Underneath It All

An interview with Kathryn McGinnis, founder of new femme-forward intimates shop Darlin'

Despite the fact that national conversations surrounding sex and body positivity are prevalent in our cultural consciousness—and despite the fact that we’re inundated with more sexual advertising than any other time in history—there can still be something a little . . . well, weird about buying underwear. Chain stores are impersonal and lack options, online shopping is often a crapshoot, and traditional lingerie shops are—to say the least—a little much for some people.

Kathryn McGinnis wants to change that. Darlin’, her newly opened Wedgewood-Houston store, provides thoughtfully curated intimates and skincare in an environment that you’ll actually wantto hang out in. The shop offers custom fittings, individualized skincare regimens, and gender-neutral garments, so there should be something—to quote Darlin’s tagline—“for all bodies.”

We talked to McGinnis about opening the shop, buying lingerie in the South, and how underwear—much like breakfast—can be the foundation of a great day.

Q&A:

Tell us a little about how and why you founded Darlin’.

I wanted a space to celebrate women in Nashville that was both feminine and accepting. Nashville has so many places for music and art, but I missed my hometown of Kansas City, Missouri, and its eclectic DIY spaces. Being able to incorporate fashion, art, music, feminism, and the community was the main focus of the space. It took me about two years of cross-country research to peg down the finished business—which is still evolving. I’ve never thought of this as my store, but as a community outreach [project] that helps shape the space and mission.

Community is a word that Nashville establishments—including this magazine—throw around a lot, but it seems like there’s a lack of exclusively female spaces and activities in town. How can we do better as a city?

Nashville does really offer a great selection of female friendly spaces! A lot of it is found through word of mouth though. I think the thing we could do better as a city is bring all groups and styles of women together. People forget we have more in common with others than we realize. There’s an aspect of breaking out of your comfort zone to get there—I know I haven’t felt like I belong somewhere fairly often. Being able to walk into a space that welcomes you with open arms and wants to know what you’re looking for or what you’re passionate about isn’t just something Nashville is lacking—it’s something the whole country is lacking. Collaborating with others and asking questions and learning from each other is what makes a community space.

Maybe it’s because we live in the South, but we feel like there’s still a certain degree of taboo that comes with buying and selling women’s intimates. Do you agree? And if so, how can we break the stigma and show people that sex positivity and buying intimates isn’t anything to be embarrassed or nervous about?

When I first started this venture, I was shut down by landlords, brokers, and banks. There is absolutely a stigma attached to lingerie in the South, which was surprising at first. Most of us wear underwear! There’s nothing shameful about being able to incorporate your personal style into what you’re wearing underneath your clothes. Undergarments are the first thing you put on each day, so they should feel good and make you feel good. I don’t want anyone to come into Darlin’ and be intimidated. I understand it can be scary when you’re entering new territory. Intimates are tied to sexuality because they aren’t shown to the rest of the world and it’s a private part of us. Being comfortable in your own skin and loving howyou feel is the message you should walk away with after visiting the store. Lingerie is also something I personally hate purchasing online. Sizing varies hugely and so does quality. Seventy-five percent of women in the United States are wearing the incorrect bra size, and chain stores often do not offer specialty sizes. And if they do, they aren’t exactly fashionable. Having a brick-and-mortar store will help customers find the perfect fit.

How do you see a shop like Darlin’ fitting into today’s cultural landscape—where society at large seems to be discussing women’s rights, sexual abuse, and equality more than ever before?

I’m so thrilled to see women’s rights and equality being discussed without it being shut down or viewed as taboo. For so much of my life I’ve felt like I’ve been a walking TMI, or like I should come with a content warning.

The first step to changing our cultural landscape is discussing it and confronting issues head-on. Darlin’ might be a lingerie shop, but it’s also a community space to discuss ways to improve our city. Being accepting of everyone’s sexuality, comfort, and past experiences can help make the shop a safe space, which is the ultimate goal.

So Darlin’ is more of a space for creative, fem-identifying people to congregate in Nashville rather than just an intimates shop? 

Absolutely! I’m working with local artists each month to help give them a platform to display their art. The soft opening in January featured Samantha Zaruba, and this month we have Abby Coppage’s work displayed throughout the shop. We’re also collecting feminine hygiene products to donate to a local women’s shelter for victims of domestic abuse. Each donation will provide ten percent off of your purchase as a thank-you. Feminine hygiene products are often the most forgotten and needed donations we can give, and having access to clean toiletries can prevent infection, preserve clothing, and allow a woman to live her life.

Speaking of donations, you sell pieces by MADI Apparel, an intimates maker that donates a pair of underwear to a local shelter for every intimate sold. Will there always be a significant social entrepreneurship element to Darlin’? And if so, how can NATIVE readers help?

The goal is to find an organization or cause to partner with each month and start the drive the week of the Houston Station Art Crawl, so installations and donations will be rotating monthly. MADI is a fantastic company that we have enjoyed working with tremendously, so they’ll be a permanent line. Each MADI purchase helps us donate a clean, made-in-the-US pair of underwear to the women’s shelter we have chosen to work with . . . It’s been a great feeling being able to bring it here to Nashville.

What would you tell someone who has never bought intimates or lingerie? Or someone who doesn’t think “that stuff” is for them?

If it’s not for you, it’s totally okay! But the shop isn’t all lace and boning—I’m working with some smaller brands to create gender-neutral garments, socks and hosiery, and a wide selection of robes. What you wear under your clothes should make you feel like your very best self.

We start each day putting our skincare and underwear on first thing, and a great foundation is key to confidence. Getting dressed should be an enjoyable experience; starting off feeling wonderful should just be a springboard for the rest of your day. Whether you want something to create great lines, something that doesn’t feel like anything, or even something to help create or diminish curves, feeling good in your own skin is a personal preference . . . If you don’t love something, let us know! We can work with you, explore options, and find what makes you love you.

Darlin’ is open Tuesday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 438 Houston Street, Suite 270.

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