I love lingerie.
Ever since I could wear "big girl panties" I've hoarded them. My mother tells tales of me running around with them on my head screaming ,"Panty head, panty head!"
I may be a silly girl but my affinity for them is very serious. I even had a part-time job at Frederick's of Hollywood during high school. From my first pair of Wonder Woman underoos to my current (very deep) underwear drawer, I have a passion for them.
Given my views on body image and feminism, some might think this odd. But think about it-
No matter what makes you feel sexy, you have to first feel good about yourself from the bottom up, and the inside out. If wearing a potato sack makes you feel good, wear it.
Au naturale? Freedom it is.
And if it's a pair of sequined crotchless, step into those puppies! I honestly end up wearing plain seamless yoga or running panties most summer days out of necessity, but I have an arsenal of underthings when the mood so strikes me.
So when I came across American Grace on Etsy, I was elated.
Lovely lingerie and it's handmade?! Be still my heart!
It's a seriously gorgeous shop, and I soon discovered designer Allyson Filkins is a pretty interesting gal. I really was curious to see what makes this unique designer tick, so I sent her an Artwork & Play interview request and she graciously obliged.
Etsians and artists take note. She has some really good advice.
D. Renée Wilson: What is your Quest?
Allyson Filkins: My big picture quest for American Grace is to be a little part of the movement to bring handmade integrity and elegance back to American craftsmanship.
In my case, one handmade piece at a time. It's kind of a "big world" idea for a small lingerie shop, but it's something I believe in. I love imagining that in some way I contribute to an idea.
On a more personal note, I simply love creating and sharing. If I can bring my personal taste of beautiful, ethically handmade creations that I adore to anyone else who wants them, then I'm happy. Right now it's all about spreading the joy without spreading myself too thin!
DRW: I'm all for it, but why lingerie?
AF: Because it's fun! It can be innocent and functional; it can be naughty and playful. It's something that's your little secret, but something you can share too. In my mind, it is the cornerstone of fashion. You put your panties on first and work around that.
You can match, you can mix it up - you can do whatever you want with your underwear.
As a lingerie enthusiast, it always shocks me a little when someone tells me they don't own "pretty" underwear. Every day starts with underwear. It should be a beautiful beginning and end to every day! Another thing that I enjoy very much about lingerie is that the designs can be limitless. Any shape or color or concept I can wrap my mind around as a designer...I can give it life.
DRW: What makes your work different than just shopping at Victoria's Secret?
AF: My lingerie is handmade, and it's American made. As a lingerie artisan, you have to be really gutsy. You risk offending people with your art (yes, Grandma, I sell crotchless panties to strangers on the internet), but the greater fear is being dull.
Each piece has a story. One pair of white bridal panties almost gets drowned in a glass of red wine when my dog runs inside and knocks me over (I guess they're burgundy now).
A delicate bralette is caught in a sewing machine seizure and almost gets chopped lifeless by that darn tiny needle. Each piece goes through some kind of adventure in my workplace before its completion.
What makes my work different is that it has me in it. I know, could I say anything more cliche? It's true to me. The past year I have learned to be myself more and let that show in my work. It's been said "You are the only one who has to love you."
It goes against business sense, but I apply that to my work too. If I don't love my work, then it isn't worth it. I can't make anyone else love my work, but maybe,
just maybe they might.
DRW: I definitely agree with that. Speaking of loving yourself, how do you feel about societal pressures and expectations regarding the female body?
The lingerie industry has taken a lot of heat about using unusually proportioned models. As a designer, I can understand using thinner models -they function as a coat hanger, and that's necessary for a lot of designs. But the criticism of the industry's ridiculous standards has led to more criticism and name-calling of women. I hate the use of the word "anorexic" to describe thin women. I think that's a mistake a lot of us make when chatting about the industry, and we're really criticizing ourselves. Sure, some lingerie models are anorexic (all kinds of people can be).
I don't think that eating disorders are the standard. Some might disagree. But either way, name-calling attacks on our fellow sisters and not the industry standards? The industry finds very thin looking, very tall women, because that is the standard. The trouble is not that thin women are being represented. If there's anything to criticize in the industry, it's that there isn't much variety in height and size and skin color.
We have started to tell ourselves as a culture that it's bad to be chubby, but it's also undesirable to be thin. I despise the "Real Women Have Curves" campaign. It's just an insult to women who aren't "curvy" and pointlessly even more women. We are only hurting ourselves with this kind of ideology. Sorry to pop your idea-bubble, but all women are real women! Worse is the mistake of promoting "REAL MEN like curvy women". Some women aren't curvy, and they are real, and men like them, too.
And why are we still defining our body images and self-worth over what we perceive men want?!
Seriously, who comes up with this stuff?
