Text by Akanksha Pandey. Celia and Jang for Luu Liu; photographed by Aishwaryashree. Ikisvon Jamang; photographed by Zingyarlan Jamang with Mallika Chandra
Verve talks to Celia and Jang, owners of vintage lingerie Instagram store Luu Liu, and Ikisvon Jamang, vintage lingerie enthusiast and influencer, to bring forth an honest and nuanced dialogue that examines the stigma attached to pre-worn intimate apparel and answer the questions you didn’t know whom to ask.
Celia and Jang, co-founders of Luu Liu
Tell us about yourselves…
We’re best friends and a team of two. We’re both from Manipur and are now based in Delhi. I, (Celia) am 24 and just completed a master’s in environmental science and sustainable development and founded an NGO called Ikra Foundation. Jang is 22 and recently completed her graduation in political science.
What inspired you to start a vintage lingerie shop online? And what does the store’s name mean?
It started as an idea to give away our rarely used clothes. We talked about it vaguely, and within two minutes we launched the shop on Instagram! Jang is an avid thrifter, and I am an environmentalist, so we create a balance and keep in mind sustainable shopping to curate this Instagram shop. Luu Liu is an amalgamation of our pet names! It’s a personal touch because thrifting is our lifestyle.
What is vintage lingerie and why should one indulge in it?
Speaking from personal experience, we have been wearing second-hand bras and clothes ever since we can remember. We’ve found real gems during our journey, and we feel all our sisters should know more about this and wear the best that we have carefully handpicked. It’s the perfect time to be “woke” about our environment and save some money.
Our lingerie is not necessarily all vintage, and we make sure to label them accurately; some are brand new, some unused, some still have tags, some used and upcycled, and some are just vintage-style. We feel people should consider this option since it’s guilt-free shopping. Vintage lingerie is rare, cheaper and of much better quality since most of them are made in Europe, in contrast to what we get from fast fashion brands, which are made in China. We cater to an array of sizes too.
How do you source your products?
We source our items from home (Manipur), local flea markets and whole-sellers. We provide them with the details and quality of the pieces we’re in search of.
How do you check for authenticity?
It’s a bit tricky to confirm the authenticity of vintage lingerie. Boy, you can’t tell them apart. Sometimes, we get our products with the brand’s tag, and that automatically makes it easier to check. But other times, we receive products without any tags. With online references, it makes it easier. The quality and feel of the pieces also bear witness to its authenticity.
Could you share your thoughts on being size-conscious as a brand?
The response to our being size-positive has been overwhelming. We’ve been very size-inclusive, finding real plus-sized gems too. We try our best to stock uncommon sizes. I am plus-sized myself, and I have found real treasures during this journey.
How do you maintain the hygiene of the products you source?
Since we wear them ourselves, we buy clothes which are in good/the best condition, with little signs of being worn. We hand wash our pieces, sometimes steam them and spray a very delicate perfume. It’s a matter of choice to wash them again.
Why do you think consumers are still wary of thrifting lingerie?
The idea of buying used lingerie bothers a lot of people, and we get many questions about its hygiene, who wore it and so on. We answer each of them and don’t force our buyers to make a purchase, but rather guide them and make sure they understand what thrifting entails. Sometimes, it’s the parents and their embedded stigmas, which don’t allow women to wear used lingerie. Indians are not very open to the concept. But we’re happy seeing some of them change their minds about this. We don’t usually wear used panties though, and we don’t sell them either.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
Like any other player in the market, our business has been directly impacted by the pandemic. Our local product procurement sources got disrupted during the lockdown, but as relaxations came in, it luckily brought in a favourable market opportunity for us. With people turning to online shopping more than ever – due to the lack of open brick-and-mortar stores and local haunts, and a certain website been banned in India, it has, to a degree, increased sales for us.
Apart from buying and selling products online, is there a creative intervention at the design level?
Yes, we upcycle stained and torn clothes with painting or embroidery, a few stitches here and there or adding ribbons and so on.
What is the future of vintage/thrifted clothing?
The key to the future lies in the internet, definitely! Throw into the equation bigger online players for thrift and vintage clothing with an ever-expanding clientele base, and we’ll probably be left with a profound ecosystem of sustainable fashion to rival fast fashion. Also, in the foreseeable future, I guess we can also expect Instagram to become an even bigger hub for thrift and vintage fashion, considering the overhaul they’re planning to make the platform more business-friendly.
Ikisvon J, vintage lingerie enthusiast
Tell us about yourself…
I’m 24 and was born in Manipur. I’m currently pursuing my master’s in psychology at Ambedkar University, Delhi.
When did you first buy vintage lingerie online? What were the initial questions you had?
My mother and aunts used to frequent second-hand shops in Manipur while I was growing up. When it came to lingerie, we mostly bought bras or dress slips. Buying second-hand/vintage underwear was always a concern, because of hygiene. At first, I was very sceptical about buying thrifted lingerie. The main question that would pop in my head was, “Isn’t it weird to be wearing someone else’s discarded lingerie? Isn’t it dirty?” But these were questions I had when I was 14. With time, I got accustomed to it; I understood what kind of lingerie looked good, if its wearability was worth investing in, and learnt to tell whether it was an authentic piece or a replica.
Why, according to you, is there a lack of enthusiasm around buying vintage lingerie?
The foremost reason is definitely hygiene. Since these are garments that are worn under one’s clothing and have come into contact with its owners’ intimate areas over the years, you never really know where it’s been! The thought of that could definitely gross someone out.
How do you decide where to shop?
Usually, when I thrift for lingerie back at home, I already have an idea of which shops have great pieces. And if they have been sold out, the shops let us know when a new bundle will arrive. As for online thrifting, there are many stores that sell vintage lingerie, but I personally prefer shops that also sell bras, vintage slip dresses or tops besides corsets.
How do you know, by looking at an image, if the product will fit? Is finding the right size ever an issue?
It’s not only about looking at the image but also the description the seller displays. Some bras look like a 32B in pictures but are actually a 32C. Finding the right size is sometimes an issue, so it’s important that sellers also measures the garments on their own before putting them up for sale. When buying lingerie, I’ve realised it’s preferable to buy a cup size down.
How do you know if a product is vintage?
By checking the tags. Most vintage products are a bit worn out and their elasticity is compromised. Design is also an important feature to look out for – bullet bras and high-waisted underwear usually fall under the vintage category.
Where does thrift clothing/lingerie stand amidst the fast fashion onslaught?
Thrifted clothing/lingerie is definitely the new fast fashion. It is sustainable, inexpensive and more mindful. Once people actually shift their attitude with regard to buying used clothes and make it a habit to thrift and upcycle their garments, the practice will become more popular.
How has fashion blogging developed, keeping in mind the pandemic and the awareness towards our environment?
Many bloggers are beginning to thrift or upcycle their clothes since it’s now the “new cool”. The pandemic has also shown us how creative we can actually get; I’ve seen artists transform an old pair of jeans with cool artwork and people making dresses out of worn-out garments.