A Sophisticated Pair: An Inclusive, Diverse Shop

[CW: Racism, Homophobia, Language, #MAGA]

Today’s post is a hard one to write for a number of reasons, and as the content warning indicates, I will be discussing my business and its position within our changing America. No doubt some of you have seen the story about us in the Times News. On the afternoon of July 10th, a mere seven days before our seventh anniversary, I received a hate-filled, threatening email from a self-professed Trump supporter who not only copiously used racist and homophobic language but also vaguely threatened to burn down the shop. What the paper was capable of printing was in no way the full extent of the heinous missive. The craven writer cloaked himself in anonymity, calling me an n-word lover and a “dumb gay bitch” who had too much sex with black men for any “real” man to ever want me (and yes, that is a polite paraphrase). Just reliving the moment I opened the email causes my heart to palpitate with anxiety, and the prospect of further talking about it, especially with the media and now on the blog, is not something I relish. Nevertheless, I was given an opportunity to call out this kind of rhetoric and bullying, and I will not be silenced by fear.

When I first read his personal attacks, a tingling sensation spread across my spine, and my cheeks flushed with heat. I was furious. How dare this disgusting individual send me such a repugnant, grammatically-incorrect message and not give me the opportunity to correct “your” to “you’re!” That wasn’t exactly how I felt, but making light of stressful situations is my preferred coping mechanism. The truth is I was so fucking angry I wanted to scream and cry and pound my fists into the walls in frustration. What a coward to hide behind an anonymous fake email account and say such terrible things to me. At least grow a pair of ovaries and sign your damn name, you racist, homophobic piece of shit.

As my anger continued to grow, I realized another emotion lurked below the raging surface, an emotion I rarely likely to acknowledge. I was afraid. I have never been a person who is easily rattled or frightened, and for someone to destroy my composure, to take away my feeling of security, was devastating. I hadn’t felt that way since we suffered the home invasion three years ago. Generally, I conquer what scares me, but how do you conquer a shadow? Could I wake up one morning and see smoke from my bedroom window only to arrive at work and find my dream in ashes? What if I was alone in the store? Most threats never come to fruition, but some do. What if this was one of those cases? Would I ever feel safe in the shop again? And with anonymity shielding the person who wrote the email, is it possible they would walk in and I wouldn’t even know?

When I showed the email to my dad/business partner, I think he was even more livid than I was. He immediately started pacing about the store, clenching and unclenching his fists, before printing the message and consulting our landlords about the threat. On their request, we called the police to file an official report. The exact quote was “YOUR WHATS WRONG WITH AMERICA . . . YOU ARE LUCKY WE ARE ONLY BOYCOTING YOUR STORE INSTEAD OF BURNING IT DOWN.” Legally, the police have no recourse should they ever locate the sender. Of course, since he used the fake email account MAGA@KAG.COM and sent it through our anonymous contact form, I doubt his identity will be revealed.

After we filed the report, my emotions were flying high, and I took to my private Facebook account to post about the incident. I shared the original email with some friends, and my dad posted it publicly on his page for which he was banned for 24 hours. A week later, a reporter contacted us about an anonymous message she received from what I’m assuming was a well-meaning friend.

It was several days before I responded because I was reticent to discuss the email. It’s a dangerous thing to be political with a business, especially in today’s climate. Over the last seven years, I have worked tirelessly and made countless personal sacrifices to grow and improve A Sophisticated Pair. We have cultivated a wonderful atmosphere here, and all of our reviews have been exceptionally positive. Taking a stand could jeopardize all of our hard work and even lead to us closing permanently. How many times have we seen people flock to social media and post reviews explicitly to destroy businesses they never even visited because they disagree with their politics? I’ve always wanted A Sophisticated Pair to be in the news because of the good things we do for our customers or for the community, not because of what I believe politically.

My friends were about as ambivalent as I was. Some adamantly argued this was an opportunity for me to be the ally I have been privately, to not tolerate hate speech, and to speak up for the value of inclusivity and diversity. Others believed commenting could ignite a political firestorm the store may not survive.

