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This article was published 19/4/2019 (413 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Ordinarily, we would never consider asking an interviewee anything to do with their underwear, let alone what style they have on.
However, when the person seated across from us is Laura Everett, the exuberant owner of Laura’s Under There, a home-based, socially-minded enterprise that turns out funky-looking undergarments made from upcycled fabric, we’d be derelict in our duties, we believe, if we didn’t wonder aloud what comes between her and her Calvins.
"I’m wearing my own right now; they’re the only type I ever wear, as a matter of fact," Everett says, sneaking a peek down the side of her slacks, unable to recall the precise pair she slipped on when her day began some 12 hours earlier. (For the record, the high-waisted cotton shorts the married mother of one has chosen to sport are aquamarine in colour with a bright orange waistband, and are emblazoned with cartoon images of roller skates. "Lots and lots of roller skates," she says with a grin).
Founded in January 2018, Laura’s Under There is starting to hit its stride. Everett, an Edmonton native who moved to Winnipeg 10 years ago this July, sold as many pairs of undies in the first quarter of this year as she did in all of 2018. That’s great for her bottom line, obviously, but it’s also welcome news for local charities. For every pair she sells, just over 300 to date, she donates a pair of store-bought drawers to places such as Sunshine House and Ma Mawa Wi Chi Itata Centre, for workers and volunteers there to distribute to those less fortunate.
"When I’m asked who my target audience is, I say it’s a mix of environmentally-minded people who like the fact I use second-hand fabric, plus people who have a good sense of humour, as a lot of what I make is quite bold and colourful," she says, admitting she probably has more photos of people in their underwear stored on her phone — "nothing inappropriate, but customers do send me pictures of themselves modelling my stuff, all the time" — than most. "What everybody seems to have in common, though, is an appreciation for the charitable side of things. Not everybody these days has the time or energy to volunteer at homeless shelters and what not. But when they buy my underwear, they know they’re helping out in some manner, which has become a bit of a selling point."
For several years, Everett has worked for 1JustCity, an organization that supports a variety of services in Winnipeg’s core area, including soup kitchens and drop-in sites for people living with addictions. In December 2017 she was on maternity leave from her job when she began feeling badly that she wasn’t contributing to society more, now that she was spending the majority of her time at home, caring for her son. Before catching on with 1JustCity, Everett ran the clothing program at Siloam Mission for three years. She is also an accomplished seamstress. So a couple weeks before Christmas, she thought perhaps there was something she could do clothing-wise, to alleviate her guilt.
"Working at Siloam made me realize how much certain sectors of society need fresh underwear, and how thankful they are to receive it," she says. "So my idea was to do a specialized product I could sell, using some of the proceeds to buy underwear from Giant Tiger or wherever, that I would turn around and donate. And because environmental justice ties into the work I was already doing, I felt using upcycled fabric was vital, when it came to what I’d be making myself."
Gender identity is another issue Everett is concerned about, and the reason behind her decision not to differentiate between guys’ and gals’ styles. Instead, she refers to her entire output as "genderful."
"I think it’s hard for people who have bodies they don’t like or agree with to find stuff they’re happy to wear, so I just wanted to use wording that is acceptable to everyone," she says, pointing out she makes 10 sizes of underwear, ranging from double-extra small to 4XL. "I do what I call a pouched short — boxers if you want to use a more common term — as well as a brief. I also take custom orders. A woman recently approached me, telling me her mother is in a cast, and that she needed something she could tie at the waist, because she wasn’t able to bend down and bring underwear up over her cast. It was very rewarding when the daughter got back to me, saying what I came up with worked perfectly."
Because she works exclusively with second-hand fabric — a mix of donated material plus roll ends she lucks into at thrift stores — almost everything she fashions is one-of-a-kind. Floral patterns are popular, as are images of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Little Mermaid and National Hockey League crests.
"A while back, somebody asked if I had any (material) with a Boston Bruins logo on it. I didn’t, but I do belong to a couple Facebook groups that buy, sell and trade fabric. Sure enough, when I threw the question out there, somebody got back to me right away saying they had some, which I snapped up," she says, noting while pink is far from her favourite colour, when it comes to underwear, it’s her biggest selling shade, hands down.
Besides managing her online store ((https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/LaurasUnderThere), Everett has also begun teaching others how to make underwear, in conjunction with Winnipeg Sews, a modern-day sewing circle. The "panty party" she hosted in February was a huge success. Tickets for a similar get-together scheduled for May 10 at St. Matthew’s Anglican Church are going fast, too.
"Before all this started, I actually hated making underwear because let’s face it, it’s way simpler just to go to the store and buy it. But now that I’m at the point where I consider it a pretty easy thing to do, I thought I’d pass along what I know to anybody who’s interested."
As for other plans, one of Everett’s summer goals is to sell her handiwork, which goes for $25 a pair, on a consignment basis at eco-friendly stores around town. She’s also thinking about branching out to items besides underwear. Backpacks are on her radar, as are modish dinner napkins, her thinking being that for every napkin sold, she would donate the monetary equivalent of a meal to Winnipeg Harvest.
OK, maybe not everybody is a fan of her work; a woman strolling past her booth at a recent farmer’s market took one look at her sign and loudly remarked, "Ew, who would ever wear that?" Still, she has heard from enough people who swear her unmentionables are the most comfortable they’ve ever donned — one person remarked it felt like her buttocks were getting a hug, every time she put a pair on — that she’s excited to see where Laura’s Under There takes her, going forward.
"I have a very understanding boss and we’ve already had the conversation about what my work balance would look like if, at some point, I need to devote more time to my business," she says, adding her husband, who helps cut fabric whenever she needs an extra set of hands, is equally supportive. "I didn’t exactly have a long-term plan when I started this thing — I just kind of jumped in, feet first — but at this point, I can definitely say I have hopes and dreams."
On Saturday, Laura’s Under There will be one of 80 vendors at Luckygirl Spring Pop Up Shop, which runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 200 Princess St.
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Updated on Friday, April 19, 2019 at 5:43 PM CDT: Fixes typo.