On New Year’s Eve 2019 my boiler exploded in my house. I spent a day unknowingly in a home filled with carbon monoxide. 2019 went out with a fire for me, shaking the literal foundation of my home. Which felt like a very symbolic ending to what was personally one of the hardest years my life. Moments before I realized this had happened, I hit publish on a MINNA journal entry that asked a lot of questions. 2020 then confronted the country with a lot of those same questions. We all had to grapple with our place in the world, how to navigate a global pandemic, racism, the destruction capitalism and white supremacy have caused. If you didn’t struggle, where were you?
MINNA exists in a complex industry, shaped by layers of racial, geographic, linguistic and economical power dynamics to name a few. Deconstructing this complexity is critical and something we are actively working to address. In order to deconstruct our place, we first must address who we are. We are a queer owned business. We’re also predominantly white. In some spaces I have a marginalized identity, but in most spaces I don’t. It’s important to acknowledge that, to show the humanity, facets, and intersectionality of our reality. I believe it’s important as white people to use our racial privilege to nurture real complex conversations.
I’m a shy, perfectionist Capricorn who was raised with Jewish guilt, so I can be the type of person that is always onto the next thing, feeling like nothing is enough, that I’ll never be good enough, reaching higher and higher. The same goes for the expectation I put on my business. I want MINNA to be known for the beauty we add and I also want us to do everything right. An impossible ask!
The leadership team at MINNA, which previously consisted of only me and Margaret, took the workshop series Whiteness at Work with the Adaway Group this summer. While there were so many teaching points that we took away and have since codified into our business, the one that sticks out to me is ‘Perfectionism is a tool of white supremacy.’ Well, shit. I try to remember this everyday. Everything is a process, a process of continual improvement. Share that process. By sharing the process we simultaneously acknowledge that it’s not perfect and that there’s room for improvement.
We took a lot of steps this year to formalize how we approach running our business with equity and justice at heart. So much was the behind the scenes: deep introspective conversations with the team, one-on-ones with our advisors, and beginning to work with Manpreet Kalra to refine our approach to communicating about social impact with cultural humility. We’ve always said we do things differently, and now we’re figuring out how to actually talk about it and improve.
When the protests began in late May, we used our platform to share resources and create a formal give-back plan. Every year we will redistribute 3% of our profits to justice and equity based organizations. This year the donation line on our Income Statement is over $15,000 which is 8x the amount we promised. In addition to a monetary redistribution, we used our platform to amplify informative resources by BIPOC educators. Algorithms aside, MINNA reaches an audience of over 50,000 daily. It’s our hope that someone learns from the information we shared.
We also created a buy one / donate one mask program. To date, we’ve donated over 3,500 masks to organizations such as a women’s shelter, a migrant shelter in Mexico, The Ali Forney Center, the Navajo Nation, LGBTQ houseless youth, mutual aid projects, among many others. We’re still selling masks, so we’ve still got masks to give. Please let us know if you work for an organization in need.
One of the hardest days of the year was the day I had to tell my team (via a screen) that I could only guarantee two more paychecks. I had to lay off several team members and put some on a partial work program. Fortunately, our business sustained the storm and we’ve actually been able to grow and succeed this year. We were able to offer these positions back and even hire for additional positions. At the start of this year, we were six and today we’re nine. We are also happy that we’ve successfully been able to send production orders inline with pre-COVID projections to every artisan group we partner with, too.
However, we also realized we had some gaping holes to fill in our hiring process. With two main hiring needs: Warehouse Manager and Marketing Manager, we decided to rethink our process and take our time. We started using a blind hiring process. We rewrote our job descriptions to remove higher education barriers, emphasizing skills and experience over academic or professional degrees. We list salaries and wages to reduce wage negotiations. We also use a weighted scorecard system to reduce bias and ask the same script of questions. All new hires take the introductory module in the Whiteness at Work series - this is mandatory for our white employees and optional for BIPOC employees.
A big priority of mine this year was just making sure everyone felt safe and comfortable. A hard task when everything really sucked. Transitioning to work from home and having everyone in separate spaces was a big challenge for our usually super collaborative team. Work/life boundaries have a whole new meaning now. We formalized our extra curricular stipend, where every full-time MINNA employee gets a stipend for career development classes. And while I’ve always said we offer insurance, nobody had opted in until this year. Being able to offer healthcare is something I’m deeply proud of. And of course, there’s the extra paid week off that’s beginning in a few days. In addition to these tangible benefits, we also tried to find ways to foster connection and camaraderie - weekly team meetings, ‘props’ at the end of every meeting, more one-on-ones, outdoor picnic when it was warm, and a virtual holiday white elephant party.
There’s a lot more that happened this year and a lot more that was only part of laying the foundation for what’s to come next year and beyond. We’re still in the midst of completing our B-Corp certification and figuring out ways to improve our sustainability in terms of materials and supply chain. We’re holding ourselves to the standards we wish to see in our industry. One business alone can’t make that change, we need to work collaboratively. We like to share our approach and methods as a means of growing together. We’re taking steps to share the steps we’re taking to do things differently. If 2020 taught us anything it’s that sometimes you need to blow it all up (whether by fire or pandemic) to rebuild a stronger foundation.