Lotus Blooms has lingerie in the windows, but the store is about more than that. Owner Teal Dye says the store’s goal is to help people love their bodies and explore outside their comfort zones.
“Sex in our society is not something we talk about,” Dye said. “Since most people aren’t super comfortable having intimate conversations, it’s important to create that opportunity for people to do so, to [have a place] to have questions and ask them.”
Lotus Blooms opened in 2009, initially in Georgetown but moved to its current location at 1017 King Street in Old Town later that year. Dye has been with the company since 2014 and took ownership a couple of years ago.
Dye’s background was originally in counseling. During her work with teenagers, she says she learned more about how few resources people had to have frank discussions about sexuality.
She picked up a job at Lotus Blooms as part of a class assignment while getting a master’s degree in human sexuality studies.
“It’s been a very different experience,” Dye said. “I fell in love with the vulnerable, intimate conversations we have with adults. Teenagers who don’t know about their bodies turn into adults who don’t know about their bodies.”
Dye described sex as a double-edged sword, where adults are expected to know all about it but with no one to teach them. What education there is, Dye said, is entirely focused around safety and preventative measures.
“We don’t set people up for a wonderful experience in our society,” Dye said.
When Lotus Blooms first opened, Dye said there was some pushback from the community. Some retailers and fashion boutiques have said they don’t want to be associated with the store, and Dye said she understands their concerns. As with the other parts of her business, Dye said the store is very careful about navigating comfort zones with her retail neighbors.
While some of the challenges have been local, Dye says one of the larger hurdles for the business is advertising online. Because of the content of the store, Dye said it’s virtually impossible to advertise on social media. Being located in Old Town, however, has helped draw in customers who might peer in through the window and become curious.
“Our brand is not ‘hey, we’re here’ it’s a lot more ‘come in and tell us what works for you,'” Dye said. “Specifically in Old Town, that’s really helpful for people. People can peer in the window and say ‘I’m just looking for lingerie,’ but those can turn into other conversations.”
People can sometimes feel uncomfortable walking into a sex-focused store in public, afraid of being recognized walking in by people they might know. But many of the store’s customers are visitors, like couples stopping through Old Town on a quaint weekend trip in Alexandria, Dye said.
Like much retail, Dye said the store also has had some difficulty competing with online retailers like Amazon, which offer more anonymity for customers. A problem with that, she said, is that Amazon can offer cheap alternatives that haven’t been safety tested the way material in Lotus Blooms has.
“People come into the shop and say ‘but it’s $20 on Amazon’ and I’m like ‘it’s really not,'” Dye said. “It’s not a very regulated industry, and there are materials people can get that are not safe. We take a lot of time looking at research. And because it’s so unregulated, companies don’t have to put on their materials. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”
In recent years, Dye said she’s started to see a boost in people looking specifically to shop locally. Dye said the front end of the shop carries lingerie aimed at appealing to all customers, helping it to bring in window shoppers.
“The experience of pretty things that make people stand taller in their bodies and smile at themselves in the mirror — that’s a rare experience,” Dye said. “We make a point of having full sizes of lingerie. We want people to walk in and know ‘this is for them.’ We are exploring how can we make more people feel more confident in their bodies.”
Part of that exploration, Dye said, will be more community events involving everyone from counselors and doctors to community organizers. Those events, and seasonal specials, are aimed at bringing in more customers who might otherwise not be in the market for the store’s usual wares.
Currently, the store has a special deal for anyone looking for a last-minute Halloween costume: buy any corset and get a free costume accessory.
“We’ve got really cool accessories,” Dye said. “We found a quirky artisan lady who makes masks as their full-time job. [The artist] creates the molds, pours the plaster, hand paints them and has stories behind all of them. We have fun accessories — the kind you probably won’t find at Party City.”