kind of trickled down. Plus, me being just super active and super consistent on social helped. When people ask me about social, I’m like, “You just have to be consistent. Don’t count on the big fish, like that one big post that’s just going to blow up.” Posts go viral all the time and people’s followers don’t just blow out of the water. It’s just a consistent building, and a consistent attention to detail. I think because I started doing that with Bluestockings in August before the launch in April, I built a lot of content. I’ve talked to a lot of people, people knew it was coming. So, by the time it launched in April, there was a lot of press around it, there was a lot of buzz around it. It got coverage on like also like on Hello Giggles and Buzzfeed and ABC News pretty quickly too. So, places like that where it was kind of in the year to the point where now it’s four years later, and when I go into like queer events or like, when I went to Autostraddle’s 8th camp this summer and people were wearing my bras. [laughs]. They were like, “Oh my God! I ordered this from you.” Or I met someone at Cubbyhole or one of the lesbian bars in New York City and they had ordered their first binder from me. That to me, it’s just remarkable and just blows my mind. I can’t even quite wrap my mind around it, but like it’s trickled down to that point where people are like, “Oh yeah, a few years ago you were very important to me.” Shit.
REDDY-BEST: Who are your customers? Was it primarily LGBTQ folks? Was it a variety of folks?
KADLEC: I actually think it’s a mix. I would say probably 50/50 between LGBT and not. At the end of the day, but definitely mostly millennial, according to my Google Analytics [laughs]. That was definitely who was buying from me, but also it is who I was talking to. Like I said earlier, I got a lot of criticism for using the word queer in advertising and marketing. I mean, I think that’s completely valid and also a generational thing, but I’m like I’m using this word because it’s how I identified at the time, but also it’s a word that is inclusive, an umbrella-term to to a specific group of people and they will know that I’m talking to them and that I’m talking to my peers, who are 30. My aim here is to talk to people who are within basically like a t=enure range on either side of me. Get really like a 15-year range up and then like a tenure range down. That’s really what I’m aiming at here and “queer” fits them.
REDDY-BEST: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
KADLEC: Okay. That’s the goal.
REDDY-BEST: Yeah. It’s interesting like around language and like thinking about … it-it’s, it’s like you can just never get it, right? You know, I feel like …
KADLEC: Never and it took me a while but I kind of ended up coming down on the side of like, “Fuck it. There will always be someone sending an email.”
REDDY-BEST: Yes. Always.
KADLEC: There will always be someone responding to a tweet. There will always be someone who’s upset, who does not feel seen or represented, who does not feel included, and I am sorry that they don’t feel that based on what I’m putting out, but also, I’m running a business. And my goal here is to basically do the most for the most people to get the most return.
REDDY-BEST: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
KADLEC: A business is not activism. I mean, I kind of have this line that I’ve fallen down on, which is a very, very strong feeling that running a business is not and can never be activism. I can be providing a service to the community sort of by what I’m doing, but I firmly do not believe that, I’m actually out there. It’s probably the one thing I’ve really come out of Bluestockings with, is that I do not believe that it can be activism just because also running a business, by virtue of what I’m doing, I’m not going to be able to provide products for the entire spectrum of the community. I’m not going to be able to provide products for the poorest among us, to that effect. I have done bra donations and bra drives and have made charitable donations on a number of causes. For example, I used to have a recurring monthly charitable donation set up, with the business for various LGBT organizations like the Trevor Project and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, and Planned Parenthood too, organizations that do a lot of work with our community. It’s just not compatible. It’s capitalism. It’s not compatible to that.
KADLEC: Right? [laughs]. It’s a business. It’s not compatible with like any particular goals around deconstructing, right? The heteronormative patriarchal, capitalist structure is like, “Sorry, this is the wrong place.” I mean, if you want that go to a political organizing meeting, but when you’re ordering your shit from me like this is not the place for that. This is like an exchange of goods and services! I have a lot of feelings about this [laughs].
KADLEC: Mostly because I had to sort through my feelings about failing people.
REDDY-BEST: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
KADLEC: I was feeling like I was failing people because I got a substantial amount of hate mail. I had a number of things happen online, but I had to sort through feelings about that.
