For 23 years at the corner of Commercial Drive and Venables Street, Womyns’ Ware has served as a beacon for women eager to shop, learn, and feel empowered in an atmosphere that celebrates sex without exploiting it.
Now there’s a store open across the street that’s trying to accomplish the same objectives for how people feel about their gender identity and gender expression.
“I call it the sex-positive and body-positive corners,” Ann Boone, co-owner of both stores, tells the Georgia Straight during an interview at Your Open Closet.
She and business partner Lesley McHale have gone out of their way to cultivate body acceptance for trans people with their product line and marketing approach at Your Open Closet. They take pride in selling undergarments with which people of all genders can feel comfortable.
Subtle antique lighting created by local artisans, upcycled materials, and beige walls are all understated rather than overwhelming. This sets it apart from many corporate-owned lingerie shops that bombard customers’ senses with music, bright lights, and a kaleidoscope of colours.
While Your Open Closet carries lingerie, it’s not a lingerie store—it’s a shop promoting body acceptance.
“Sometimes, for some folks, there’s a lot of angst trying on undergarments,” Boone says. “There’s a calming feel in the store.”
Notably, there are no images of male or female models on the walls in the spacious, 1,800-square-metre store. That’s so nobody feels they have to live up to someone else’s version of an ideal body image.
“We want people to see the material and see that anyone can wear it,” Boone says.
McHale points out that the store’s gentle and welcoming approach has led to referrals from therapists, clinicians, and organizations that interact with trans people, such as the Qmunity resource centre and Options for Sexual Health.
“I think we’ve created a safe space to shop, with an environment where we don’t genderize the clothes,” McHale adds. “It’s based on listening to customers.”
Boone and McHale both previously worked in the corporate sector in Edmonton. They bought Womyns’ Ware four years ago because they wanted to own a business that reflected their values. And they appreciated the sex-positive educational approach embraced by the store’s previous owners.
In Your Open Closet, many products are made by local companies, such as Onyx Bodywear, Oona Clothing, Peach Palace, and Chateau Badeau. The merchandise includes bloomers, cage-bra harnesses, and underpants that can accommodate a packer or a stand-to-pee device.
Your Open Closet has also created its own line of chest binders because customers were experiencing difficulties with the ones that were being imported from the United States. The store’s products are designed and created in East Vancouver.
“Our next products will be gaff panties and tucking underwear,” Boone reveals.
In addition, there are large, wheelchair-accessible change rooms that can accommodate a couple of people.
“With some of the items, people need support,” McHale explains. “Their friends can help them with adjusting things or making things work for them.”More