Twenty-one-year-old Liesse Jones said that when she tells men she owns a lingerie fashion line, they can’t stop asking about it.
“A lot of women have a really positive reaction to it, which is great, but I think men can’t really help their reaction,” Jones said. “As soon as you say that, their minds are elsewhere for the rest of the conversation. And the following question is usually: ‘Do you wear your own stuff?’”
But Jones, the creator and owner of the lingerie line Pope Joans, said her line is all about women. She hand-dyes silk with dyes from organic plants, sews everything from chemises to panties to bras and then sells them online and at retailers in New Mexico, San Francisco and Canada. Jones said all this is to make women feel more comfortable with their bodies.
“I wanted to pursue fashion in a way that didn’t feed into the stereotypical runway model, like promoting a negative body image and only using size-zero models,” Jones said. “I wanted to do something that promoted self-confidence and natural beauty. I think if you feel beautiful in your underwear, anything you put on top of that is just an extension.”
Jones said her interest in fashion began in high school, and soon she was doing tailoring for television shows such as “Breaking Bad.” After attending fashion school in Toronto, she dropped out to pursue her own business in Albuquerque. She now spends about 60 hours per week sewing, dyeing cloth and doing custom jobs.
“It’s definitely hard because the business is so young. I feel like everything I make I just put back into it,” Jones said. “I don’t give myself a very big salary at all, but it’s enough to live. I don’t have to pay myself at all if I don’t need to. It’s hard to bring in other people when I know it’s something I could do myself.”
She said that despite the recession, she is optimistic about business.
“It’s a little frightening, but I’ve had lots of people who tell me that if I can make it in business right now, the rest of it will be a breeze,” Jones said.
The models on Pope Joans’ Facebook page represent all body sizes, sexual orientations and genders.
“I have lots of women who come to me and say they feel beautiful when they’re wearing my stuff, which is the ultimate compliment I could receive,” Jones said. “Although I don’t focus on the sexiness of lingerie — that’s not my mission at all with it — I do have a lot of women who say it’s been really good for their relationships and spicing things up.”
Jones said she uses organic dyes because they’re better for the skin. She uses natural fibers not just for fashion purposes, but because other fabrics and materials can cause health problems.
“I don’t use padding, which is made with Styrofoam, which allows gases to go directly into the mammary glands, and underwire which is made with nickel,” Jones said. “There have been numerous studies about nickel poisoning. It’s really bad because it’s directly on the lymph nodes for women. There have been studies that padding and underwire can lead to cancer and cause a lot of health problems.”
Jones’ friend and Pope Joans model Nicole Elliott said she started buying Pope Joans bras after she modeled one for the first time.
“They’re so comfortable, you feel like you’re wearing nothing. No poking, nothing’s out of place, nothing’s even scraping. The cuts that she uses and the fabrics make it really sexy,” Elliott said.
Elliott said that because Albuquerque was recently ranked one of the 10 worst-dressed cities by the California-based Movoto Blog, Pope Joans could enhance Albuquerque’s fashion. Plus, she said, the company helps fight against stigmas surrounding sexuality.
“People probably think lingerie has this stigma of high-class women who are working at creating sex appeal for men and whatnot,” Elliott said. “With Pope Joans, it’s about creating it for yourself.”