REDDY-BEST: Mm-hmm [affirmative]. So, and then, what are you most proud of in regards to Bluestocking?
KADLEC: I think what I said earlier really about how everyone who I ever meet who tells me that it made a difference to them and I know that sounds a little cheesy, but it’s true, because that’s why I started it. It makes a difference and it reminds me of that with all the emotional exhaustion [laughs], and the significant financial debt that it’s never going to pay itself back and that I’m just, “Well, I’m closing shop,” [laughs] … because I am actually closing quite soon and I’m just going to take that debt on and that’s fine. It’s made a difference to a lot of people and that means a lot.
REDDY-BEST: And then what do you view as most successful so far? It can be any part, anything that you feel has been successful.
KADLEC: I’ll say two things here. I think the community that has come up around it has been a great success. There are a number of people I know who have like met each other through Bluestockings. I have gained a lot of friends through Bluestockings. I have friends who met their wedding photographers through Bluestockings. It’s just when people just also coming into their sense of style and feeling, and seeing for the first time, and I’m extraordinarily proud of that. So, I think the sense of confidence and the community people, which is a very, a femoral thing, but I’m very proud of it. That is something for which I will take a certain amount of credit. I’ll say when I started like, I’ll say April 2015 is like the actual launch time, no brands were doing queer imagery like aside from Play Out, and I mean no mainstream brands, like FYI by Danny Reed, which is super kinky and has since shuttered and then Abby’s brand. Those are queer-owned also. Independent, queer-owned. No one was doing anything remotely with models and no one had like lingerie. Everyone was doing like stuff that was super inclusive, that wasn’t with models who weren’t visibly LGBT, who were visibly like transgender, or nonconforming. Visibly is the wrong way to put it, but you know, shoots that were with people of a variety of body types and also like shoots that were not just homoerotic between women for the sake of the male gaze, because that has been going on for years. I’ve written about that extensively actually. Just look at every Victoria’s Secret photo shoot ever, or Agent Provocateur which does a lot of shoots that are super explicit, like, very kinky, scenes between women and women, while wearing lingerie, but it’s very visibly for some kind of male gaze. It’s just straight-up male-gaze type shoots. In the years since, I don’t know how much credit I can precisely take for this – however, a lot of imagery has come out that has become more queer-friendly within lingerie spaces. From Aerie even, and just from different mainstream brands and the undies have launched. I feel like the landscape is diversifying at a really rapid rate, at a pace that is such that mainstream brands and whatnot have very quickly outstripped queer brands serving on niche markets, which is probably as it should be anyway. Just mainstream brands actually understanding how to start a number of communities as well. Like shocking, but the imagery has gotten a lot, a lot better [laughs].
REDDY-BEST: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
KADLEC: I do see a lot of room for improvement in how they actually do their copy and like, the copy is something that’s always been really important to me. Like, having size guides that consider Trans folks, and having product descriptions that have fitting notes for different kinds of body types, which is something that I’ve always had. Also, product descriptions that are not heteronormative or that use pronouns. My site’s basically gender neutral. You’re not going to find a product description about how this bra helps you look cute for your boyfriend [laughs]. You know, things like that.
KADLEC: Like, if you have a boyfriend, great, and if you want to look cute for them, awesome, but like it’s not going to assume your gender and it’s not going to assume the gender of your partner. I think that we do have a long way to go when it comes to that. Okay, this answer has really gone off the rails, sorry [laughs]. However, I’ll just say that I think the imagery has gotten a lot more and I think that a lot of the conversations that Bluestockings been a part of has helped that process.
REDDY-BEST: And then what were some of the initial things that surprised you? What were some of the struggles when you were originally starting?
KADLEC: Money was hard. And I knew how hard it would be to start, but I also did not quite realize the amount of money that you would need to keep feeding into a business to keep it going. I did not quite take that into account. I was very, naive and under-prepared from that particular standpoint. It was partly just not having a business background, not having a family who was in this and not having family money. I did as much research as I could, but also not a lot’s widely available. I did not seek out investors. I took out a student loan, which I have not made really public because I don’t know how much trouble I would get in for that. Probably not a lot. I was still in graduate school, so I was like, “Well, I can get money because I’ve a student loan available to me.” That’s mostly how I did it. That and a credit card, which are probably not the most advisable ways to fund a business, but that’s what I did. So, the money thing was very surprising. The other thing that was very surprising to me was the amount of criticism I got from the community. I was not anticipating that. I anticipated criticism from the lingerie industry or from more conservative sectors, but getting negative feedback from LGBT folks and the sort-of-hate-mail and then having some actual hate mail, and having some shit go really badly viral, after the first photoshoot that I organized was very surprising to me.
