10 ways to support queer-owned businesses this Valentine's Day
This Valentine's Day, think queer and celebrate the community.
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For everyone, the stakes are high to find the perfect ways to celebrate love. Over time, an easy equation for capturing Valentine’s Day romance has emerged for heterosexual and queer relationships alike: chocolates or flowers + dinner-and-a-movie = a chef’s-kiss worthy gesture. It’s simple, effective, and it typically won’t break the bank.
But this year, creativity is king as we maintain social distancing guidelines, and I cannot think of a better source of inspiration than the LGBTQIA+ community. As a member myself, I know that love for us is hard-won, and true passion is represented in all that we do. In short, the one thing that we’ve consistently raised the bar on is expressions of love.
From buying your partner beautiful works of art to celebrating their favorite drag performers by booking an online show, support a community that knows all about courageous ways to say "I love you" by choosing queer-owned businesses this year. I compiled a roundup of great options for you to consider as you make your plans for February 14 (and beyond!), so give these shops a thorough perusal and put your dollars to good use.
1. Commission a piece of art
When I think about a genuine display of affection, I think in terms of tangibles that don’t have an expiration date, like: How can I show someone I care about them with real thought and, were I more talented, a handmade craft?
Luckily, there are plenty of artists out there who will happily take your ideas and create something magnificent out of them. The trick here is to look at their portfolios first and decide if their style is something your partner would be into and whether you’re hoping for a commissioned piece or a print of an original. Some artists do both, and it can’t hurt to ask!
If you're sold on the idea of buying art for someone this year, Boston-based creator Courtney White, a queer woman whose prolific artwork is modern chic and and culturally charged, has plenty for you to choose from. Each piece is as fun as it is unique (seriously—her style is rich in emotion and definitely one-of-a-kind), and her online store is lush with ready-made prints for you to purchase. I’m personally fond of this glorious homage to RBG.
I was fortunate enough to snag an original, which she sometimes sells via her Instagram. Have an idea for a commission? Yeah, she does those, too! Hit her up; your SO won’t be disappointed.
2. Make bold and unique jewelry a shopping priority
I’m a big fan of the esoteric, and so to me, a really great gift is something that you can’t find anywhere else. Much like commissioned artwork, jewelry pieces that have no equal from another store just offer something extra. You may be the only one you ever encounter who owns that piece, and that rarity is part of the spice of life.
That’s why when I found Abject Objects by Abbi, I was thrilled. Each piece is inspired by 1980s horror classics, feminist surrealism, and nostalgic children’s toys. I connected with the artist, Abbi Rienzo, for a firsthand impression of her work, and I think she nailed the essence of why I wanted to include her shop: “Each piece is handmade with love using polymer clay and repurposed knick-knacks, and will lend a touch of creepiness to any alternative, club, or drag outfit!”
3. Support local performers
There are so many amazing local performers who have had to pivot their careers for the duration of 2020 to an entirely new medium, using social platforms and the power of the internet to connect people in order to make ends meet. Instead of takeout and Netflix (which are fantastic standbys, don’t get me wrong), why not check around to see if there are local venues offering online versions of their typical shows?
For example, two entrepreneurial Boston drag performers have taken it upon themselves to build fantastic outlets for digital performance, where entertainers can have their own spotlight while we wait for venues to reopen. The Serve Network, which was created by The Boulet Brother’s Dragula Season 3 cast member Violencia Exclamation Point and Full Spin, hosted and created by Majenta with a J, are both home to fantastic drag performances with a mix of live-streaming and prepared post-production content, so peruse their schedules, find a show that looks like it fits your scene, and cozy up for a worthy cause: local performance!
If you’re looking for a more tangible way to shop for your significant other this Valentine’s Day and still support your favorite local drag performers, see if they have their own merch. Penny Tentiary in Boston, Mass., for example, has a great line of her own merchandise for sale on her site.
