The New Normal: Your Money Where Your Heart Is, a Conversation With Two Minds Press
Supporting Black-owned businesses has become a priority for many across the country. However, these efforts require long-term thinking to make a lasting difference.
To say that 2020 was a trying year would be a massive understatement. Still in the midst of a seemingly never-ending global pandemic, we have struggled to maintain our sanity through prolonged quarantine periods, massive job-loss, political unrest, and unprecedented economic shut-downs. We also witnessed the strength of a social movement aimed at highlighting engrained systemic racial-injustices in America, participated in calls to end police brutality, and marched for the dismantling of systems that oppress people of color across the country.
While there has been an outpouring of support, calls to amplify Black voices, and patronage of BIPOC-owned businesses during this especially difficult time, there are real concerns that this initial momentum might not be entirely sustainable, and that the challenges facing many Black and Brown-owned businesses across the country are too significant to ignore.
The pandemic fundamentally changed the way we live, vote, save, work, and spend money. It also created a need for more conscious spending, highlighting the direct impact that our wallets have on the businesses they help sustain.
Surviving the pandemic
In an interview with KCRW, Blume and Plume’s Maurice Harris, who has gained notoriety for his work, charismatic personality, and appearances on HBO’s “Full Bloom,” explained how the restrictions brought by the COVID-19 pandemic have drastically impacted his flower business and adjacent coffee shop.
“I’m finally like, at my wit’s end. I’m supposed to be getting checks. I’m checking my account every hour to see if a wire has gone through. One of my accounts is negative … like it’s actually, in real time, it’s insane.”
While Maurice was able to secure a PPP loan, and he saw some increased support following the social justice marches of 2020, his businesses, which largely rely on indoor dining and events (both industries that were heavily affected by pandemic restrictions), will likely require further aid to weather the upcoming months.
Yet the challenges that independent, Black-owned businesses faced early in the pandemic were diverse and evolving. Uncertainty around how restrictions would impact businesses, and what government relief they might receive, led many to look for ways to evolve or reinvent their models.
An outpouring of support
“A lot of the markets come up around springtime. I think I had three or four lined up for March and early April, and of course those didn’t happen because of the pandemic” shared Felicia Blow, the artist behind Two Minds Press — a QWOC-run Philadelphia-based creative business making hand-printed apparel, prints, and accessories. “A lot of the things I had signed up for and intended to participate in, create work for, and share new work through, got cancelled.“
While savings from her job working at a non-profit, and the initial outpouring of support for Black-owned businesses allowed her to evolve Two Minds Press into a full-time venture, Felicia faced new challenges that came with growing demand for her work and limitations in capacity.
“At the time I was taking all my orders over Instagram and it got to be a little overwhelming,“ she explained. Even though her partner helped shoulder some of the workload, it became clear that a one-woman operation like hers required growth and infrastructure to become sustainable.
“As far as printing and packaging I do pretty much everything myself. It definitely was hard to keep up with.”
Social gatherings like craft fairs were among the earliest to be impacted by the pandemic, which had a direct impact on makers and artists around the country. | Photo: Two Minds Press
Long term sustainability
“I think there’s a difference between the immediate influx of people ordering some of my original work and a long-term shift to people intentionally trying to support Black and Brown-owned businesses,” said Felicia, pointing to the potential for long-term success of businesses like hers.
“While I’m not getting the influx of orders I was getting at the [start], a lot of local organizations and groups I’ve been able to work with want to work with someone who’s local, who’s BIPOC-owned, so I think this is something people want to prioritize long-term.” At the same time, Felicia explained that supporting minority-owned small businesses requires an understanding of the unique challenges they face. For instance, the cost of a collaboration might not be the same as working with a larger or cheaper alternative, and any deadlines must take into account an individual’s capacity.
“A lot of groups and organizations are shifting their priorities or principles around who they’re working with to really try to support Black-owned businesses or Queer-owned businesses. I think that’s a great direction for people to be going, but it’s also important when you’re reaching out or asking people to work together, to really think about the difference in capacity as well. Especially when you’re reaching out to someone, who like me, is just one person,” she explained.
This also means that individuals and larger organizations should think about their motivation when reaching out to a particular Black-owned business, making sure they present the right opportunities and don’t place an undue burden on them.
“As people shift to making a lot more asks of Black and Brown small-business owners, [they should] keep in mind that they might have to change the way they’re used to doing business to really live up to that value.”
Embodying social values
Two Minds Press’ mission revolves around themes of “emotionality, wordplay, social justice, and radical joy.” However, after the racial justice protests of 2020, Felicia, like many other artists and business-owners of color, faced a dilemma of how to incorporate her personal values and activism into her work.
“Especially in the summer around the protests, there were a lot of people asking if I was going to make BLM shirts. There was a graphic I made and posted, and people were [asking]: ‘Are you going to make this a shirt or bags?’ And I [said] ‘no I don’t think I am.’”
Felicia explains that she’s had to think about ways to incorporate what’s happening around the world in a way that feels true to her – and true to her work – rather than something people are looking to buy. While she doesn’t blame businesses fulfilling the demand for slogans or recognizable elements tying back to calls for social justice, she has found more personal ways to explore her values through her work.
“I try to incorporate themes around positivity and emotionality, because it’s something that I experience constantly. Just to manage and navigate my own mental health. And I think that is a really radical thing, especially for people of color and other marginalized people, to be able to express positivity or joy can be a really radical thing. “
While the pandemic continues to affect the way we navigate our daily lives, and the work to dismantle systems that disproportionately harm people of color is only just beginning, we face an opportunity to thoughtfully support independent, Black and Brown-owned businesses both by shifting our day-to-day spending habits, and by recognizing that our mindset around spending must evolve to meet our values. It is also important to recognize that this is a long-term effort that will require mindfully understanding the needs of others, and acknowledging the work that needs to be done to create more sustainable opportunities for everyone.
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