As I mulled it over–and oh did I mull it over, I recalled my mom’s sage advice to me when I was younger and giving into peer pressure. “Erica Lynn, I did not raise you to be a follower. I raised you to be a leader, and I expect you to stand up for what you believe and to stand up for what is right, especially if it is hard.” Like all of her advice, it has guided me to making better choices even after her death. My mom was also the kind of person who never met a stranger, and her warm, welcoming attitude toward all people was imparted on both my brother and me. Making friends and interacting with people with different life experiences and situations helped me to understand the importance of representation, the meaning of privilege, and the ways in which I could help.

Half of our customers are people of color. We proudly serve all genders (including trans and non-binary), races, ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, levels of ability, and religions. What I kept coming back to as I weighed whether to go public was simple. Standing up for myself and for my shop would cause backlash, but what kind of ally and friend would be if I stayed silent? Am I the kind of person who takes minority money but when it comes time to put some skin in the game I back out? No, my mom raised me better than that, and it would be a disgrace to her memory to be any other way.

We support our customers, and giving a statement that this kind of racism and homophobia would not be tolerated is one more way we could show that support. I can’t ever put into adequate words how much all of you have sustained our business, and I won’t let fear dictate what I do. Meet with the reporter I would. Of course, I didn’t quite expect to have my picture taken and figured if they did anything it would be of the store’s exterior. I was in the middle of crazy allergies, didn’t do my makeup, and was like “Eh, screw my hair. Scarf!” If there is one funny bit to this, it is the picture they took of me–mid-sentence and gloriously chubby chin–makes me look like an impassioned, angry bitch ready to fight.

Photo from the Burlington Times News Article

A lot of people have asked me why the email was sent in the first place, and I don’t have a precise answer. A week prior, I expressed criticisms of President Trump and some of his administration’s policies, especially with relation to their treatment of minorities, on my private Facebook page. A customer made some comments suggesting I shouldn’t be allowed to express an opinion or risk ruining my business, and my amazingly supportive friends were quick to chime in that it was my page and I could do as I wished. They were right obviously, and I gave what I considered to be a thoughtful, measured, and polite response.

A week later the email arrived. Draw your own conclusions. Since the story broke, the response has been mostly positive. Our customers and community have sent lovely messages of solidarity and encouragement, and I learned that Burlington is home to so many caring, sympathetic people. It reminded me not to view each person as someone who wants to cause harm to me or my business but as someone there cheering us on and supporting our dreams. I’ve even had the pleasure of meeting people in charitable community organizations we plan to work in the future. Going public with this email will literally result in us being able to do more to help more people in our community, especially the marginalized and disenfranchised.

Naturally, there have been others who jumped on the hate wagon or decried the story as “fake news.” The situation has made a hard month even more stressful. We’ve been fighting with vendors for inventory, hurriedly placing trade show orders, and then to have all of the ensuing chaos of this email . . . well, let’s just say my stress levels have been rather high. I nearly collapsed in the store Saturday from fatigue and had a 50+ hour migraine where I could hardly see out of my right eye. But, I’m still here, and I’m still standing, standing for myself, my friends, my customers, and my business. I asked earlier how I could conquer a shadow. The answer is with light. By shining a light on this kind of behavior, I hope it encourages people to evaluate what civility really means and why it is crucial that we stand against hate speech. And if you feel the need to boycott my business because of this situation, that is a price I am willing to pay for being honest. But make no mistake: I would rather my business end tomorrow because I took a stand than last in perpetuity because I compromised who I was. I will choose to be a better ally, a better friend, and a better person over the almighty dollar every day.

Erica

A Sophisticated Pair: An Inclusive, Diverse Shop
Erica
Erica is a lover all things lingerie and is passionate about helping people find the bra which fits and flatters. Side passions include reading, writing, hiking, dairy-free food, walking her Jack Russell terrorists, and dying her hair everything from black to red.
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27 thoughts on “A Sophisticated Pair: An Inclusive, Diverse Shop

  • August 4, 2018 at 6:51 pm
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    Thank you for sharing this. Much love and support for all that you do.

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  • August 5, 2018 at 1:26 am
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    Thank you for your words, your strength and your courage. If I lived in the area, I’d happily come in and buy from you. Minnesota is a bit of a jaunt though, but should we ever be in the area, you can bet I’ll be stopping in!

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  • August 5, 2018 at 9:30 am
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    I stand with you, Erica!

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  • August 5, 2018 at 11:41 am
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    So proud of you. Your Mother would be so very proud of the woman that you are, I am sure.

