As the Black Lives Matter movement swept through sleepy East Texas towns, businesses owned by people of Black, indigenous, and of-color descent (BIPOC) found themselves thrusted into the spotlight.
Quayln Stark, owner of fiber fashion label QUOE, was no stranger to the struggles of representation in the market. Nor was he a stranger to East Texas’ lack of diversity.
In his lime-green plastic lenses, Stark’s fashion sense stood out from the typical cowboy attire in East Texas. His glasses a compliment to his striking neon green hair, Stark headed towards Nacogdoches, Texas midday to visit friends.
A Kilgore College alum, Stark’s career in the fiber arts blossomed shortly after his knitted scarf creations became popular among friends. Stark’s natural ease with pattern making ties into a generational gift passed along the women in his family.
“I’m Mexican and my heritage, my Mexican side of the family, is very much into crocheting and the fiber arts. My great grandmother was actually a doily maker. I have some of her pieces still. She would do her own designs too like I’m doing now,” Stark said.
Stark beamed proudly at the mention of this special connection to his family’s rich history of crochet, with his grandmother crocheting blankets and mother doing crotchet as well.
At a young age, Stark’s skills and ambition led him to a prestigious opportunity.
“I reached out to one of the biggest companies, Redmark,” Stark said. “It’s the biggest yarn company in America. They picked me up when I was 19 as a freelance designer for them. That really shot me fast into that whole world.”
Yet Stark’s fast introduction into the fiber arts community also brought with it some glaring truths.
“When I started my fiber arts career, there really was a big movement within the fiber arts world about diversifying fiber arts ... it started about 2017, 2018; all of the magazines 90% of it were older white women that were designing,” Stark said.
The sore lack of diversity amongst his peers led Stark and his friends to claim the title of “craftivists.”
Speaking out on issues concerning unequal treatment and pay, “craftivists” like Stark highlighted and further fueled a movement against injustices in the fiber arts world.
Reminiscent of the craft world, fields like tech and cuisine opened up conversations on diversity. Earlier this year, popular cooking channel and magazine Bon Appetit faced criticism after fan favorite, assistant food-editor Sohla El-Waylly revealed the pay rate for on screen chefs of color.
A shocking pay rate of zero dollars.
“I’ve been pushed in front of a video as a display of diversity. In reality, currently only white editors are paid for their video appearance. None of the people of color have been compensated,” stated El-Waylly on her Instagram story.
El-Waylly’s statements of alleged misconduct by Bon Appetit only scratched the surface on the issue of representation. As the Black Lives Matter flames continued to spread, some BIPOC business owners feel the effects of the movement haven’t affected their progress.
Small business owner and student at The University of Texas at Tyler, Taiya Bean created her boutique, lovably named Blasian Boutique as homage to her Thai and African American roots, as a means to express her creative love for fashion.
“Most of my customers come not just for what I have in my store but for me. They want to keep shopping with me. I am my brand,” Bean said.
A Houston native, Bean began her business at 19-years-old having some experience in retail.
Seeking guidance from her artist brother and mother, the owner of a t-shirt business, Bean found herself in struggles that didn’t entirely have to do with her race.
“You have so many people in the world that you can’t just say ‘I’m going to focus on one group.’ You can if that’s what you want to do. Me personally, I just feel like I didn’t want to get into a racial thing with my business,” Bean said.
Bean emphasized that marketing herself ended up being the biggest challenge. Her lack of business experience made up for her drive. Bean contacted vendors and understood the dynamics of a retail business during her short stint at a popular Southern retail chain.
Recognizing the value of personal interactions, Bean said she focused extensively on her relationship with her client and marketing.
Bean felt that the Black Lives Matter movement didn’t influence her store’s rising popularity however.
“It didn’t do nothing to be honest with you. It really didn’t do nothing at all. It just everybody now says they’re trying to support a black owned business but you don’t really know if they support it,” Bean said.
Regardless of the different interpretations in the BLM movement’s success, Bean and Stark shared one particular stance. Ultimately, community, education and support should be first and foremost in the fight against systemic racism.
“The way to do that for the people that are not BIPOC are definitely putting a spotlight on [BIPOC]...if you like a designer that is black or indigenous then share their work on your social media. Buy their work. Pay for their work. