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Feminist Practices Our Voices

SECONDHAND CULTURE – HOW CANOPY KIDS HELPS PARENTS BEAT INFLATION

Image of mother with her baby
Nyla Obaid, Founder of Canopy Kids, mother of three, with her six month old, Idris. Photo: Zurry Donevan.

It’s the day of the nationwide Rogers outage. There’s a feeling of abject fear and desperation in the air. Most storefronts have these hastily drawn ‘CASH ONLY’ signs. Worse, emergency 911 services are unavailable to many. It’s lights out for the economy –  at least for a while.

Despite the chaos, Nyla Obaid (she/her), founder of Canopy Kids, an online, second-hand clothing shop, warmly greets me on ZOOM from her backyard on the traditional lands of the Mississauga’s of the First Credit, Mississauga, Huron-Wendat and Anishnabeg nations (under Toronto Purchase Treaty 13) and immediately lets me know she’s on her neighbour’s Wi-Fi as she’s without Internet. Nyla is calm, self-assured. She’s got an energy about her that’s instantly resonant. 

We get talking. She tells me more about launching her new second-hand clothing business for kids.

For many reasons, the timing for such a business could not be better.

Consumer inflation rates continue to rise and exceeded 8% year over year as of June. People are paying more for everything -cars, services, gas, and housing – putting financial pressure on everyone.

Embracing secondhand culture is one way to stay ahead of these unprecedented increases in inflation and make those proverbial ends meet in style – especially for parents like myself needing to stretch a dollar during the back-to-school shopping season. It’s also good for the planet.

Furthermore, the second-hand clothing market is booming. According to an extensive 2021 industry report released by ThredUP, a leading US-based online retailer, the North American secondhand apparel market will grow 8x faster than the overall apparel market by 2026. The market is expected to grow 24% in 2022 alone. Projections indicate that 50% of all second-hand sales will be generated online.

Reclaiming Secondhand Culture

For Obaid (she/her), a tight family budget and secondhand culture are core elements of her lived experience. Born to Bangladeshi immigrants, Obaid is a first-generation Canadian who cites this culture as the inspiration behind her startup dream.

 “I grew up in secondhand culture. When I was growing up, my mom would go to some church basement and all the aunties from the area would show up with their kids’ stuff and swap and sell and buy. Everything was already thrifted. So when my kids came around it was very natural to me to dress them in second-hand clothes and [I bought] second-hand toys [for them]”.

While ‘thrifting’ today is increasingly about foraging for stylish bargains, for Obaid’s family, thrifting was done out of sheer necessity. She remembers how her mother would thrift by default and not by choice.

Getting Into Recommerce

In May 2020, Obaid was growing increasingly frustrated with purchasing items for her children on Facebook Marketplace. She then had an idea to recreate the swap, sell and buy experiences from her childhood and add an online element to it with community building being the thread that ties it all together. Obaid called it the Lode Store and much to her surprise – in her words – “It was immediately successful.” This, despite an atypical startup approach. 

Entrepreneurial training rooted in the male-dominated entrepreneurial industrial complex typically focuses on engineering and executing an extensive customer research plan as a path to knowing exactly what the ideal customer wants and how to serve them.

Instead, Obaid’s approach is much more relatable. She is her customer. Her startup actions trusted that insight. 

Store offerings are chosen by Obaid herself for functionality, appeal and use. She tests toys out on her kids – if they like them, it goes in the store for sale. Obaid trusts her choices and her kids’ reactions when it comes to curating content of her store. Her clients save 60-80% off retail. 

Obaid also didn’t have time for a business plan, development of a minimally viable product, pitch decks to potential investors and a go-to-market strategy. Obaid simply collected some items together and started selling them online. She sourced more items and sold those too. Lather, rinse, repeat. Sales grew.

Even though Obaid’s post-secondary education ascended into the upper echelons of business academia, she felt that it wasn’t a path she wanted to pursue. “I do not like theoretical business, marketing and strategy background… I’m very uncomfortable with a lot of that. I’m uncomfortable with capitalism as a concept. So then when I started my business, [I asked myself] how can I still run a shop and not feed into all of that stuff?”

