Thank you so much for being here for Part Two of our "Where We Stand" series on racism and white supremacy in the U.S. If you didn't have a chance to read Part One, you can find it here. As promised, today I will outline what we did as a small business in 2020 to combat racism and white supremacy, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. More importantly, I will tell you how we plan to continue and expand upon this important work in 2021. Despite a change in presidential administration, this work is just beginning, and we have a responsibility to use our privilege to advance true equality in society and its systems. Here we are, looking forward. Thank you for reading and engaging.
Post Script: I would like to start this post with the acknowledgement that as a White cisgender woman, I am part of the problem of systemic racism in this country. My identity is intricately tied to this country's destructive and oppressive history, I am the descendent of White colonizers, of slave owners, of racists. I can trace my own genealogy to The Mayflower. I used to be proud of this. I have benefitted from and continue to benefit from this history, from the accumulation of wealth, from slavery and racism and the subjugation of Black people, from the Indigenous people upon whose stolen land I live. I have benefitted from the marginalization and mistreatment of all People of Color. I benefit from my Whiteness, my privilege and the power dynamics and racist systems that we must disrupt. I have caused harm. Undoubtedly, and unfortunately, I will continue to cause harm. I belong to White supremacy, despite the fact that I do not want to. My promise is to continue working at be humble, to committing to learning and doing the work, to fighting the urge to feel exceptional and recognize that I AM COMPLICIT, and to listening to and believing Black people, indigenous people and POC.
A list of resources/humans from which I have personally learned is below. This is an always evolving and growing list and is by *no means* exhaustive, but rather reflective of my current learning and work. A simple google search will provide you with many more resources by Black, Indigenous and POC on anti-racism. We will continue seeking out opportunities to pay and support Black, Indigenous and People of Color for their knowledge, experience and work. As this is my business, and I feel it is vital for business owners to be open and transparent about their own bias, prejudice, racism, and also their anti-racism work and policies, I have centered myself here. I have questions about the appropriateness of that. I know I will make mistakes. I will fuck up. This could be one of those things. Yet, I choose to leave this here for now, as a reference point for those interested to know where we stand. Please note, however, that following this blog post, I will seek to de-center myself and instead focus on being quiet and learning from/sharing the work and contributions of others, of Black people, Indigenous people, and People of Color. My most important question to myself is "What does liberation require from me?" On that note, please refer to:
Rachel Ricketts webinars
The Other Slavery by Andrés Reséndez
Books by Angela Y. Davis
Racism and White Supremacy:
If you are not familiar with our origin story, I started Thread Spun in 2016 as a direct response to my previous employment with the federal Refugee Resettlement program working with special immigrant populations locally in San Diego. For five years I worked in various capacities to assist people who arrived as refugees and asylees to secure employment and advance their careers. I witnessed first hand just how challenging it is for individuals to overcome traditional employment barriers (such as language and transportation), as well as employment barriers related to discrimination based on skin color, religion and culture.
Thread Spun began as a brand creating surfboard bags by hand. The mission of our social enterprise was to create living wages for women resettled as refugees who sewed the bags, and later other goods such as pillows and accessories. We were, and remain, extremely proud of our ability to create dignified employment to a diverse group of women that were having trouble entering the workforce in the U.S. due to these barriers. Meaningful employment and workplace connections are extremely important to integration into any community, as new members develop relationships with longer-standing members, and both parties benefit.
Despite my professional and educational opportunities and experiences in the social justice sphere, I, like many white Americans, have been disappointed in myself over the last year. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, as they say, and despite my own, I was ignorant to much of the racism and white supremacy pervading our society at every level. On a very personal level, I have had to take a hard and close look at my own internal biases and racism, and begin my own learning, and unlearning. I realize that my impact (and not my intentions) should be the driver of this unlearning. As this business is extremely personal to me, and as I believe wholeheartedly in the power of business in driving social change, it is only natural that this learning and unlearning should and must extend into Thread Spun. That said, action steps we are currently taking are listed below, but this list is not exhaustive and will certainly grow as we continue in this important work, learn and grow.
- Shifting our charitable efforts and monthly donations of 10% of all profits to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Empowerment Programs, whose mission is to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination. We will continue supporting other charitable causes through frequent auctions with Together We Raise, Still We Rise, and other independent efforts.
