Arts and Culture Reporter Lauren O'Donnell sits down with Carrie Russell, owner of With Love Lingerie, an indie lingerie brand located in The Cotton Factory (270 Sherman Ave. N.) to chat about the craft of making lingerie.
Read the accompanying article here.
Midnight blue velvet covered in snowflakes, or red roses and lace entwined on sheer mesh fabric. These are a few of the pieces you can find within the collections at With Love Lingerie, an indie lingerie brand located in The Cotton Factory (270 Sherman Ave. N.). Carrie Russell, the owner and creator of With Love, says that the brand name was inspired by her process of making every piece with love.
With Love’s Instagram feed and promotional images emphasize body diversity. Before opening her own lingerie business, Russell worked in the mainstream lingerie industry, an industry with a history of leaving plus-size women out of their lines. Russell admits that when she first started With Love, she made pieces only in smalls, mediums or larges, with little wiggle-room for people who didn’t fit into those constraining categories. Even though she is an advocate for body positivity and acceptance, Russell didn’t initially notice the lack of inclusion. Her perspective changed when she realized she wasn’t included in her own line.
“[T]he minute I realized I wasn’t included in my own passion and my love for my business, it made me realize well who else I’m not including, like, what other people are not even able to enjoy the things that I feel really passionate about. And it wasn’t really out of, for me, not loving other people’s bodies. Because I just love people’s bodies. I love talking about self-love and body positivity … But it was not reflected in my line. That was a really big thing for me, and I’m continuing to work with that,” said Russell.
Social media—Instagram in particular—can have a negative impact on how people perceive their appearance. The app motivates users to focus on gaining likes and followers, and much of that is rooted in appearance and showcasing the “perfect body”. It’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as a perfect body, and even those who are considered perfect can still have difficulty accepting themselves. With Love aims to repair the relationship we have with our bodies, encouraging us to feel comfortable in our skin. Russell emphasizes the sense of empowerment that comes with lingerie, and the impact it can have on the journey towards body acceptance.
“[T]hings need to be made for people with love and to actually do that, you have to include and, and really embrace all different sorts of body types and also embrace and make people comfortable wherever they are in the journey of their body self image or their body positivity . . . I really do think it’s really exciting when I’m able to have someone try something on that they would never have really thought about wearing,” she said.
The majority of Russell’s designs are not very structured, meaning that most don’t have any underwires or corsetry, and she works predominantly in sheer mesh material. The lingerie is designed to move with the natural shape of the body, rather than seeking to restrict the person wearing it. With the ever-increasing popularity of waist cinchers, corsets and Spanx, it can be difficult to celebrate your body without feeling like it should be restrained. The sheer mesh designs aim to uncover and empower the body, emphasizing what’s already there.
“It’s almost better to highlight the things that you see as the assets to let them outshine the things that you may still not be totally in love with yet. And that’s exciting when that light bulb goes off in someone’s mind,” said Russell.
While many people assume that lingerie is exclusively for younger women, Russell says that most of her clientele is actually more mature women, with an age range averaging between 30 and 60.
“I’m getting women in their 60s wearing sheer bodysuits and just living in them, which is great. And I think that truly is body positivity,” said Russell.
With Love also caters to demographics beyond older-aged women. Russell says that she recently started working with trans women, gender-fluid and nonbinary folks. She sees a lot of potential for With Love to help people become more comfortable expressing themselves and exploring their gender.
“[I]t’s been really rewarding working with people who felt really timid about expressing who they are. And they feel comfortable coming to me and coming to my showroom, having one on ones with me, and I’m able to see their journey [with] discovering themselves and expressing themselves as well with their creativity and accepting sort of what they see and adorning it with With Love. And I think that’s a really big honor and it’s something that has been . . . a really rewarding learning curve for me,” said Russell.
While much of the response that Russell has received has been positive, there is still a lot of stigma surrounding lingerie and creating lingerie. In Russell’s experience, particularly in North America, lingerie is kept a secret because it is viewed as something inherently sexual or inappropriate. She says that people are very shy, and “Puritan” about it. With Love Lingerie strives to change that stereotype. While lingerie can be sexual, it can also be an empowering form of self-expression.
Russell has also recently launched her second brand, Spill the Tea Consulting, providing social media support and help for other small businesses trying to reach clients. In doing so, she hopes to help grow the community of local artists in Hamilton, and to help them reach their audience and thrive.
Ultimately, Russell hopes that With Love Lingerie can foster a sense of empowerment in the people that wear her designs, allowing them to be at home and comfortable in their own bodies. She hopes that everyone can experience the same joy she feels when making lingerie, and that they can see that everything she does is made, of course, with love.
This article is part of our Sex and the Steel City, our annual sex-positive issue. Click here to read more content from the special issue.