4. Celebrate your favorite RuPaul queen
It wouldn’t be much of an article celebrating queer-owned businesses without mentioning the RuPaul’s Drag Race phenomenon, and the famous performers who we’ve all grown to love. These larger-than-life personalities often move on from the show to build small enterprises of their own, using their celebrity to launch exciting careers in fashion, music, and art of all kinds, so if your partner has caught the RuPaul bug, consider getting them a piece of their favorite queen’s legacy.
Jujubee, a RuPaul’s Drag Race megastar who appeared in Season 2, All Stars 1, and All Stars 5, is a great example of a queen whose message has always been one of light and love in the press. As an entertainer, she’s multifaceted: We know she’s a great performer (including, but not limited to, her renowned prowess as a comedian), but she’s also a talented vocalist. When asked how fans can best support her while we’re in lockdown, Jujubee quipped, “Tell 'em to listen to my music! They can cry with me.”
I got a good laugh out of that, but she means it—the best way to support your favorite RuPaul girl right now is to engage with their online content, of which Jujubee has plenty: two albums streaming on major platforms, such as Spotify and Apple Music, and an exciting live performance coming up! “I have a digital show coming out on [Saturday, February 20]! All the info is in my bio on Instagram and Twitter.” Shop her merch and stream her tunes to suffuse your Valentine’s Day with very good juju indeed.
5. Set good intentions for your sweetie this year
One of my all-time favorite places on this planet is Salem, Mass., and luckily, it’s just a short drive from my front door. Not only is it a beautiful oceanside harbor town, it’s also a mecca for all manner of New Age philosophy. Forget what you’ve learned about witches from storybooks and fairytales; we’re talking the real deal here. These folks understand the power of intent and use ancient wisdom to help shape the world into a better place.
All of that is to say, the gifting potential here is endless! Jackie Soriano, a Cabot witch (someone trained by Laurie Cabot) educated in Salem, takes the idea of crystal energy to another level with her handmade art and jewelry. Soriano’s shop, Crystal Visions, is the epitome of small-business magic online, and that it’s queer-owned means there’s all the more reason to shop it.
She offers a curated collection of crystal jewelry and more; luckily for folks who are new to crystal energy, you can find out more about what each piece represents by clicking on it. The LOVE Crystal Grid, for example, is designed to draw protective energies to the owner. What says “Happy Valentine’s Day” better than that?
6. Buy a prepared gift box
Who doesn’t love a ready-made gift box? I know that I sure do, and for Valentine’s Day, it’s a good bet your date will, too. There are tons of great subscription services that you can edit or tweak to your partner’s tastes, and the ones I’ve tried have always gone the extra mile to make sure you feel good about your purchase.
Now, superimpose that quality over a queer-owned gift box company and you’re really cooking with oil. RUMI Gifting, an emerging company in the gift box space, has a fabulous mission that helps them stand out a bit from their competitors—to provide unique gifts to folks who use their service. You get to fill out a questionnaire so they know what will get you excited, and then they do the rest. How wonderful! As an example of their selection, RUMI also curates ready-to-send boxes, such as this one that’s all about love: essential oil rollers, cookies, candies—the works!
Not only are they queer-owned, but they’re philanthropic to boot. According to their website, 5% of each purchase is donated to nonprofits whose missions cater to their local communities. If you aren’t sold yet, definitely check out their About Us section, where they explain how the name RUMI came to be. These boxes are adorable, affordable, and extremely unique. What more could you want on Valentine’s Day?
7. Sniff out good candles
There’s something about candles that really resonates with me, especially while I’m working from home. The flicker of a happily lit wick from out of the corner of my eye keeps me focused, and my preferred fragrance profile of sage, campfire, bergamot, and lavender (I know, it’s a lot) just isn’t something you can have in an office.