- Continuing to support Black makers and POC makers by purchasing from Black- and POC-owned businesses not just in the U.S. but in countries throughout the world. Striving to increase the overall percentage of Black-made and authored products on our shelves by spending time researching and reaching out to Black makers sharing our passion for handmade and ethically made products. In the U.S., just 9.5% of private or closely held public US businesses are Black-owned, and together they make 1% of White-owned businesses. This is a direct reflection of the history of oppression and systemic racism in our country, and investing in Black-owned businesses and makers is fundamental to achieving true equality.
- Hosting local Black makers/vendors at no cost - we offer shelf space to Black-identifying artists and creators living in San Diego County without charging fees or taking commission, resulting in the vendor receiving the full proceeds of their creations. We are currently hosting the best selling and organic CBD skincare by Collective 108, and books of writing and poetry by Euni, a writer, visual artist, connection facilitator, full spectrum doula, student of ayurveda, and creativity coach. If you are interested in shelf space, please contact Heidi@threadspun.co.
- Carrying an always growing array of books for children and adults on subjects pertaining to racism and diversity, and highlighting books authored by Black writers and POC writers. There will be no equality without our own education, and we must listen to and learn from Black people, Indigenous people and all People of Color.
- On that note, we will continue to educate ourselves individually and collectively as a company regarding racism and anti-racism, as well as internal biases in the workplace. We are beginning by investing time and resources into the "Spiritual Activism" online courses developed by Rachel Ricketts. We will meet as a company after each staff member completes these trainings and mutually agree on next educational steps. Learn more about Rachel Ricketts and her online courses on racism and dismantling White supremacy here.
- Reparations: We are introducing a new Reparations program to our business model. We do reserve the right to adjust this program accordingly as we continue our research and seek out/receive input from the Black community. If you identify as Black or Indigenous and live in the U.S., you are eligible for a $40 shop credit as a part of my reparations as a white person as the owner of this company. You may receive this shop credit once every six months. All other human beings are eligible to earn a $10 shop credit by choosing a NEW (not yet read, listened to, etc.) resource on anti-racism and/or Black history in this country and meaningfully and mindfully engaging with that resource. Upon completion, you will receive the shop credit. In addition, non-Black and Indigenous people can earn a $10 shop credit by investing $10 or more into supporting U.S. based, Black/Indigenous-owned business through Kiva. Again, you are eligible to receive either or both of these credits once every six months. For more information or to receive a reparations credit, email Heidi@threadspun.co with the subject line "Reparations".
Opportunities for Growth
Much of our anti-racism work is just beginning, both individually and collectively. We see boundless opportunity for growth in this area, and we plan to use our privilege to do our very best to be drivers of a collective movement toward anti-racism in business, at home, and in all aspects of society. A few things we are thinking about:
- Continuing to pursue representation of Black people and POC in our own advertising campaigns, and being actively vocal with existing and new vendors about the importance of representation to our continued partnership.
- Continuing to thoroughly research and vet vendor partners to ensure inclusive and equitable business practices.
- Hiring Black staff members. We are currently a team of four women, two identifying as White and two as Asian-American.
- Striving to increase the overall percentage of Black-made and authored products on our shelves.
- Creating a lending library for anti-racism books and resources.
- Learning more about and fine-tuning our Reparations Program.
- Continuing my own anti-racism education and facilitating the education of our staff by investing money and time into resources compiled/written/created by Black educators. Creating space and time for conversation amongst our staff members regarding our learning/unlearning processes.
*Please note I am open, receptive to and thankful for any ideas, suggestions, comments or concerns about these or any business practices/plans from Black people, POC and Indigenous peoples.
Since I began Thread Spun in 2016, I have been dedicated to minimizing the environmental impact of our business practices and to learning and improving based on industry best practices and new information. Sustainability is important to us and to all humans, especially those living in places/belonging to communities that are more susceptible to the deleterious effects of climate change. Some of the ways we have adopted eco-friendly business practices include:
- Supporting makers and vendors that are making items by hand, utilizing traditional production methods that involve less impact upon the earth than industrialized methods. Items made by hand involve a degree of craftsmanship that allows them to often last longer than mass- and cheaply-produced goods, to be handed down and appreciated by generations to come.