    I always think that when evil people mean to do you harm, there’s always a backdoor, and the opportunity to turn it into something good. By publicizing this, more people will know you are a safe, inclusive place where they won’t be judged or shamed. Besides potentially growing your business, you’ve already got charity contacts from this, how great is that?

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  • August 5, 2018 at 11:55 am
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    I am proud to live in a community with you, Erica. You represent the best of Alamance County, and are part of the majority of its citizens that do not back the hate that is so rampant right now. Thank you!

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  • August 5, 2018 at 11:58 am
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    You rock, Erica! Your store is the only place I purchase bras and bathing suits. It’s worth the nearly hour drive I make to get there. I pray you never close. I greatly admire you and support you in whatever capacity is needed!

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  • August 5, 2018 at 12:00 pm
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    I laughed at the spelling of Terriers… You got this Lady!

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  • August 5, 2018 at 12:12 pm
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    Erica, you are an amazing woman.

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  • August 5, 2018 at 12:15 pm
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    When my Trump-supporter relative became verbally abusive to me for expressing concern for the welfare of children separated from their parents at the American border, I realized that these people operate from a base of fear…fear of change, fear of progress, fear of anything “different” that might require them to have an open mind and heart. They expect everyone else to do the same, hence the cowardly email attack. Please know that they will not win when fear and love do not occupy the same space. I thank you for bravely sharing your experience, and I will be visiting your store when I am in the area.

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  • August 5, 2018 at 12:25 pm
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    So proud of you for standing up & speaking out. You’ve definitely gained a new customer & supporter in me! 🙂 ((HUGS))

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  • August 5, 2018 at 12:57 pm
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    I had no idea the day I first walked into your store a couple weeks ago that you were going through all of this. I just knew that I walked in, announced I needed a new bra, and within minutes I had about 15 bras to try that fit my criteria. I was in and out within 30 minutes with what I needed and immediately started sharing with friends what a great experience it had been. I had dreaded having to get new bras for months and you made it completely painless and actually fun!! After that day I read about the stress you had been under and it broke my heart. It’s difficult to understand people’s desires to try and bring others down but all I can figure is that they, too, must be hurting and this is the only way they can feel better about their situation in life. I hope they realize the hurt this has caused and that there will be good to come of this situation. Praying for you, Erica, and thanks for your boldness and for what you stand for in our community. We need you and want you here.

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  • August 5, 2018 at 1:16 pm
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    Erica,
    It’s not easy to take a stand against hate. I’ll never understand people who so cowardly sow their hate veiled behind the screen of a computer or smart phone. I may be a conservative Christian woman but my mama always raised me to love all people. You are a joy to do business with. I only wish you were closer to me. Still I love taking a trip from Raleigh every now and then. You keep being the wonderful human you are

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  • August 5, 2018 at 1:24 pm
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    I support you and your business now and as I always have. I’m sorry to read you have received such a hate filled letter. Bravo to you for your strength and courage. Keep going with your head up and pride in what you do.

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  • August 5, 2018 at 2:23 pm
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    Please tell me you sell via the web… I am sending an army of people to buy from you. I am a Cis man and I believe in boosting businesses that promote good karma. And if you don’t have a website sales venue, I can recommend several.

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  • August 5, 2018 at 2:48 pm
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    Erica,
    Where to start? Thank you for sharing. This country has become so divisive to the point that I don’t know how to even respond to people any more.I am on the county electoral board,as such I must always stay neutral(which is hard). This is not the country that I was raised in I was taught to respect all people regardless of the race,gender, religion or their politics. I think of my grandchildren and the world that they are growing up in and it makes very concerned. Please know that I will always have your back.

    Fran

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  • August 5, 2018 at 3:38 pm
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    What you’ve done is prompting me to buy a bra. I live in Colorado. Don’t normally order over the internet due to being an unusual size. I want to support you and your business. People like you deserve to win.

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  • August 5, 2018 at 4:20 pm
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    Thank you for sharing. As a Trump supporter, please know that I and others are not like-minded with the person who did this terrible thing. I don’t care that we don’t agree on political matters. What I know is that I have had a great experience in your store on multiple occasions. I have witnessed first hand your kindness and compassion for all people and helping them feel better about themselves. It’s truly a no judgement zone. Because of all of that, you will continue to have me as a customer. You are a great small business owner and that’s what I care about when I come into your business. Thanks for all you are doing.

