Underwire: Dec ’23 ‘Straight Talk for Curvy Gals’

“…But that’s not fair!” I whined in response to some outrageous, now long-forgotten injustice. “Life ain’t fair,” growled my dad, as usual. Not much an eight-year old can say to that, is there? Maybe his Bronx-born attitude made me what I like to think of as a pretty straightforward person, or maybe it’s just genetic.

Possibly I may at times come off as a bit brusque or impatient with employees, kids, husbands…what have you. I mean, I try.  I study management theory. I think it’s losing popularity now, but there was this recommended practice called the ‘compliment sandwich’ for addressing a problem with an employee, where you fold the criticism in between two pieces of praise. Example: “Hey Chelsea! I just wanted to say, you were amazing at delivering all four of those reports on schedule! UNFORTUNATELY, your numbers were so inaccurate that the rest of the team had to come in on Saturday to redo them, which cost the company more in overtime than your whole salary for the week. Maybe focus on the details a bit more? But also, I just wanted to say, everybody is talking about how tidy your cubicle is!” …you see the problem. How can we say it straight, and still be kind? That question is why I was immediately attracted to the book Radical Candor by Kim Scott.

Kim says life’s thorniest problems can be boiled down to a two-by-two framework, i.e. one vertical axis and one horizontal. When it comes to hard conversations, I like her diagram. Her x-axis is “caring personally” and her y-axis is “challenging directly”. The upper right quadrant, honest and caring, is “Radical Candor”. It’s feedback that’s kind, clear, specific and sincere. If you care, but you are afraid to be direct, she calls that “Ruinous Empathy”. If you’re honest but uncaring, that’s “Obnoxious Aggression” (Life ain’t fair). And if you can’t muster either honesty OR concern, you fall into what Scott originally thought of as the “Asshole Quadrant,” but later renamed “Manipulative Insincerity.”

Radical candor is what I mean by “straight talk.” It’s how we treat our clients and how we run the business. We empathize with everyone’s body issues, but we won’t to lie to you. We won’t tell you our bras will melt your ‘backfat’ away. We won’t tell you a loose bra will support like a tight bra, or a cheap bra last as long as a good bra, or look as good. We won’t say we can fit you if we can’t. That’s the direct part. The caring part is we will search for the best fit for your current parameters, or we will refer you to another store if we think they can do better. Our goal is NO WRONG PURCHASES. 

We had to turn it inward. For the business, radical candor means not only feeling enormous love for the years of work we’ve put into building every single Jenette Bras location, but also having a hard look at the numbers. This is where ‘ruinous empathy’ for ourselves could kick in, where the urge to avoid, rationalize, procrastinate, or deflect could blind us to what really needs to be done. 

So the Eastside store, the first store, is now closed. Candidly, the lease was up and the numbers were down, so we closed it. So many great memories! Shocked Beverly Hills shoppers learning that Melrose Avenue went “that far East.” The Wall Street Journal discovering us with a two page spread in our first year in business. Commissioning an original score for our modern dance performance launch of Marlies Dekkers after only two years in business. Endless parking tickets, walking from my house to work, and all of my sublimely beautiful original clients–so many still evangelizing for us (indeed, one is now our Head of Operations). Hard to believe there will be one less toilet to fix.

Life ain’t fair, but it’s very sweet.