REDDY-BEST: What’s some of the positive feedback, and also some of the negative feedback you have received? Would you be able to talk a little bit more about some of the negative feedback?
KADLEC: I mean, the negative feedback, it varies. It kind of falls into four buckets. The first bucket is just a very general, like, “You weren’t as good as you think you are. You’re betraying the LGBT community, like blah, blah.” Just kind of that general, you know, betrayal. The second bucket is size options, which is not necessarily always an LGBT specific thing, but if it’s criticism around an item, like binders or packing briefs, it can take on layers, not always, but it can take on layers around dysphoria or layers size-ism along with the dysphoria along with just concerns around not being seen all together. From the community, it’s very just very emotional emails that are completely valid and that are a lot to take in and obviously I’m wanting to serve as many folks as I can, so what I can do, in that case, is to provide a recommendation as to where else they could find something. You know, other brands that provide sizes that are like more accommodating to them or whatnot. The third is criticism that everyone in the lingerie industry faces, but that I do think what is community-specific is around pricing, specifically because I do make a point to work with brands that are independent and ethically manufactured my price points do tend to be higher. So, underwear is looking around like $20 to $35 a pop; bralettes are anywhere from $30 to $70; loungewear is between $40 and $100. So, when we’re considering the lingerie industry, these were all mid-market prices. They’re not Walmart and Target, and they’re definitely not luxury and they’re not even high end. They’re, they’re mid-market. However, for the community and when you’re considering millennials disposable income… On the one hand, I’m working with people who are accustomed and very savvy about shopping online but a lot of folks who are shopping on Amazon and places like that and don’t necessarily understand all the differences between the kinds of online stores they’re interfacing with and the differences between and Amazon shops, a Bluestockings, or a Barnes and Noble online. You know, just how it’s easy to go to an indie bookstore and just run up the bill. Then there are also the political connotations around pricing with our community. The way that I talk with Bluestockings tends to attract a lot of very progressive-minded folks, which then you get a lot of people on the one hand being like, yes, ethical consumerism, but at the same time they want really low prices [laughs]. And I’m like, “These two things do not necessarily go hand in hand,” but of course it’s a paradox, right? On the one hand I’m selling ethically made products, but everyone who’s buying them is not necessarily themselves earning an ethical wage. And I’m very keenly aware that that’s a tension that I’m working with and that is not solvable by me or is not solvable overnight. Their frustrations have the same narrative: that this is lingerie that they want, but that they necessarily can’t afford. They’re upset that I’m not providing them, the price that is Amazon, et cetera. So, that’s the third bucket. The fourth bucket of criticism is the fight, that actually is a very isolated incident. It’s the viral posts that I mentioned that was in response to the first photoshoot that I did, which was maybe in 2015. We’ll get the exact year. It was late 2015, or early 2016. It would have been late 2015, I think. Anyway, I really encouraged the models to have a lot of agency in how they were posing and in the places that they were in taking the photos. In hindsight, I should have done more direction and I should have changed up the shots a lot more, so that there were some shots with some people in front and some shots with other people in front, kind of no matter what the model’s preference was. Because again, these were volunteers and they weren’t getting paid, I was very accommodating. I should have been more conscientious of how it would appear if some models were always in the back because they were a little more introverted and that’s where they felt more comfortable, because in hindsight, one of the models who was a little shyer and preferred to be in the back was a trans woman. She was a very good friend and she and her partner were both in the shoot. They’re the ones who hired the photographer who did that shoot to do their wedding photos. We all went to Autostraddle’s camp, and this is one of those delightful concentric queer friends stories. However, because she was in the back, the post went viral on tumbler regarding criticism of putting trans woman in the back of the shot. It very quickly spiraled into the Jeanna-is-a-TERF conversation, which I just stayed out of. My approach that was just not to touch it. I was like, “There is nothing to be gained from being in this,” but I did get a lot emails, a lot.