Building what worked and what her community (customers) wants, Lode Store rebranded as Canopy Kids. Today it offers thoughtful curation of clothes and goods for newborns up to age 14, plus an innovative time-saving, cost-saving subscription service and free delivery across Toronto. The company also offers kids’ room organizing, birthday parties and curated capsule shopping. The enterprise also leads mutual aid initiatives plus donates 15% of its proceeds to organizations working to end oppression.

With her partner’s second income as a safety net, Obaid started her business with just $500 of her own money and didn’t draw out any income for six months in order to get the business off the ground. 

A ‘real’ business

Obaid sometimes wonders if she’s running a ‘real’ business. She actively rejects anything related to ‘girl boss’ culture and hustle culture. “It does feel like this can’t be a real business because it doesn’t meet all of these business-y qualifications,” shared Obaid. “… [This] can’t be a real business unless [it’s] scaling. [It] can’t be a real business unless [it’s] giving the people what they want and giving it an end and making it bigger and bigger. It is, [however] me living out my values and making a living at it so I think I’m okay.”

She recalls how her recent experience in one business incubator made her question her business structure. Did she have a growth plan that equates to 3% annually? Did she have an exit strategy? She was recently advised to cut back on donating 15% of monthly sales to charity because it took too much from the bottom line.

Why do businesses (especially female/non-binary-led) have to conform to widely accepted definitions of what it’s supposed to be or look like? Who does it serve to have us conform to these definitions? Is there only one way to run a business? As our conversation progresses, I’m beginning to think the global answer to these questions is a definitive no. 

Secondhand culture and community 

Even though Obaid ran into some resistance to her business model, she knew exactly what she wanted to achieve with Canopy Kids. The community she’s created – especially during a time when contact with other humans was severely limited due to the ongoing pandemic – is a necessary one.

 “I didn’t even realize it was possible to participate in capitalism in this way…this business feels good.”

Obaid’s next milestone is to work fewer hours to spend more time with her growing family while still supporting the enterprise’s growing community.

The Future?

I believe secondhand culture is not only here to stay; it’s the new normal. 

As a progressively minded parent, making the choice to shop at Canopy Kids is a no-brainer.

I’m supporting a business run by a feminist woman of the global majority who’s chosen to run her business in alignment with her community and her values. Canopy Kids is intentional about providing for others in a sustainable and just manner.

Take that inflation! Pow! Extractive capitalism.

We need to rethink how businesses are created and run especially under a feminist lens. We need to accept the fact that there’s really no set way to run a feminist business.

What if we instead, as feminists, created spaces for founders like Obaid to envision businesses that align with their values, meet their needs, work to end oppression and create communities that genuinely support each other through acts of commerce? Creating said space, heck, an entire economy like this, would be a much-needed radical act.

Publishers Note: Canopy Kids participated in the Fifth Wave  Initiative, a year-round program offered by CFC Media Lab and its partners to support the growth and development of women entrepreneurs in the digital media and commerce sector in southern Ontario. All enterprise founders in the Fifth Wave community are selected for both their potential and commitment toward weaving intersectional feminist ideals of equity and fairness into sustainable and scalable business growth strategies. Fifth Wave Initiative is committed to a minimum of 50% participation per cohort by members of underrepresented groups. The Fifth Wave is a LiisBeth ally sponsor at the Lighthouse levelApplications for Cohort 5 are open August 25. Apply here

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Categories
Our Voices

RADICAL IS BEAUTIFUL

A beige collage that has text that reads "Every morning I wake up on the wrong side of capitalism" as graphiti text, and a Banksy image of a bar code on a cart pulled by a white tiger"
Banksy "Barcode Tiger" mashup collage--pk mutch

My entrepreneurship journey started as a teenager. I signed up for a local entrepreneurship education program where high school students could run a business with the help of business leaders from around the region. Turns out I was good at it… REALLY good at it. Several awards, scholarships and two national conferences later, I found myself at a crossroads. Should I study commerce in university? Yes and no – I have a Bachelor of Science in Language Honours degree. All is not lost.

After completing a post-graduate certificate in Human Resource Management, I went on to spend a decade working in HR for some of the world’s most recognizable brands. My interest in entrepreneurship never faded as I began to see how large businesses failed to honour human beings as mission critical to the success of any organization.

I began to wonder about what it is to run a business. I began to question what a business actually is versus commerce (The exchange of goods & services for money). The years I spent in the dank depths of capitalist endeavours made me realize I never want to be a part of such a venture – a venture where systemic oppression (namely capitalism & white supremacy) reigns supreme.  

