Let it be known that Rachel Rector is one of my very dear friends, so yes, I am inherently biased in thinking this woman is wonderful and inspiring, but here are some objective reasons you all can get behind: she has grown her lingerie business on her own and completely from scratch, taking the initiative to follow her passion and throw herself into learning the skills necessary to do it all - supporting herself with odd and not so passion-driven jobs to ensure she could continue making her pieces and building her line; to her the sexiness behind lingerie is rooted in comfort and empowerment - an accessory for wearers to feel confident in their strength and beauty; she consistently works to network and partner with local and small businesses and designers - a perfect example of the collaborative mentality of She/Folk; and she really is as sweet as a peach, always the first to advocate for compassion. I recently, amidst our weekly best friend phone calls, decided to ask her some pointed questions to share with you all in anticipation of her new line being unveiled this February 10th in Portland (The Fourth Annual Unmentionable: A Lingerie Exposition at the Doug Fir)!
How did you start RR Lingerie? What first inspired you to create lingerie and then ultimately take the next steps to produce a line and start a business?
I really fell in love with lingerie when an ex-boyfriend gave me a set for our two-year anniversary. It was so special to receive something sexy and thoughtful from the person I loved. I adored wearing the peach silk bra and panty set that he'd chosen with my body and tastes in mind. I also loved holding it in my hands, feeling the fabric, and examining the stitches. Eventually, I wanted more but I didn't want to buy generic lingerie from a big box store. I'd fallen in love with the stories of independent designers who created the pieces, and I wanted to make my own story.
What kind of support system did you have when you first started the line, and what kind of support system have you sustained to maintain it?
My first support system came from my social network. I posted photos of my designs to Facebook and folks loved them so I felt encouraged to make more. Now, I look to my friends who are my mentors, collaborators, models, and muses.
I'm so excited for your show coming up in Portland and the new line you'll be unveiling - what would you say are three key inspiration factors for this new collection? And what details can you tell us about the show?!
Nature is absolutely my greatest inspiration...lush landscapes, strange plants, sunsets, and wild flora often inspire my colorways. I feel excited when I play with color. Comfort is the next inspiration. The lingerie has to feel good on the body, it has to feel like a second skin instead of a costume. I always ask myself, "Would I wear this?" If not, I don't make it. Currently, returning to Portland to show new pieces at Unmentionable is inspiring and motivational. I'm pushing myself to create pieces that are better and closer to me. I can't wait for the show. I love visiting Portland and seeing all my buddies! Unmentionable: A Lingerie Exhibition at the Doug Fir Feb 10th. Buy tickets!
What would you say are three of the biggest challenges you've faced creatively and in running your own small business? What advice would you offer to other women who may feel confronted with obstacles in pursuing their passion?
The three biggest challenges have been money, confidence, and commitment. Trying to meet my basic needs (shelter, food, etc.) while launching a small business has been tough, because every hour I spend working for someone else is draining and distracting. My confidence waxes and wanes when I'm designing new pieces...sometimes I hate what I'm making and feel totally stumped. Other times I'm on a roll and feel like I know what I'm doing. And commitment; creativity takes time and the willingness to experiment until it gets really good!
I would remind other women to believe in themselves, to remember that everyday holds highs and lows and to push on in spite of it, and to create art in their daily lives because I truly believe creativity helps lead to happiness.
Who are some female role models you admire?
I have a great love for Georgia O'Keeffe, who made incredible sensual paintings, but was also in a very connected, creative, and loving relationship with her husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Their work was closely intertwined, and she was his muse. When he died she moved to New Mexico to live alone and immerse herself in the landscape that she felt most connected to. Her love of color and light is something I relate to in my work, and the artistic collaboration she had with her husband is something I seek. The women in my family are also great role models. My mother, grandmothers, and aunts are writers, judges, teachers, and business women who all have paved their own way in the world.
What or who can always make you laugh?
My brother always makes me laugh. We share a similar sense of humor. He's also a very talented artist, musician, and thinker. I love him dearly.
What is it like to share your work with family or close friends? How do you feel sexuality and power are part of or not part of your work?
It's always felt very easy to share my work. I never waited to get approval from my family before showing it to the world. I was proud, and my family was too, that I designed and made things because it made me happy.
I think lingerie is inherently sexual to people, and I get that, but I never really make lingerie with sex in mind. To me a piece of lingerie is like a painting or sculpture. It's a piece of art to adorn the female body, and in a way RR is my own self-portrait.
I know you were an art history major - how did your studies influence your creative pursuits post-college?
I felt like my whole life started after college. I was so confused and unsure of myself while in school, and I never really felt connected to my major besides the fact that I liked looking at art. When I finished college I started teaching myself to sew. It dawned on me one day that I am creative and passionate, but I didn't realize that when I was stuck in the grind. The two skills I learned in college though that I still use are the ability to observe and write critically. Those are extremely valuable skills to me, yet most of the time in class I was doodling and daydreaming about what would come next. The events in my personal life during those years also had a huge impact on the person I am today. I befriended the women who are still my closest confidants and who I am so thankful to have in my life. I also fell in love for the first time, which gave me the confidence to take risks and embrace something (or someone) wholeheartedly.
Do you have any rituals to inspire you to start working or keep working?
Looking at art, reading, taking walks in nature, and listening to music. I typically start sewing late in the afternoon, so I lounge and relax in the sunlight to charge my spirit during the first half of my day.
How do you handle criticism of your work?
I try to use criticism as feedback to make better work and to evolve my perspective while staying true to my vision and aesthetic.
What or who or where is home to you?
My home has changed every few years for the last ten years. I always think I've found home until I decide to move somewhere else. Right now I feel at home in Florida. Florida gets a bad wrap. The news stories are just awful, but the tropical landscape and weather here really speak to me. I love taking walks in the swamp and feeling the warm sun on my body every morning as I sip my coffee outside. I'm realizing that the place I grew up might be home after all, and that's okay.
What do you do to de-stress?
I take walks in nature, I cuddle up to my little cats, read or write. Connecting to my friends and family is always a huge relief. Sewing for pleasure helps me remember to have fun and enjoy the process.
Do you consider yourself a feminist?
Yes, of course! I love what I do because it gives me the opportunity to support other women. I hope that someday everyone will count themselves as feminists. To think that there is so much pushback against that sentiment and that people are actually proud as anti-feminists truly bewilders me.