DRW: Amen, hallelujah, and preach it, sister! Okay, so back to your gorgeous undies.
When did you know you wanted to do this? Did you have an aha moment?AF: Last year I quit my job working in a bar and told my husband I was going to sell lingerie on the internet. He was like, "If that's what you want to do." No snarkasm.
My husband is really supportive. I wouldn't be where I am now without him. I didn't even have a sewing machine at the time, but my mother-in-law gave me one as a gift shortly after my sewing proclamation. So now I'm a stay-at-home doggy-mom and lingerie artisan. Life is weird.
DRW: That it is. Now that we covered your work, how do you play?
AF: I try not to take my business too seriously (except in tax season). I tell myself failure is not the end. Failure does not exist. When I'm not "dabbling" in sewing and design for my work, I'm baking or cooking, writing creative non fiction, lusting after other people's photography equipment, doing Schutzhund/IPO training with my dog, pretending I'm in shape enough to do yoga, sketching new designs, drawing and painting, and reading everything from parenting blogs to Russian literature.
DRW: Ooooh, I love yoga & dogs! What's your favorite yoga style?
AF: I enjoy Hatha, because it can be healing and isn't as intense as hot yoga.
Intense is awesome, but I've been recovering from two major surgeries the past year, so the slower movements work better for me right now.
DRW: Anyone that likes bikram is either lying or a masochist. High five for honoring your body! And IP what? Tell us about the dog training.
AF: Dog training can be so muchfun! Right now my German Shepherd and I are focusing mainly on one of three phases of Schutzhund, and that's obedience. The word Schutzhund translates (from German) to meaning "Protection Dog". A lot of people can get the wrong idea about it this sport. Its purpose is not to make dogs more aggressive. In fact, dogs who show too aggressive of qualities are disqualified. The true purpose of the sport is nourishing the handler-dog bond through obedience and agility. You can find out more about the history and ideology of Schutzhund (now called IPO in the United States)here.
DRW: Wow, that is some discipline. How do you mix work & play?
AF: I have all kinds of fun working! I drink wine, I listen to some hardcore jazz and metal, I talk to my dog. But that's just when I'm sewing, it's not all drinking and communing with animals. There is a lot of other work that goes into running my little corner shop.
I try to make it all fun so I don't get exhausted. I think this is something very common with small businesses, even those run on the internet who may not have a store front to clean and close down every night. There's a lot more going on behind the scenes than we're given credit for! But in all the crunching numbers and balancing home and work all in one tiny space, I do try to keep it fun. It's not worth it if it's not bringing me joy, so I mix in the things I like.
DRW: Who inspires you?
AF: Anybody with good advice. Real good advice is very hard to come by, and I'm a sucker for a great quote. My husband (who also gives good advice) inspires me too, because he works hard every day and never complains about me.
DRW: What is your favorite quote?
AF: I really enjoy Joss Whedon's quote,
"Write it. Shoot it. Publish it. Crochet it, sauté it, whatever. MAKE." I find that very inspiring. It doesn't matter what you do, just do something.
DRW: What's your biggest challenge as a handmade shop owner?
AF: Overcoming wrecking criticism. I'm a very sensitive person wearing a brave front, and that can affect how I feel about my work. I have had to deal with a few ungracious, demanding people in the past year since opening my shop. When you start a business and put yourself out there, some people can expect the world of you.
It can be difficult to make a profit and sustain my work with some of the expectations that some buyers have. When someone orders a size medium custom design as a gift, and the gift doesn't fit because their girlfriend is not a medium after all, they want an exchange at my expense (and shipping is expensive!). Sometimes they don't seem to understand that their requests can obliterate my profit, which in turn hurts my personal life.
From this, my biggest advice for other handmade sellers is to fill out your policies!
Know what you accept and don't, and make that very clear. The biggest challenge is standing ground and not letting bad reviews or rude comments get to us on a personal level.
Because that's what handmade businesses are; we are people. Little bits of people chipped off into something wonderful for others to enjoy, but sometimes criticized like factory corporations.
DRW: Yeah, that's tough. But you do have a detailed size chart, which I found helpful.
AF: I am always available for chatting about fabric and how something fits.
I can also take exact measurement if they would like. Some people opt out of this. But we are all busy, and yes, that's where my sizing chart comes in handy.
DRW: What's your biggest dream?
DRW: I know where to find you (and I'm very excited for my cheekies!) but tell everyone else where to find you.
AF: You can find me and see my work below!
Etsy Shop~ American Grace
Deals & Steals on Facebook
DRW: Can you leave us with the best advice you were ever given?
Thanks to Allyson for graciously answering my questions.
Stop by her store or social media and give her a wave from Artwork & Play!