I had the distinct opportunity to experience innumerable instances of anti-Black racism in my career. No matter how much work I accomplished, intellectual property I produced or technology I mastered faster than others, I was still a Black woman seen as slow, lazy and a threat to the established order. 

I also began to wonder about commerce… and how my enterprises can be commerce. As I worked to bring my own enterprises to life, I happened upon the concept of radical entrepreneurship. (Holla!)

Many books, journals and conversations later, I decided to define what radical entrepreneurship meant for me as a Black woman and a person of the global majority. Radical entrepreneurship happens when you start an enterprise that transcends racism, capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy.  

It’s a return to commerce: the exchange of goods & services for money.  It’s treating people as equals, with respect, paying a thrive rate wage AND distributing wealth, educational opportunities, upward mobility influence and sharing connections (money is not the only kind of wealth), ensuring health, wellness, and not working people 16 hours a day (which people did). In short, commerce as community – a spiritual and activist endeavour undertaken to enjoy the process of work; trading (We love working at something as humans) while lifting up others in the process.

Radical entrepreneurship is having the courage to step outside societal norms to run your enterprise as you see fit. There are elements you will definitely need like good recordkeeping and an accounting/bookkeeping practice. However, the radical part means your enterprise is contributing to eradicating social injustice.

Capitalist business education will tell you that your business’s sole goal is to earn money for investors and to place profits over people. Radical entrepreneurship values people, their contributions and their livelihoods. 

Yet, I’m still a Black woman with light-skinned privilege in this dominant culture – a culture where awareness of anti-Black racism is now in the limelight and still somewhat of a trending hashtag.  Corporations are taking advantage of this golden-hued PR opportunity to allocate a teeny fraction of their sizable quarterly profits to Black entrepreneurship initiatives. Let’s not forget the countless mentorship opportunities that ultimately don’t cost anything but look good on paper.

The Black community is not a monolith but is widely perceived as one. I constantly see Black entrepreneurs who are regarded as (air quotes) successful by white capitalist standards put on display to say “Hey, we’re not racist… look at this cishet, neurotypical, able-bodied Black person who is now a millionaire.” 

To put it simply, not all skinfolk are kinfolk. 

Huge barriers to funding opportunities continue to exist within the Black diaspora.  There’s a significant divide and significant conservatism in the diaspora. Cishet neurotypical, able-bodied Black people who are willing to accept the crumbs of capitalism may indeed be successful in obtaining a few loonies but it’ll be nowhere near the resources available to their white counterparts.

Studies have been done about the hardships that Black female entrepreneurs face. The proposed solutions are literally steeped in capitalism & white supremacy. Black venture capitalists are still capitalists.  We also haven’t talked about the extraneous hoops Black women entrepreneurs have to go through to access the few funds (e.g. Being asked about your sexual orientation on a loan application which, last I checked, is a human rights issue) and even then no one seems to trust Black women with a significant amount of money…there are hair & nails to be done after all.

In navigating this world, I find myself having to explain myself constantly. I have an Honours Bachelor of Science in Language. I’m fluently bilingual in Canada’s official languages. I have worked in global head offices for some of the world’s most recognizable brands. Mastering new technologies is easy for me.  But all people see is Black… and immediately assume I’m not qualified enough, not skilled enough, not professional enough…the list goes on.  

Professionalism – for the record – is deeply rooted in white supremacy.

My mere existence is resistance in and of itself. When those days come where I wonder if my enterprises will actually thrive despite the seemingly insurmountable barriers that line my way forward, I have to remind myself that being a Black radical entrepreneur is more than a radical act. By choosing commerce over capitalism & white supremacy, I’m now actively creating change. I’m learning by doing. I’m gathering more knowledge and insight every day.

Dominant culture can keep their crumbs of capitalism. I won’t scale my enterprises in 3 months or less. I don’t exist to make money for those who’ll remove it from the economy at large and hoard it for their own purposes. I won’t pander to those who choose not to see my worth or genius in favour of my skin colour.  

Radical entrepreneurship is going to be the way forward for this Black entrepreneur. 

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Categories
Our Voices

I Have a Seed

A Black woman wearing a red scarf entrepreneur gazing outside a window.
Althea Branton, Ontario-based startup entrepreneur.

