Four years ago, I went to a craft fair at Nocturnal (R.I.P.) here in Portland around Valentine’s Day. The vendor I was most excited to find was a lingerie company called Anne Bonney, which had a display of colorful, vintage-inspired slips, knickers and pantaloons that I instantly fell in love with. I bought a pair of red and black pantaloons, took a business card, and left a happier woman. So I was pleased as punch when I recently got ahold of Lauren Steinhardt, the mastermind behind Anne Bonney, and she agreed to do an interview for the Flapper Girl blog.
How and when did you start sewing?
My grandma taught me how to sew when I was ten.
What inspired you to create underthings and start Anne Bonney?
I started making slips and underwear around 2003. At that point I was super into vintage underthings and I was always buying cool stuff at thrift stores and estate sales, but I really wanted to be able to make my own in different colors. I also wanted pantaloons so I could ride my bike while wearing a skirt. Originally I started my little business with my friend Seyta, but she became involved in another endeavor (which is now Duchess Clothier) and I carried on with the lingerie thing solo.
How has Anne Bonney has changed throughout the years? I remember when I bought a pair of pantaloons in 2004, your tagline was “Pirate Underwear”, but its obvious from your website that the image of Anne Bonney has evolved since then. I’d like to know more about what evoked that change.
To be honest I was never really that into the pirate side of things, and if I do start up again doing my own designs I will probably change the name. When I first started out I would try to anticipate what kind of designs other people might like, even if I wasn’t totally into it. But I noticed that the things I actually did like always sold much better, so I started making a point of putting my own aesthetic out there. I also developed my skills at lingerie design and construction, so my designs got a little more complex in terms of hand-dyed fabrics and that sort of thing.
What’s next for you and the Anne Bonney line?
Right now in grad school I’m doing some research on biking apparel (not the spandexy stuff!) and I will be designing some garments to support my research. I’m not sure what will happen when I finish school, if I will stick with the outerwear design or go back to underwear. I love both for different reasons.
I love outerwear because it is so practical, and functional, and it’s a great design challenge to make a fantastic, stylish piece of outerwear that actually wears well in Portland. So that’s what I’m working on now: Clothes that represent Portland, I guess—stylish but also very functional.
Intimate apparel, on the other hand, is like a little fantasy realm where we can all be magical princesses or fancy hookers under our everyday clothes. I mean, let’s face it, we could all be wearing those grandma bras that the bra ladies at Nordstrom sell, and like some spanx or something, and that would probably be the most practical underwear but also the least fun. So the underwear that people want to buy is like a little design poem that just exists to be lovely, it’s completely unattached to reality. I feel like I can channel my most fantastical feelings of cuteness and magic into my underwear designs, and when I do that it really sells well because that’s what people want in underwear. I miss being able to do that, even though I feel that functional design is more useful, like from a karmic perspective. So that’s that, in a nutshell. I guess after school I’ll just see where life takes me.
The economy is in the shitter right now, and that can really hurt small businesses and crafters. But people need to remember that when you buy local the money stays in the community and that helps everyone. On the whole though, I think the situation for crafters and small-run designers has improved in Portland because people are finally starting to understand the value of handmade goods. I just bought some skirts from Duchess and a recycled wool bag from Queen Bee, those are my big fall purchases that I am super excited about.