Cypherpunk Valentine: Why Shoppers Spend Bitcoin on Lingerie

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The most cypherpunk way to celebrate Valentine’s Day may be to buy lingerie with bitcoin.

Panties.com founder Lila Williams told CoinDesk that she receives “a handful” of bitcoin payments every month since she started accepting bitcoin in March 2017. So, this Valentine’s Day season, her site is running a campaign where all purchases paid in bitcoin get 15 percent off and a free pair of lace panties.

Some bitcoin fans might be reluctant to spend their crypto on apparel. Yet lingerie, in particular, is often viewed by aficionados as a purchase similar to jewelry – an investment in a piece of fine craftsmanship.

If bitcoin is an investment, then spending bitcoin on lingerie from women-led companies that accept crypto – like Naja and Kala, both of which pay garment makers above-average wages and use fair-trade materials – is a way to invest in women.

Speaking to this broader industry dynamic, Rebecca Migirov, an alumna of ethereum venture studio ConsenSys and currently the CEO of lingerie brand Kala, told CoinDesk that the industry is seeing a “woman-led revolution in terms of product.” The best way to support crypto adoption, she says, is for consumers to “show there’s demand in the market.”

That’s why Rick Shaddock, a member of the Digital Currency Association, said he used bitcoin he acquired during the market peak in December 2017 to buy his wife panties for their anniversary because there’s no volatility in lacy underthings.

“It turned out to be a wise exchange, because BTC went down 80 percent,” Shaddock said in an email. “Panties were a much better investment than bitcoin in 2018.”

Needing censorship resistance

Stepping back, the American lingerie industry is widely dominated by corporations with controversial labor practices, since bras, in particular, are difficult to mass produce and must be partially assembled by hand.

For example, Victoria’s Secret – majority owned by billionaire Lex Wexner – has reportedly relied on cheap prison labor and child labor. Lingerie companies with higher ethical standards but less corporate power face rampant advertising censorship from subscription sites like Patreon to digital portals like Google and Instagram.

“There are enormous problems with advertising even luxury lingerie,” Panties.com founder Williams said.

Williams told CoinDesk that, in addition to having trouble with Google Ads, Facebook frequently bans her advertisements and labels them “sexual content,” even if the picture features a woman in a modest satin robe and nightgown.

Migirov’s Kala brand has the same issue converting shoppers through social media platforms like Instagram, which often mislabel niche lingerie advertisements as pornography. As such, Migirov said the lingerie industry could benefit from censorship-resistant platforms with smooth bitcoin payment options.

The only trouble, both Williams and Migirov say, is that the lingerie industry isn’t particularly tech-savvy. Until crypto-friendly retail platforms like OpenBazaar or AdLedger gain traction with mainstream audiences, siloed websites may limit boutique advertising and sales.

Speaking to her 33 years of experience in the lingerie industry, first launching a website then accepting credit card payments before most of her competitors, Williams added:

“Yes, computers were the big disappointment of 1990, but they aren’t any more. And I believe that one day the same will be said of bitcoin.”

Slow growth

Williams said she might be interested in processing her own bitcoin payments someday if the technology becomes more user-friendly.

“One of the problems with bitcoin is when you push that button it is gone, gone, gone, there is no recourse,” Williams said, adding she occasionally holds some bitcoin savings rather than immediately converting it to fiat.

Using traditional credit card processors, she pays more than 3 percent of her earnings each month, in addition to a $75 monthly fee, which dwarfs BitPay’s average 1 percent transaction fee.

Beyond payment processors like Bitpay and Shopify, which offer the comforting guarantee of recourse if something goes wrong, several plug-and-play bitcoin node devices have emerged over the past six months that leverage the lighting network’s to reduce network fees to unprecedented lows.

Node retailers like Michel Luczak, co-founder of the French startup Nodl, and Lightning in a Box co-founder Norman Moore in New York, both told CoinDesk that they expect 2019 will see gradual adoption across merchant sectors because education is the biggest hurdle to adoption outside the tech industry.

“We are trying to sell not one node per shop, but for a group of shops, to show them that this can bring them more freedom,” Luczak said, speaking broadly about a wide range of vendors. “It’s a problem of trying to educate people and show what [a node] can bring them.”

Adoption may be slow across the lingerie industry, but it continues on a steady incline. In a sector of the fashion economy where female entrepreneurs are often censored and sidelined, cryptocurrency payments offer a way for shoppers to directly empower businesses they believe are challenging corporate norms.

“More people ask to use bitcoin over the phone than ask to use Discover card,” Williams said.

Lingerie image courtesy of Kala