“My main goal for this year may seem counterintuitive from a designer: I want to make less money,” Rachel Hill, the force behind Origami Customs, tells Autostraddle.
Origami Customs is a one-person ethical queer lingerie company based in Montreal. Hill is the one person. They create handmade underwear and swimwear for bodies of all sizes, shapes, genders, abilities, and ages. And everything can be customized. Underwear and swim bottoms can be made in gaff cuts with different compression options from none to moderate for no charge, as well as in different other cuts and rises. Swimwear and lingerie can include cup padding for a small charge. There are packing harnesses. There are play harnesses. There are binders. There are bodysuits. (I, personally, am obsessed with the bodysuits.) Sizes listed range from XXS to 5XL, but each product page recommends sending in your measurements for a tailored fit. Items that might in other shops appear on their own pages according to gender or size appear along with everything else, because they pretty much are everything else. And if you don’t see a way to customize existing pieces to work for you, Hill works on totally custom pieces, too.
“The process of designing and creating an outfit with each customer is inherently intimate, and I get boundless satisfaction from seeing how an item of clothing can affirm someone’s self-love or gender expression,” says Hill.
“Lingerie is the clothing that most relates to our intimate feelings about our bodies — it can reflect the way we see sensuality and sexuality, and also have the ability to transform our relationship with our bodies.”
“Lingerie is the clothing that most relates to our intimate feelings about our bodies — it can reflect the way we see sensuality and sexuality, and also have the ability to transform our relationship with our bodies in a way that isn’t public like the rest of our clothing. Working with individuals to design for how they want to see themselves is powerful and transformative, for both of us,” they say.
That’s why Hill recently started a bursary project — also called Origami Customs — to help get gender-affirming clothing to people who wouldn’t be able to access it otherwise, including youths, sex workers, and financially disadvantaged and unhomed individuals. The project is still in infancy, but Hill has partnered or plans to partner with Planned Parenthood, Positive Space Network, and The Unmentionables, among other organizations, to help provide free or discounted gender-affirming clothing options.
“For me, the bursary program will feel like the intersections of the community work that is so important to me … and the tangible practice of creating garments,” they say. Divorcing capitalism is also a draw. “Another reason this feels important to me, is that through giving products away, I can start to unlearn my dependence on capitalist consumerism, and find value in barter, or gift exchanges,” says Hill. “Although growing my brand is important, I’m realizing that feeling rewarded for my work doesn’t always come through money — that through helping my community, I’m often rewarded in ways that aren’t often valued in the same way (and especially for feminized labour): in time, appreciation, food, other handmade goods.”
But their work isn’t all anti-capitalism and self-love. It’s also about changing queer representation in lingerie. “My hope is that queer representation in the lingerie industry can replace tokenism with a respectful and spectrum-inclusive perspective — where we can acknowledge our nuanced identities without having to include queers only for representation’s sake,” says Hill.
In a recent photoshoot, first released right here right now on Autostraddle, Hill worked with Kinga Michalska, a Montreal-based Polish queer portrait photographer who explores marginalized communities, identity and gender in her work, to portray members of Montreal’s queer kink community the imagined morning after a kink party. Like Hill’s, Michalska’s work focuses on helping individuals access their inner selves.
“For me, photography is about making connections in fragile states. It’s about creating a safer space in which the person can share their authentic self that often gets hidden,” Michalska tells Autostraddle. “Photography, by default, creates a situation when the model is feeling vulnerable, and my role is to hold space for them to show themselves and to be seen for who they are. I love the process of building mutual trust, guiding people through their discomfort, and seeing them open up.”
Michalska also sees her work as a love letter to queer community. “My work is primarily a love letter to the queers and allies around me. I am really in love with my community — its diversity, self-sufficiency, empathy, and ability to heal together as well as to navigate conflict,” she says.
“The images that we see create our reality.”
On the eroticism within the shoot, Michalska notes:
“It’s important to subvert the norms and question the conventional narratives about what sex is, what kind of bodies do we consider attractive and desirable. The images that we see create our reality. I believe that we need to see more diverse people being sexual with each other in various ways to know that there are endless possibilities. Creating feminist erotica and porn is an important political act, because the people who we perceive as attractive, who have more sexual currency, are given way more privilege and mobility.”