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How three celebratory brands spread joy, build awareness, and foster inclusion

June 23, 2023 | Published by Faire

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Image courtesy of The Found

Behind every Faire brand is a founder with their own story and point of view, working hard to bring their vision to life and share it with others. From frustrating setbacks to big wins, their experiences have the power to inspire and motivate other brands to follow in their footsteps. Recently, we were able to chat with the artists behind three LGBTQ+ owned brands to learn more about their journeys as small-business owners. 

Sparked by a passion to provide a way for people to communicate important truths about themselves, Nicole Russell’s Word For Word collection of Social Alert Buttons began with a “Migraine Day” button she made for herself in 2011—and now includes more than 200 designs that range from queerness and social justice to cats and cannabis. 

Since 2011, The Found has celebrated all things colorful, funny, and conversational, from stickers and pins with pop culture references to smart stationery and just-inspiring-enough notepads. For co-founder Albert Tanquero, the brand’s efforts to increase diversification in paper goods are reflected in its motto to “express yourself and be who you are.”

Obsessed with socks and keenly in tune with the power of a supportive community, founder Rachel Smith of Pride Socks has been helping her customers live their best lives for over a decade. Based in Austin, Texas, and the mom of a three-year-old, Smith’s desire to spread love, pride, respect, and inclusion comes in loud and clear in every pair of socks she sells. 

We spoke with Russell, Tanquero, and Smith about the challenges they faced when starting their small business, the impact they hope they have on others, and what Pride means to them. 

Word For Word Factory

Faire: Tell us about the beginnings of the company. Where did the inspiration come from? 

Nicole Russell: Since I was a kid, I’ve always made things. I went to art school in Chicago, then worked at a small grassroots nonprofit that expanded my political awareness and educated me on the complexities and intersectionality of race, class, gender, and sexuality. 

A few years after finishing grad school in Los Angeles, a friend brought over her button press one night and something clicked. The pinback button offered a way to work on a small scale, quickly, and in a way that was affordable and accessible for me and other people. This was relatable regardless of the viewer’s art history and theory background, which was always a big goal in my work. For under $5, someone could own and connect with these pieces. 

I made my first Social Alert Button in 2011—“Migraine Day”—for myself. I’d always wanted a simple way to let people know that if I seemed off, it wasn’t personal. Then I started to brainstorm what other things could be helpful to alert people to; I love the serious-slash-ridiculous line a button can straddle. 

Faire: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a small business owner? 

Russell: Growing and running this business while chronically ill. I get frequent, intense migraines and have a number of diseases that require regular medical appointments and affect my energy levels and brain power. Being sick is what ultimately led me to grow my business so that I could be in charge of my body and time. 

So I have two full-time jobs: 1) keeping myself semi-functional, and 2) keeping Word For Word operational, fresh, and current. There’s always work to do, so learning when to push through and when to rest is an ongoing balance.  

Faire: What’s been the most rewarding part of being a business owner thus far? 

Russell: I hope the Social Alert Buttons encourage people to feel like it’s worth speaking out in favor of basic human rights for everyone.  And that when they wear a pin out in the world, that cycle of inclusion continues. 

I hope people feel seen when they find a button that accurately represents them or their experience. That it reinforces that they aren’t alone.

Nicole Russell, founder of Word for Word Factory

Faire: What kind of impact do you hope your business has on others?

Russell: Opening up dialogues and facilitating social justice conversations—but also spreading a bit of fun. I hope the quotidian joy of opening the mailbox to see a colorful package makes someone’s day a little better. 

The larger impact I’ve been working on for a few years is our robust donation program: Buyers pay an extra .25¢ per button, and we double, triple, or quadruple match it to donate to different social justice orgs. Last year, we donated over $6,000 to social justice orgs that support Black, brown, trans, and queer lives. 

Faire: What advice would you give to entrepreneurs or hopeful entrepreneurs?

Russell: It’s OK to go slow. I started Word For Word while working an office day job. It’s my full-time job now, but for a long time, it wasn’t. It’s OK to work with a small budget or limited time. Keeping at it is the key, and being at peace with a lot of the routine repetition. Enjoy the fun part of designing and making stuff, but carve out time for putting organizational structures into place, tracking inventory, bookkeeping—all the other stuff that makes a business run smoothly. 

Faire: How do you celebrate Pride month? What does Pride mean to you? 

Russell: Right now, Pride celebrations are still dangerous in a lot of cities. Hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills are in state legislatures right now—it’s horrifying. 

I celebrated Pride this year by designing a button that addresses the ongoing performative allyship issue. Pride is inherently a political event and a queer community event. There’s a significant problem with corporations utilizing rainbows in June but not supporting and fighting for queer and trans rights year-round with us.

Visit Word for Word Factory’s website and shop their products on Faire.

The Found

Faire: Tell us about the origins of The Found and what inspired you to start this business. 

Albert Tanquero: My business partner and I started The Found in 2011. I was working at a nonprofit, and he’d just sold a paper goods company. We always loved paper and noticed that greeting cards and gift items didn’t have a lot of diversity. 

We started by connecting with more queer folks and people of color at the New York Gift Show. At first, it was just greeting cards and journals. Now we sell puzzles, tote bags, mugs, and stickers. And we’re always expanding. 

Faire: What are some of the biggest challenges that you faced as a small business owner? 

