Jeanna Kadlec (@BluestockingsBo) is owner of Bluestockings Boutique. Based in Boston, MA, Bluestockings Boutique is an alternative lingerie and underthings e-boutique geared to the LGBTQIA+ community.
We talked with Jeanna Kadlec about Bluestockings Boutique's charitable efforts. Learn how small-business owners can make a difference in their communities and beyond. The transcript below has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Tell us a bit about yourself. What's your background?
I dropped out of a PhD English Lit program in Boston after four years to start Bluestockings – so, not a traditional business background at all! I love writing, though, so having a business blog has been a natural marketing avenue since day one.
When did Bluestockings Boutique get its start?
I'm a queer-identified, femme-presenting person, and even though I've always had an easy time going into lingerie boutiques (because the sales people think I'm straight), my masculine-presenting, genderqueer, and trans friends and partners usually don't.
One day, it just hit me like a lightning bolt that there should be a boutique that was explicitly LGBTQ+ friendly that took our needs into account. I did some research and realized that no boutique in the United States was doing this. So I decided to – in spite of not having any business background whatsoever. But I felt strongly that if I wasn’t going to do it, no one would.
Where did you recognize a lingerie need unique to the LGBTQIA+ community?
It came from being a person within that community who saw the needs of my community going unmet. It's less about the clothing itself and more about the experience: how does the clothing fit trans and genderqueer bodies? Is written copy gender-inclusive? Are customers treated respectfully? Are we even welcomed in a store?
What are the advantages of being online-only?
Being online means that I can serve LGBTQ+ people (and allies) on six continents – rather than in one city. The need is tremendous.
What keeps customers coming back?
Excellent customer service and high-quality products.
How do you give back to your community?
We've been connected to our Boston community since before we launched. Just because we're online-only, it doesn't mean we can't be connected to our local community. I also firmly believe in putting my money where my mouth is – if I say my business is being run ethically and cares about supporting charity, I'd better do it! So we had our first bra drive before we even opened our doors.
We do regular bra drives for Rosie's Place, a wonderful local women's shelter that is LGBTQ+ inclusive. Bluestockings has a very active social media presence, and our customers are young and social-media savvy, so word spreads quickly about bra drives. We've tried in-person bra drives for folks just in Boston, and we are currently hosting an extended mail-in bra drive that goes through December for the holiday season.
We also donate 18 percent of our sales on the 18th of every month (our business birthday) to a different charity. These have included local organizations like Fenway Health, as well as national organizations like Planned Parenthood and METAvivor.
Does donating a portion of your sales affect your bottom line?
Honestly, it depends on how sales are on the 18th. Sometimes, a ton of people shop with us on that day. During the slow season, there may only be one or two sales that day, so the donation is actually quite low.
I think it's about consistency and ultimately being a values-driven business. Customers respond to values, and I know that Bluestockings has attracted an incredible customer base that shares a commitment to these same values.
Why do you think it's important for your business to give back?
It comes down to honoring our commitment to ethical, charitable giving and supporting organizations that support women and LGBTQIA+ communities.
It humanizes a business and helps us connect to the world around us. Businesses don't exist in a vacuum. It also helps give customers a sense of our own values and that can do a lot for brand loyalty.
Has your community responded well to your efforts?
Yes, definitely. The bra drives, in particular, are enormously successful.
Tips from Bluestockings Boutique on Giving Back
- Be consistent with your giving. Every donation helps and it adds up over time.
- Partner with charities. Work with charities that make sense for your industry to maximize potential giving.
- Identify your values. Pick the values that are important to your business make them part of your charity work.
To donate to Bluestockings Boutique's Holiday Bra Drive for Rosie's Place, please send your gently used and new bras to: Bluestockings Boutique, P.O. Box 441427, Somerville, MA 02144.