by Jillian Netherland | photography by Nicole Rand

“Someday we will all leave this earth, and I want to make sure that what I do while I am here matters and makes a difference.”

A passion for creating a culture of body positivity mixed with more than a decade’s worth of experience in the romance and intimacy industry led local entrepreneur, Sasha Vurnakes, to open Sasha Lee’s Romance Boutique in 2014. The expertise and care that built the foundation for what began as a lingerie and pleasure accessory shop is renowned today not only for its friendly and helpful shopping atmosphere, but also for its educational workshops and classes, boudoir portraits, and annual lingerie fashion show.


seeing yourself through different eyes

“Whenever I ask someone to tell me about themselves, they almost always begin telling me about what they do versus who they are,” shares Vurnakes, a photographer, sexual educator, and pleasure activist. “It’s hard to be yourself, especially when it comes to sensuality.”

Sasha Vurankes Photographs at Sasha Lees Boutique Lewiston MaineOne of the ways Vurnakes helps local women increase their confidence is through her boudoir portrait photography, lovingly known as empowerment sessions. Derived from the French word meaning “a woman’s private salon,” boudoir portraiture has been a source of stigma since its inception. While this style of photography is not nearly as taboo as it was 10-15 years ago, neither is it widely appreciated. Vurnakes seeks to change the narrative surrounding what boudoir photography is and is not, on a mission to break any stigma that still exists.

“We are taking what was once regarded as taboo and making it a safe space for everyone to feel confident and classy, while celebrating a self-love experience,” says Vurnakes, who becomes a natural hype-lady for all her clients, cheering right along with them. “These portraits truly help boost these women’s confidence by allowing them to see themselves through different eyes.”


all inclusive

Vurnakes has supported many local charities through her boudoir portraits and size-inclusive boutique, carrying sizes XS through 6X – all priced the same, regardless of size.

“It was important to me not to charge extra for plus sizes,” Vurnakes explains. “Anyone who comes in needing a little confidence boost or some good, honest sex advice without any judgment – we are happy to provide those things.”

As a way to continue reaching frequent customers and clients between visits, Vurnakes created a VIP Facebook group – known for its frequent shopper deals and specials, but more importantly, the health-positive articles and tips surrounding sensuality and sexuality that are regularly shared.

on the stage and beyond

The service Sasha Lee’s Romance Boutique has become most known for is the annual lingerie fashion show. The “show” is actually an intensive, six-month-long program. Models – comprised of everyday members of our community without any previous training or experience – are introduced to life coaches, improv directors, and style artists to help them create their own unique stage routine that harnesses confidence and pride.

“The most amazing thing we see is the confidence these individuals experience on stage, transcend to other areas of their lives,” Vurnakes shares, noting that past participants have moved on to other endeavors, including participating in New York Fashion Week.


more than just a show

Each year’s annual fashion show begins with an open casting call for anyone between the ages of 18 and 80. Centering yourself without fear of the future is a theme that is revisited and carried through the two-month duration of show preparation.

“Often times, when people think lingerie shows, they think models walking down a runway to techno music, but ours is much more performance-arts based,” explains Vurnakes. “Forty models are chosen, then we spend the next two months learning about them—their talents, passions, personalities – then we determine the best song for each model and teach them their choreography with the goal of building fantasies.”

Over the two-month preparation period, fashion show models participate in weekly three-hour meetings as a group, getting to know each other, joining team building activities and life coaching sessions, and practicing their choreography. Past shows have included salsa dancing, swing dancing, group formations, contemporary dance, and more—drawing an impressively large audience. The 2022 show sold a whopping 640 tickets in the first 12 minutes.

“Our biggest hurdle right now is that we need a bigger space,” Vurnakes shares. “But it’s worth it to reach a larger audience where everyone can see something that ignites a spark in them, thinking, ‘oh! I look like that person – I could wear something like that.’”


real talk with real people

Even mission-driven body positivity activists like Vurnakes recognize the realities of human experience—that not every day will be a positive day, advising people to focus on body positivity as a journey, not a destination.

“We are all our own worst enemies when it comes to the intrusive voices in our heads – it’s normal to struggle with body image,” states Vurnakes. “Loving our body doesn’t mean we have to love it one thousand percent of the time, but that we continue to be kind and show up for it.”

Vurnakes notes a common misconception on improving body positivity – that one pivotal adjustment will change one’s overall perception—when it is actually continual baby steps in the direction of how one wants to live and ultimately feel.

“People ask about my confidence, and I remind them that I am human, too – I’ll have days where I feel like a million bucks, and other days where I want to eat tacos in my tub and cry,” Vurnakes admits. “It’s important to continue investing in yourself. For me, it’s furthering my education as a photographer or taking classes through the Chamber. I recently joined the LA Pride Committee and that’s something that helps me in the community, by helping them grow.”


purpose of positivity

Helping her community is, without a doubt, the number one source of fulfillment and motivation for Vurnakes. Whether it’s being a positive voice for boudoir clients by suggesting they keep a printed photo or quote as a daily affirmation, offering her time and talents to local charities and committees, or providing a safe, judgment-free space to chat, Vurnakes is on a mission to make an impact throughout Lewiston Auburn, boosting confidence and spreading body positivity, one person at a time.

“Someday we will all leave this earth, and I want to make sure that what I do here while I am here matters and makes a difference,” she shares. “What we do is needed and unique,  and I hope to continue to reach more people.”

Sasha Lee’s Romance Boutique & Intimate Portraits

Lewiston |