Tanquero: The biggest challenge during the pandemic was our stores because we sell into over 500 shops across the country. But we saw that people were really excited about puzzles. So we did a women’s empowerment puzzle and a Dolly Parton puzzle. We sold thousands and thousands of puzzles and were able to get the manufacturing done rather quickly, which helped turn our business around. 

Our business really took off when we started doing pop culture. That’s when we felt really embraced by our customers and saw sales growth. 

Faire: What’s been one of the most rewarding things about being a small-business owner?

Tanquero: The ability to make a living off creative expression that also puts out this very positive energy into the world. For instance, we’ve sold over a million greeting cards over the last 12 years, and each one goes to somebody on a special occasion. There’s so much chaos in the world, so to know that a little greeting card or sticker can brighten up someone’s day is really rewarding.

Faire: What kind of impact do you hope your business has on others?

Tanquero: I’m always trying to find that balance between running a financially responsible business and sneaking in that cultural message. In the last 12 years, we’ve donated over $150,000 to different agencies depending on the cultural conversation, like Black Lives Matter, Planned Parenthood, and the Trevor Project.

We ask ourselves, ‘How can we expose people to ideas that might make them uncomfortable?’ How can we challenge them?’

Albert Tangquero, co-founder of The Found

Sometimes we’re compelled because we’re also in pain or angry. Finding the right balance is important. Had we stayed very apolitical and safe, I think we would’ve made more money. But we wanted to push the envelope when we could. I’m Latinx, and I feel confident that our business model includes making space for our political views and our voices. That’s so important as queer business owners. 

Faire: Do you have any advice for other entrepreneurs who might just be getting their start?

Tanquero: A smart business has creative energy and vibrancy, but also business acumen. I was really lucky to start The Found with somebody who has a business degree, and I’ve now learned quite a bit because I’ve gone online and taken courses myself.

I recommend you study. Check something out about how to start your own business at your local library or bookstore. Take classes. People think it’s easy to start your own business, but it’s really complicated. Create a business plan. Meet with business owners.

Faire: What does Pride mean to you?

Tanquero: Pride is an opportunity to reflect on the struggle of the people that came before me and what they went through in order for somebody like myself, my business partner, and younger people to be out and proud.

This year it’s more challenging because people are getting death threats. So it’s a little less celebratory and a little bit more political. It’s a good time to work together as a community with our allies to help fight hate and to help prop each other up—especially our trans community. It’s important to find the time to be joyful, but it’s also a good time to reflect on the big fight ahead of us.

Visit The Found’s website and shop their products on Faire.

Pride Socks

Faire: Tell us a little bit more about the beginnings of Pride Socks. Where did the inspiration come from? 

Rachel Smith: The most influential things in my life are anchored in my deaf parents and being raised in the Deaf culture. Along with my five siblings, I had to help my parents everywhere we went, so we were all adults before we were kids. And we shared socks all the time, which meant that ones that matched (without holes) were rare.

Serving tables put me through undergrad and grad and my teaching certification. I was teaching special ed in high school and serving tables to make ends meet, but it was tough. My brother owns a socks company, and I’d always ask if I could do sales for him. Eventually, he got so annoyed he told me to start my own brand—and I’m always up for a challenge. I knew if I was going to leave teaching, I’d need something that would make a difference.

We all have something to be proud of. But sometimes we need somebody or something to believe in us first. As a brand, we hope that, through our product, through our storytelling, we can be that catalyst.

Rachel Smith, founder of Pride Socks

Faire: What are some of the biggest challenges you faced as a small business owner?

Smith: I’m bootstrapping this entire thing, and we’ve made a lot of movement forward and backward. But sometimes it takes five steps back to make that one step forward. And that one step forward is so much greater because you’ve learned those life lessons along the way. 

I’m also a full-time mom and a full-time business owner, and becoming a mom was way harder than I imagined it to be. My daughter, Moxie, is obviously my priority, so sometimes Pride Socks gets deprioritized. And I’m still a partner and an individual—so I’m finding that balance, too.

Faire: What has been the most rewarding part of being a business owner thus far?

Smith: Whenever I don’t know what I’m doing—it never, never, never fails—I will get an email or someone will come up to me at an event and say, “I can’t even tell you how you’ve saved my life. You’ve saved my daughter’s life. The things that you have done and provided.” 

Faire: What is one main piece of advice you give to entrepreneurs or hopeful entrepreneurs?

Smith: Be patient. Take pride in what you’re doing. It’s not going to be easy. Be mindful and aware of the emotional roller coaster. Take the highs with the lows. And when you’re on that low, recognize and pay attention so you can grow from it. See your mistakes as learning opportunities to become stronger.

Faire: How do you celebrate Pride month, and what does Pride mean to you?

Smith: Celebrating Pride as a brand is about showing up. We show up to small and big events. We show up where you least expect a rainbow-themed brand to be. I take such pride in that because people will say, “Whoa, I’ve been coming to this event for years. Never has there ever been any kind of representation. And you’re here. Thank you. This means the world to us.” 

Personally, it’s the same. Taking that sense of self-pride and using my brand to encourage other individuals and brands to share and network. We’re in this together. Owning your own business and being an independent is hard, but if you can make those connections and help someone else, you’re helping the whole community.

Visit the Pride Socks website and shop their products on Faire.

Shop LGBTQ+ Owned Businesses on Faire

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