On Valentine’s Day, candles tell a totally different story. If you know your giftee well enough, they’ll be delighted that you’ve gotten them the right scent. It says, “I love you, and I pay attention to you.” Something just clicks into place when you know this level of detail. Within the queer community, the act of opening up your heart in such a way where you can smell their favorite candle from across a busy Home Sense is right up there, next to picking wedding china.
Joyce & Rose by Audrie King is one of my favorite queer-owned small businesses. Every candle is hand-poured and non-toxic, and the fragrance profiles are absolutely stunning. I bought one for my roommate this past Christmas called “Adirondack Winter,” and it was gorgeous—as a homegrown Adirondack queer, this candle really does bring me home. Definitely check out the Joyce & Rose Etsy shop if you’re interested in trying something new this Valentine’s Day. All of King’s wares are displayed there, including pillow sprays, candle mats, and homemade quilted keychains.
8. Give back with your jewelry purchase
More and more often, designers are connecting their work with an organization whose mission matches their beliefs. This wouldn’t be a good queer-themed article if it didn’t highlight one of these amazing small businesses.
Esoteric Energy Design, owned and operated by Rachel Bauscher of Cambridge, NY, is one such company. The jewelry is spectacular — I’m in love with this dragonfly mosaic, as just one example of many that I have my eye on. Despite there being a huge array of different materials at play here, it’s all so beautifully cohesive. In all of her designs, you can see an overarching vision clearly, especially in how the colors and the shapes are used.
Bauscher’s primary goal is to ensure that her pieces can act as wearable art for all occasions. “I have long been a member of the [LGBTQIA+] community, but after some life-altering experiences and her two sons’ discovery of their own sexual/gender identities, I became more actively involved in the scene,” said Bauscher. “Esoteric Energy Design proudly donates a portion of the company’s proceeds to the Trevor Project, a non-profit organization focused on emotional support and suicide prevention among the [LGBTQIA+] community, for whom the rates of self-harm are five times higher than for their cis/heterosexual peers.”
In honor of love for love’s sake, consider shopping Esoteric Energy Design to help the queer community this Valentine’s Day.
9. Give gourmet chocolates to your honey
I know I’ve already clocked chocolates as being part of the Valentine’s Day trope, but hear me out: There’s something sweeter about supporting a small business, and a queer-owned one to boot. Chocolates are also universally appreciated, even if they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. It’s a timeless gesture, they go great with everything, and if you shop artisanal, they’re usually much, much tastier.
Take Cirque du Soufflé, for example, by chef and owner T Lawrence-Simon in Somerville, Mass. Not only is the name ingenious(I gasped aloud when I saw it), but it has a super cool story. Chef T made it to the finals on Canada’s Great Chocolate Showdown, spends his off-time as an aerial circus performer and Senior Coach at Esh Circus Arts, and marries these two loves—chocolate and performance—in his business. In other words, Chef T doesn’t just make chocolate—he makes chocolate.
If you’re interested in supporting this queer-owned shop, definitely check out his website. There, you can peruse the ready-made options in the Shop section and purchase custom packages. If you have any questions about his work, the Contact page is very chic and straightforward, and even if you aren’t on the market for chocolates this Valentine’s Day, this is definitely a good option to have on deck for any occasion.
10. Add to your SO’s wardrobe
If you’re hoping for a full pivot on the traditional Valentine’s Day gifting ideas, consider buying your partner something new to add to their wardrobe. This is especially great if you buy something you can wear, too; I did this a few times in past relationships successfully enough to consider it a perk, and while this may be more typical of a queer relationship, I’m a firm believer in clothing having no inherent gender rules. If you think it looks good, that’s all that matters!
ATMENTION, an online clothing boutique, has a little of everything: dress shirts, scarves, and even face masks, to name a few. Queer-owned and operated, ATMENTION began as a reselling site that now specializes in unique garments and homeware that you can’t find in typical chain retailers. I’m personally partial to these socks, which also have a special mission: Each pair purchased donates $1 to the Trevor Project. I’m all about supporting a queer-owned business that supports queers in need!
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.