- Seeking out and partnering with vendors that are using natural and organic materials for production, such as hand-harvested sisal fiber and organic cotton, locally-harvested materials (increasing opportunities for local employment and economic development in developing countries while decreasing the negative environmental effects of transporting materials), and natural dyes (plant and earth-based dyes). The negative impact of synthetic materials and toxic dyes upon our environment and eco-systems cannot be overstated - this is well documented by scientists far more knowledgeable than I.
- Paying makers fairly. Items made by hand and items that create fair wages through ethical production are more expensive. Sustainable development requires real economic growth in poorer countries and lower material consumption in wealthier countries. Paying artisans fairly to create items by hand has the potential to create economic growth in developing countries while discouraging overconsumption in wealthier/developed countries.
- Packaging and Shipping Materials: Since our inception, we have utilized environmentally-friendly shipping and packaging materials. We are proud to partner with EcoEnclose for all of our shipping supplies, and in 2020 we shifted from using traditional (petroleum-based) shipping tape to a water-activated paper tape. Within the last two months we also shifted to utilizing a label printer for online shipments to further distance ourselves from plastic sleeves and tape. We are proud to repurpose boxes and shipping supplies from incoming shipments, and while we do, on occasion, receive shipments that utilize environmentally-harmful materials like packing peanuts, we save and reuse these materials as well to lengthen their life cycle.
- Carbon Offsetting: We actively participated in Carbon Offsetting programs through Terrapass for the years 2016-2019 with the goal of being a carbon-neutral business. We paid a monthly fee of about $20 that was calculated by Terrapass for our small business, based upon our incoming and outgoing shipments, staff mileage, and more. This money was used to purchase carbon credits, or "offset" our carbon footprint through investments in renewable energy and landfill methane capture. The goal was to become carbon neutral. Over the past six months, I have been re-investing time into understanding developments in this emerging industry, and have decided to pursue a new partnership with a public benefit corporation and carbon offsetting business called NativeEnergy, because NativeEnergy uses extensive criteria to evaluate offset projects. Each project is ultimately certified by one of several third-party organizations, including Gold Standard, Verified Carbon Standard, Climate Action Reserve, American Carbon Registry, Plan Vivo, Climate, and Community & Biodiversity Alliance. They are currently supporting the expansion of wind farms in the United States. Visit their website to learn more about how carbon credit offsetting works. We have calculated our footprint as a business and will make a yearly payment of between $200-$250 depending on the volume of incoming and outgoing shipments.
- Messaging and Education: I see so much potential for growth in this area over the next year. It is my goal to create a coordinated strategy for sharing more about sustainable business practices of the brands and makers we partner with, as well as brands we are inspired by and learning from, through blogging and social media.
- Zero Waste Products: We have curated a small zero waste product section, and through January brought in three new zero-waste vendors and expanded our selection of products. We are looking forward to creating a Zero-Waste Section section on our website, to make shopping and learning about these goods even easier.
After shutting down in line with the Governor's Emergency Stay at Home Order in March, we remained closed until reopening in mid-June, several weeks after the Stay at Home Order was lifted. We spent those weeks working closely with a Public Health Expert who we hired to consult us on reopening safely. Together we created and implemented strict health regulations, which we have since kept in place.
In addition to adopting stringent cleaning/sanitizing protocols, requiring masks and hand sanitizing upon entry, we began operating at less than 10% capacity and requiring participation in contact tracing. Contact tracing requires customers to agree not to enter the store if they have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been exposed, as well as to leave their names and numbers at check in. If there were to be a confirmed case of COVID among staff or customers, this information would allow us to contact anyone who could have been potentially exposed. We are extremely thankful that we have not had any confirmed cases, and confident in our efforts to protect our staff and our community.
Looking forward, we will continue operating according to these regulations and protocols until it has been deemed safe for our community as a whole to disregard them. While we certainly lost customers and sales due to our strong commitment to these measures, we place much greater value on our collective health and the health of those disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Opportunities for Growth:
As information about COVID-19 and its related health and business directives are in a constant state of flux, and as new mutations emerge, we cannot be sure what opportunities may arise. We promise that we are committed to the health and safety of our staff, our customers, and our community, and we will continue to stay abreast of new developments and actively seek out best practices for continuing to operate safely.
Again, I sincerely appreciate your time and would love to chat with you about any of our business practices and/or social justice in the U.S. and abroad. Drop me a line at Heidi@threadspun.co.