Althea Branton (she/her/elle) is a skincare designer who lives, works and plays on the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe, Ojibway/Chippewa and Haudenosaunee peoples.

Growing up,  Althea never considered herself to be beautiful or remotely attractive. Her concepts of beauty came from the pictures of white women in the magazines her mother would occasionally buy from the grocery store for their (air quotes) recipes.

Althea spent years wondering if she’d ever be beautiful. Somehow it never dawned on her that no amount of green smoothies, elimination diets, HIIT workouts, intermittent fasting or aligning her chakra centres with the Universe was going to turn her into a young, thin, white, cishet, neurotypical able-bodied, twenty-something female with no curves and blonde hair: the Eurocentric beauty standard. 

She was obsessed with skincare after buying a life-shattering pot of Dewberry lip balm from The Body Shop.   Yet on the flip side of her skincare obsession was a stark realization that most products aren’t made for her skin tone.  A myriad of Eurocentric skincare exists in the current market. However, there’s a dearth of skincare for people of the global majority.

Then came the whisper in her soul – to own her own business.  So she went to Laurentian University  – to study translation instead.

Many pots of lip balm later, Althea decided to finally listen to that whisper in her soul to begin creating her own natural products and studying cosmetic science and cosmetic formulation.

Her son is her why – why she’s starting fresh in the late summer of her life to finally move towards the true goals of her soul.   Althea decided to intentionally design and create skincare for people of the global majority.

Yet she never anticipated the sheer amount of unopened doors and barriers on the path to entrepreneurship.  Althea finally had had enough.  So she turned to words. Althea has transmuted her pain into art using words for the last quarter-century.

A few weeks ago, Althea Branton was interviewed by an intake manager at a startup incubator program.  Read or listen to what Branton has to say to the world after that interview. 


I HAVE A SEED

I have a seed.

An idea that came to me as a spark from the darkness that is out there past the light.

So far it’s an enterprise with limited resources.

But I’m only surviving –

not thriving (at least not yet). 

I’m living off scraps, crumbs, bits and pieces

putting life’s essentials carefully

from hand to mouth for myself

and my child. 

I feel horrible about it every single day.

I need HELP

I cry to a force greater than myself.

Why can’t I provide more?

Why don’t I have more?

Isn’t there enough for me?

Aren’t I enough for me?

Let me tell you about this seed.

It’s powerful. Mighty.

Unapologetic. Genius.

It’ll move people into a movement

bypassing the normative

Eurocentric ableist capitalist patriarchal norms

we so unequivocally accept as normal

every single day.

When it’s ready

my seed will bloom and blossom.

I know it’ll grow

providing for me and millions more.

Then come the experts

Wolves disguised as critics clad cleverly in exploited cashmere clothing.

“Should you really only market to Black & Brown people?”

“Aren’t there enough products for those people?”

“Do you have any experience in this sort of thing?”

“Why are your products genderfluid?”

“Isn’t that controversial?”

Heavy is my heart as I heave a mighty SIGH.

I keep having to prove why

Why my seed is worthy

Why my seed must get the things it needs

to grow super-high towards the skies

Why my seed deserves the right

For soil, water and sunlight 

elements provided freely

by the Earth to humankind.

My seed is worthy because it is a seed.

I deserve the elements because

I, too, am a seed.

Dearest garden-variety gatekeepers – please step aside. 

I’m done asking for permission

for my seed to grow.

I’m done pandering to people’s insecurities

I’m done doing the dance around biases that have nothing to do with me.

No one tells the crops to grow.

They just do, with the help of the Earth, Sun and more.

I’ll find the soil. I’ll get the water. 

I’ll even find the invaluable knowledge

As I put the rather ratchet-looking pot outside

because contrary to what most may believe,

the sun is freely available to us all.

Now, I’ll celebrate the winter season

Putting holiday essentials joyously

from hand to mouth for myself

and my child

knowing I will never yield to those who seek to hold me down

for fear I may rise above them one day.

I’ll rise all right.

Look up there – I’m rising right now. 

My very existence is resistance.

I’m here. I’m me, I’m hella amazing.

That seed tho’… stand aside and watch it grow.


Publisher’s Note: Want to support Althea’s startup journey?  Follower her on IG: @althea.branton

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