I started wearing thongs probably around the age of 12 or 13. I could find them in my size at this goth shop at the mall—what was it called? The panties were made to be extremely low rise and skimpy, but they fit my adolescent body perfectly. Red, black, lace, it was all very edgy and romantic. I wanted to wear those underwear because all the panties made for someone my age seemed so huge and frumpy to me. Having grown up on Maui part of each year, I was used to my teeny Brazilian-cut bikinis and found it strange that my underwear should have more modest coverage. What was there to hide? They were going under my jeans anyway.
Years later in high school I dipped my toe into a full-butt panty. I was inspired by the painfully charming Maria de Medeiros in Pulp Fiction. She was wearing a pair of almost baggy panties that exuded elegance in such a mature and understated way. I went online and bought myself some organic cotton panties from American Apparel. I distinctly remember one of my girlfriends saying, “Kai?! I didn’t know you wore granny panties!” I was slightly embarrassed, but more so I felt misunderstood. “These panties are sexy!” I thought.
From that point, panties took a back seat for a while. Nobody made great underwear so I was always trying new flavors. Briefly, I found a Brazilian style boy-short from Victoria’s Secret that I liked, but eventually stopped wearing them because they were too lacy and bunchy. I moved on to their classic string bikini, which I loved, until they discontinued the style. After that, I ended up buying the most simple and minimal thong and panty styles from Target—but somehow through the years it became more and more difficult to find the plain colors, especially in my size. I searched the Hanes multi-packs for a simple pair of hi-cut cotton panties—also not in my size. Plus, the butt coverage was too much.
Just after college I made a series of artwork called Intimates. I made several sculptural pieces using worn undergarments. The first was a quilt made of panties. I asked my friends and family members to give me any old panties that they still had but never wore. The panties were stained, damaged, ripped, and I sewed them all together in a circular web-like pattern. Through this process, I found a connection we shared that I didn’t realize was there. Looking at each piece of underwear, I could relate to the stain or the rip, or the lace details. It was so near to my personal experience of something very private. And yet, I discovered how similar these private experiences are. I wanted to display that work out in the open, so that we may look at the stains and tears of an individual experience we share unknowingly and perhaps connect in a new way.
The first time I fell in love with a pair of panties was in Puebla, Mexico at a large grocery store called the Pelican. For something like $4 each, there they were, perfect cotton panties with a slender cut in the seat. No frills, just a tiny picot edge. No spandex, just cotton. I bought 12 pair and should have bought more. These lasted a year or so, but took some heavy hits from my period. After many attempts at finding the Pelican panty online, I surrendered and landed on some simple hi-cut mid-rise cotton-spandex panties from The Gap. The butt may have been on the large side, but it worked. I wore those for a couple years until the spandex degraded and protruded in its new form of little hairs. The next time I started shopping for underwear, I began making my own.
When I decided I wanted to create a business through selling undergarments, I developed a survey. It was a set of questions meant to explore likes, dislikes, and longings for in the world of intimates. When I received the responses from friends I felt that same connection that I found through my art pieces. We connect through the things we wear. Undergarments are the most intimate layer of clothing and the first to be put on and taken off. They have such a close relationship to the body, and our most vulnerable, sensitive, and private body parts. Yet, we all share the experience of wearing them daily, getting wedgies, muffin-tops, period stains, and panty lines. Undergarments are the foundation for what follows. If we begin with something we love, something we feel beautiful in, we are setting ourselves up to feel confident and comfortable in our skin. Undergarments matter! Even if you’re the only one seeing them—especially if you’re the only one seeing them! I love when my underwear helps someone feel sexy or comfortable or put-together. That is what I had wanted from my own underwear all those years.