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    • Erica
      August 16, 2018 at 5:20 pm
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      Thank you, Sherri! I don’t lump all Trump supporters into one category, and it has always been a pleasure seeing you and helping you find new styles. I appreciate your ongoing support and for your comment here.

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  • August 6, 2018 at 3:06 am
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    I’m so sorry you are dealing with this, and that the police didn’t take it seriously (where I live they’re enabling nazi marches so like I’m not surprised but I am saddened).

    Anger is rational. Fear is rational. But courage doesn’t require an absence of fear. It just requires that you do the brave thing anyway. Your choice to continue doing what is right in spite of terrorist threats (yes, threatening to burn someone’s business down is a terrorist threat) is courage.

    I’ll be checking out your online shop next time I have bra money. Bc support brave inclusive business owners.

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  • August 6, 2018 at 9:08 am
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    Erica,
    You have defiantly done mom and dad proud! Excellent job!
    Matt

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  • August 10, 2018 at 8:52 pm
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    Thank you for sharing. I come back to you again and again not only for your merchandise but the outstanding customer service you provide and that’s because of who you are. Proud to be a customer and telling everyone who will listen about your store.

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  • August 11, 2018 at 12:21 am
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    Beautifully written and thoughtful piece Erica. I wish I lived in the US so I could buy from you to support your store (even if online). I hope that your courage and integrity only helps your business grow. Juliette

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  • August 11, 2018 at 2:12 pm
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    Hi well many thanks from the UK for being just you someone that stands proud and tall as you are what’s right with America not that low life knuckle dragging cave creature who is the “Real” man so much so can’t even face you has to hide behind false id! as they are what’s wrong with the USA
    If ithat thing burn’t you down we’ed build you a thousand stores to make sure you was there forever more.
    America is mean’t to be the land of free speech! so if dumbo can’t take some free speech well should ship out or take it on the chin and shape up!
    Mind they probably feel rather in adequate maybe there momma didn’t bottle feed them properly or change there diapers?
    To me life is for living and life is for everyone to enjoy i treat everyone equal as everyone no matter what creed/race/persuasion/etc has something to bring to the table.
    As there is way too much hate in the world and were only here for a short time so do something with your life worth while.

    If you ever feel had enough USA side feel very welcome to come to the UK.

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  • August 11, 2018 at 5:12 pm
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    As a straight, bra and panty wearing male, a patriot and a Trump supporter, I also support those who have other viewpoints and other sexual preferences and orientations. I love my country, first and foremost. I’m a veteran who served so that we can all enjoy (and hopefully appreciate) the freedoms that set us apart from the rest of the world.
    Erica, I especially support your right to run your business the way you see fit, and if I ever travel near Burlington, NC, I will certainly stop in and support you financially. Lord knows I can’t pass up a bra fitting followed with a new pretty bra!

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  • Erica
    August 16, 2018 at 5:24 pm
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    I want to thank all of you who have commented here, messaged me, or even stopped by the shop to give me your support. I was extremely nervous and worried about posting this situation, but the outpouring of love I have received has been inspiring. Thank you for shopping with us or showing your support in other ways. It has made me feel more confident being in the shop and gone a long way to restoring my feelings of safety there. You are all wonderful, beautiful people, and both I and my shop are grateful for you. Thank you again for posting these comments here and for sending love my way. You have no idea how blessed you made me feel.

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    • August 17, 2018 at 4:52 am
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      Hi well it’s nice to see/hear of someone that really does things for there& the wider community promoting well being and actually being a real person and not some corporate yes person that just follows orders.

      I like your integratity as you come across as a very warm thinking person someone with a good heart.
      If i lived in the USA you’d be the only shop i’d buy from even if lived other side of country as someone like you and your shop is worth far more to go the extra mile in my books.
      Trouble is these days is many just look at the price not the total service.
      My first choice is always to support a real shop if i can but here in the UK many see us as something on the bottom of there shoe so something to be avoided!
      Yet us guy’s we spend far more and always happy.

      But you stand and walk tall were very proud of you.

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      • Erica
        August 18, 2018 at 11:44 am
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        Thank you <3 If you are ever stateside and in our vicinity, you are welcome to stop in and chat. I appreciate the encouragement and sweet message you posted here. Any store in the UK would be fortunate to have you as a customer. Thank you again!

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