Nomi Ellenson Cora Harrington, founder and CEO of The Lingerie Addict.
When Cora Harrington first started blogging about lingerie in 2008 it came as part necessity, part passion project. Harrington wanted to purchase some lingerie, but couldn’t find any real review sites that would help guide her purchase. So she started writing reviews herself on a blog she named The Stockings Addict.
“All of my early reviews were focused on stockings and hosiery, tights that sort of thing,” Harrington said.
“Those things were more affordable for me to write about.”
Nine years later The Stockings Addict has become The Lingerie Addict, encompassing all kinds of undergarments. And Harrington turned the work from a side project to a full-time job.
She’s made The Lingerie Addict, which she calls TLA, into the foremost lingerie blog in the world.
Making it work
Making TLA sustainable was a complicated journey. When Harrington started to get readers in the tens of thousands, she decided it was time to look into selling ad space.
“I remember when I first wanted to dip a toe into advertising, being really worried that my readers would hate it,” she said.
“Most of them were like, ‘No, we like what you’re doing and we want you to stick around and if it turns out advertising is the way that happens then like let’s do it.'”
She started out using Google AdSense, a service that lets users display targeted Google ads on their own sites.
But before long, AdSense deemed The Lingerie Addict ineligible for their service because they considered it adult content.
“It says a lot about how we think about lingerie and how we view it as something hundreds of millions of people wear, but it’s considered to be taboo and inappropriate, which I think is a very American thing,” Harrington said. “But also says quite bit about what we think is acceptable to talk about in public.”
On their site, Google AdSense says their policy is that, “While we recognize that interpretations of adult or mature content may vary across countries and cultures, we hold all publishers accountable to the same content requirements so that we can ensure a safe and healthy global advertising ecosystem.
And they’re not the only ones with this approach. “It’s a recurring theme among online advertising networks,” Harrington said.
“Even when we’re advertising on Facebook or what have you our ads are very often declined.
In the end, the move away from third-party ad services was a blessing in disguise. Harrington started to pitch directly to brands and they to her, creating valuable relationships within the industry.
“It gave me a good foundation for building the business out,” she said.
From the get-go, Harrington worked to make sure The Lingerie Addict served everyone.
“Me being a Black woman — I’m Black, I’m queer –has a lot to do with what I see as relevant,” she said. “I’m thinking about how for decades lingerie brands have only called shades of beige ‘nude.’ I mean, I’m not beige colored.
The way the industry has traditionally marketed itself, has left people out. Harrington says that there are two main marketing tropes in the lingerie industry: You’re either Victoria’s Secret Angel-sexy or you’re wearing the wrong bras size.
“Where is the enjoyment in those narratives?” Harrington asks.
She also notes the frequent marketing of lingerie as something ‘for your man’ which erases the desires of queer women.
Harrington’s outsider perspective on the industry has helped her see these gaps and work to fill them. Her background is in sociology with a focus on race, class and gender.
“I wanted to see brands that had me in mind, and I wanted to tell my readers about brands that had them in mind,” she said.
“I want them to know what their options are and to support the brands that want their business.
TLA’s site is full of diverse models posed in lingerie for a range of sizes, races, ages and price points.
Entering an industry from the outside is far from easy, and Harrington faced pushback when she was first starting out. “When I started my blog a lot of people in the industry made it very clear that they thought I didn’t have a place here,” she said.
Early on, Harrington realized that not everyone’s going to like you or your work, and that you have to focus on the people who do.
“You have to figure out who your target is, who your audience is, and whose opinion is most relevant to you,” she said.
The Lingerie Addict is driven by its audience rather than by industry critics or brands.
“The only reason industry people are interested in me at all is because of my readers,” Harrington said. “So they’re the people that I need to make happy.”
Founding her own company has also taught Harrington lessons in confidence. Because The Lingerie Addict did something nobody else was doing, she had to create her own path. “It’s scary to do things that are new,” she said. “You’re kind of having to build the map and navigate it at the same time.
This work has taught Harrington the art of being an expert.
Though she came into the industry from a non-traditional background, she knew how to put in the work and the research to become the expert her audience needed. She also knew the value of bringing on other voices who could contribute their own expertise.
“I knew early on that I wanted The Lingerie Addict to be a resource and an expert level platform, and not necessarily a place that was about me or my outfits,” she said.
Looking to the future
Harrington thinks that lingerie has an exciting future. Already it’s changed so much from when she was young.
For one thing, it’s much more accessible. “I grew up in central Georgia not in Atlanta or in a big city, and there were no lingerie boutiques where I grew up,” she said.
“If it wasn’t at the mall you just didn’t get it.”
The rise of e-commerce, she said, changed the game. Consumers have more options than ever before. And small and niche brands have more opportunity to thrive.
“Brands that would have never gotten a foothold in the industry before– even as recently as five or ten years ago would have never succeeded, would never have gotten the buy in from boutiques and department stores– are able to thrive now because they can directly reach their customers.”
As lingerie and TLA continue to look to the future, Harrington hopes that if people can learn one thing about lingerie it’s this: “It’s normal to have a variety of sizes in your lingerie drawer; it’s normal for different sizes to fit you better at different times of the month,” she said. “It’s so easy to internalize difficulties with shopping as an issue with your body.
She admits that finding the perfect size can be confusing but, “It’s not so confusing that you can’t figure it out with a little bit of time and little bit of kindness to yourself.