A global pandemic has far from caged artist-turned-entrepreneur Peregrine Honig. Her creativity helped perch the Crossroads lingerie shop she founded within a market the ongoing economic downturn couldn’t cover.
“Liquor and lingerie do great when people are freaked out,” said Honig, who co-owns Birdies with Alexis Burggrabe. “People at home still want to entertain even if they’re not traveling. They want to be comfortable. They want to feel beautiful, and our lingerie can do those things.”
Success has helped the duo build a sturdy nest for their brand, as well as allowing Honig, an acclaimed creative, to spread her wings without leaving her adopted Midwest home.
“If it’s working and you’re inspired, why not stay?” she asked.
Designing a career in KC
Honig was first drawn to the Midwest from San Francisco in the mid-1990s while applying for art school, she shared — noting that she envisioned Kansas City as a wide open space with fields of rolling wheat.
“I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” she recalled, laughing within the walls of her home — the former Greenwood Baptist Church, which also now serves as the Greenwood Social Hall public art and performance space in the Westside neighborhood.
“When I went for my interview with the [Kansas City] Art Institute, the woman just wanted to talk to me about my work. She didn’t want to talk about how I was going to get a job,” Honig said, explaining that other art universities were more interested in presenting job statistics.
“I was like, ‘Well I know I’m an artist, so I should go somewhere where there are the tools and skills to make me better,’” she continued. “And that turned out to be true.”
Since first arriving in Kansas City at age 17, Honig boasts an impressive list of accomplishments: being the youngest artist whose work was acquired by the Whitney Museum of Art’s permanent collection at age 22; finishing as runner up on Bravo’s Work of Art: The Next Great Artist; teaching a local “Bubbles and Bodies” art class; and serving as the creative director for the West 18th Street Fashion Show.
The Whitney Museum acquired a print Honig created with the Landfall Press. Honig has been printing with the press’ President Jack Lemon and Director Steve Campbell for the past 20 years, she shared.
Click here to check out more of Peregrine Honig’s work.
“Every time I’ve thought about leaving,” she said, “something has sort of been like, ‘Why would you leave?’”
Billboards and Birdies
Adding to her achievements, Honig founded Birdies lingerie shop in 2003.
“[Birdies] will be 18 on February 14,” Honig noted. “The idea for Birdies sparked from a Valentine’s Ball art installation. All these people showed up and bought all the underwear, so I was like, ‘Better get a business license!’”
The shop resides in Kansas City’s Crossroads Arts District, also known as “America’s Creative Crossroads” — a fitting parallel to how the duo conducts business.
“We got a billboard once, and this woman, who worked for Women’s Wear Daily, was coming from New York to visit her sister,” Honig explained. “She saw the billboard and drove to the store, which was still around 100-square feet.”
Amazed that the hole-in-the-wall shop was smaller than the billboard, the reporter wrote an article for Women’s Wear Daily magazine on Birdies, Honig stated.
“We actually got more press and traffic from the article based on the billboard than we did from the billboard,” she shared. “Marketing is about being brave and also, kind of stubborn.”
In marketing terms, Honig is also persistent on having full-page advertisements.
“As an artist, visually, I want to have control of what my image is paired with,” she explained. “And also, we have a sensitivity to the business itself. [We] don’t want our ads to be next to an image that has children. It needs its own space.”
It is also crucial for Birdies’ advertisements to be representative of real members of the community, Honig added — noting that they show women, men and transhumans of different size, shapes and skin tones.
Between Burggrabe and Honig, the business duo is able to compliment one another, Honig said, with Burggrabe focusing on the numbers and Honig bringing her artistic vision to the shop.
“Alexis is the common sense. I’m the one that’s like, ‘Look at this crazy brand!’ And she’ll say that we can order this many of the crazy brand, but we must also order this. So we’re a really good pair. She trusts me, and I trust her.”
Honig also trusts her intuition, she said, explaining how Birdies eventually began selling products for men too.
“I can’t tell you how many jarheads have come into the store for years, sarcastically asking ‘You got anything in my size?’” Honig recalled. “We got that annoying question enough times that I was like, let’s just order some boxer briefs, so when [a man] asks me if we have something in his size, we do! Guess what? We have male customers now.”
Birdies carries slips and bras that cater to crossdressers and transhumans, Honig noted, calling them welcomed and ongoing customers.
Success in sisterhood
Even with all her artistic and business acclaim, Honig finds pride most in being the eldest of three sisters, she shared.
“My sisters are just amazing humans,” Honig said. “Not that I’ve had a huge hand in it — but I’ve had some hand in helping them be brave, and they help me be brave. Just seeing how much they are thriving, that’s the thing I’m most proud of.”
Although the pandemic has brought frustrations, it has also allowed Honig to see the incredible circle of people with whom she surrounds herself, she said.
“It’s kind of a funny thing when life gets a little bit more myopic. I love my husband; I love my sisters. My best friend is in Argentina, but I feel more connected to her than I have in a long time,” Honig said. “If your business fails — if everybody hates your art — it’s the people that you love and the people who love you back that really matter.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.