KADLEC: It was not pleasant. My now ex-partner, we just broke up last year. She was with me when I was launching the business, we were together for almost the whole time. Honestly, that whole experience very much soured her on the business, because she was furious with how all the shit that was happening was happening. She’s just like, “You’re not going to engage?” I was like, “No, have you ever seen someone try to defend themselves against this and have it go well? [laughs] No.”
REDDY-BEST: [laughs] No, never.
KADLEC: You just don’t touch it. It’ll go away eventually and it did go away eventually, and no one remembers it now except me.[laughs].
REDDY-BEST: I’m sorry that happened.
KADLEC: I will say of that experience that it was a few weeks and it was emotionally exhausting, and I was not the same after it with Bluestockings. It did very much take a lot out of me and I was like, “This can’t be the only thing, because I can’t take this from the community.” Again, most of the stuff I’ve gotten over the years has been from the community itself and I was like, “I know that some people are cut out for that kind of thing. I am not.” It’s a lot, and it was definitely a learning opportunity for the next the photo shoot I did with Sonny at Qwear. I was definitely more conscientious about how models were being positioned and how we were changing up the group. I was definitely more careful the next time, and provided more direction and I was more confident. I tried to be more at the forefront. I feel like I can handle criticism when it comes to things like sizing and things like pricing. There’s some people who are just going to be mad anyway, but I can pair it with explanations and with very forthright and detailed blog posts and articles that I’ve written for sites like Racked, which is now The Goods by Vox, around my life and the background of the store and the financial parameters that independent fashion businesses are working within. I feel like that goes a long way, just explaining the constraints, but you can never control for some things.
REDDY-BEST: So, can you just talk a little bit about some of the community outreach that you were involved in, and how it aligns with some of the values that you had listed online?
KADLEC: Yeah. So, again, because I was very keenly aware that this is a business and it’s not activism, I also still wanted to do something for the community. When I was still in Boston, I did bra drives both in-person and also mail-in because again, it was an e-commerce business, and a lot of people knew that it was happening and wanted to contribute. I did projects for Rosie’s Place, which is the oldest women’s shelter in the country and it’s also LGBT inclusive. It’s really awesome – and I did bra drives that also accepted use binders. I did that a few times when I was still in the Boston area. I also started something and I forget exactly when I started this. It was pretty quickly and but an 18 on the 18th is what I called it because the 18th was the birthday of the business. It was like donating 18% of sales on the 18th of every month to a different organization, so, like to the Trevor Project, the Sylvia Rivera Law project, Planned Parenthood, places like that, to just be like, “Hey, this is the charitable giving back that we’re doing.” Again, it was partly to mitigate some criticisms that I was getting, especially in the beginning around like, “You aren’t for everyone and your stuff’s expensive.” “Yes, we’re also giving it back in that way.”
REDDY-BEST: But not taking a paycheck, you know. I feel like some people don’t understand that. Sorry, go ahead. I didn’t mean to interrupt you.
KADLEC: You know, what can you do? I was that way too. I think in the beginning, I was always responsive to criticism. Like, I just wasn’t really confident and I eventually got there but it took me a while. Also, from day one, and this is something I’m extremely happy about and will always be happy about, I offered a student discount from the start, because I was a grad student at the time and I liked lingerie that I couldn’t afford. So, I was like this does not hurt anyone, a 10% discount does not hurt anyone. Just fucking mail in your ID and you get a permanent discount. A lot of people did it and it was great. Then, pretty quickly, like within a few months of the business starting, I also instituted as sex worker discount, which I also continue to be and will always be really fucking happy that that happened. Not as many people took advantage of that, I think, for obvious concerns about privacy and stigma and whatnot. However, sex workers are widely known in the industry to be a consistently loyal and very high-spending customer base. A 10% off discount for them is nothing or for them and for the also for their clients who can buy off of wish lists and things like that. That is nothing. That’s so easy and it’s also a way to show support, because a lot of imagery in lingerie advertising that, for example, Agent provocateur does, trades on sex work. Also Chantelle. A lot of luxury brands actually produce advertising and look books that completely trade on these very covert sex work pieces. It’s just everyone knows that sex workers spend bank on luxury brands, which is really nice brands, and it’s something that none of us talk about it. Not enough people talk about it, I should say, especially in light of SESTA [Stop Enabling Sex-Trafficking Act] passing this last year. I very much started advertising it again and brought it up again. I was like, “This is something that’s been important to me for a long time and important to Bluestockings and important to a lot of us.” There was an outpouring of gratitude and support from folks in that community just over a discount. Just over that it was like, “Oh my God, thank you. You see us.” That fucking blew me away, as well. It’s just been very telling to me. There’s a really great guest article on The Lingerie Addict, written by someone in that industry about the intersections of sex work and lingerie. It’s fantastic.
