Underwire: Sept ’23 ‘Sisterhood of the Travelling Underpants’

Hurricane in Florida, earthquake in Turkey, cyclone in Myanmar, wildfires from Maui to Greece. These days the world seems tethered by threads, fraying and snapping with each storm or strike or economic pendulum swing. In good times these frail connections may go unremarked, but it is at our peril that we ignore the way our small individual actions re-weave the netting of the world.

I have a very good friend named Terri who ran a small bra fitting shop on Maui. She was known as the Bra Lady of Wailuku Town. How she came to this island and this profession from her academic life at a small Catholic college in Connecticut is long and intricate story that involves a dying sister in New Orleans and the support of a neighborhood Bra Lady who introduced her to the trade.

For over ten years she served the Maui community. There were a few wealthy second-home dwellers and vacationers who popped in, but the majority of her clients were local moms and teens, hotel and restaurant workers, nurses and teachers. She loved her work. It was Terri who coined the phrase “Bra fitting is the most intimate form of feminism” –which I adhere to and have often borrowed (with attribution, of course)!

Terri Irwin, far right

Like most of the women she served, she lived paycheck to paycheck: buying inventory and selling inventory, adding mastectomy fittings, throwing fabulous events, and even at one point growing her store’s footprint. But it was never easy, and in year Eleven, with the pandemic on her heels and an elderly mother on the Mainland, she made the painful decision to close up shop and head to Virginia. Rest In Peace, Perfection Bra Fitting Salon This hand-to-mouth life is the reality of most small business owners (no matter how it looks on Instagram!) and in the U.S. small businesses account for 99.9% of all firms (and 44% of the Gross National Product). Restaurants and barbershops, mechanics, record stores, clothing boutiques, and all the other local small business we frequent are linked together and to our communities by these unseen and often fraying threads.

But this is a story of resilience, not just fragility –so back to my friend Terri, the former Bra Lady. She now works at the Virginia Interfaith Center, and is still an honorary member of our 71 strong Independent Lingerie Store Owners Group. When the Maui fires devastated the city of Lahaina, she called upon the bra ladies of North America to help in the best way we knew how. Soon boxes and boxes filled with hundreds of bras and underwear were flying into Wailuku Town, drawn by an invisible rope to the displaced women of Maui.

A note from Terri and the people of Maui: “We are open for business and will welcome you with open arms. Come and visit us. Aloha!”