REDDY-BEST: I’ll check that out. That’s interesting. So, I always ask in the end, is there anything else that would be important for me to know about? Would you want to add anything about why you’re closing?
KADLEC: So, I’m closing because I want to focus more professionally on my writing. I mentioned that when I was looking for a way out of school, the obvious way for me to have done that would have been to focus on my writing. That was the obvious answer, but I didn’t have the confidence and this kind of came up as a really fun idea. In hindsight, I’m really thrilled that it happened because I’ve met the most remarkable people and have done things I never thought I would do. It’s certainly paved a way. Bluestockings is single-handedly responsible for getting me all of the full-time 9-to-5 jobs I’ve had in New York, in the tech industry. I work for a women’s healthcare company now. My experience running the social media and building that kind of community like has gotten me a lot of work. I’m really grateful that I started this business during my last year of grad school and that I actually did some shit with it. That’s been very, very valuable, but it’s been four years now and financially I just I don’t have the energy to keep it going in that sense then to kind of keep going into that for it. Also, emotionally I don’t have the energy to keep it going either, because it is just me and there are other things that are more satisfying and challenging professionally to be working on right now.
REDDY-BEST: And then is there anything else that we didn’t talk about that would be important about regarding the history or background? Any related stories?
KADLEC: Well, I actually wrote down a handful of things. Let me just kind of quickly check over my notes here. The one thing that I would add is that over the years, lingerie is a very closed-off, very conservative, slightly backwater industry that does not take kindly to outsiders coming in who are not from the fashion world. I was not from the right school or the right background, and I didn’t have money. So, when I was trying to come in and do this, I tried to talk to boutique owners whose boutiques I went to and they weren’t particularly helpful. I tried to talk to brands and I was like, “Hey, I’m starting a store and this is what it’s about.” Some of them were receptive and most of them weren’t. Certainly, I did not get much in the way of advice from them, but the people who were receptive and who were emotionally supportive and who reached out to me to talk were bloggers and the people who were actually talking to the community. They were people like Cora Harrington, and people like Sweet Nothing, she does not use her real name online because of professional reasons, people like Caroline, Elena Whites, who is The Lingerie Lesbian. She no longer is active with blogging, but her blog was hugely influential for me when I was just like coming out to myself and starting to buy nice lingerie for myself and things like that. I met all of them through Twitter and then became friends with all of them in real life and now, years later, just friends with them normally and lingerie is really a part of the heart of the friendship. I mean, it’s not the only thing we have, but they were the ones who actually supported me; supported Bluestockings; gave me advice; and were helpful. I think that that particular community of people are perhaps not who you would expect to be the mentors of folks coming in, but they were completely invaluable, and really important and kind of continued to be my closest friends the community and within the lingerie world. So, that’s the piece that I would add. Cora and I, we went to Autostraddle’s 8th camp this year, and we’re looking at doing some kind of lingerie. So, basically, I wanted to go this year and I talked Cora into going with me. She’s Bi and is amazing and it’s a queer-only thing. Let’s go. So, we were roommates and went to camp together and did a lingerie shoot at camp. We are going to see if we can launch some kind of lingerie workshop for camp next year. So, that’s kind of how it continues to manifest in the world is through just being queer people and their style with lingerie and underthings. That’s fun. It’s like a fun, eccentric hobby I have now. [laughs].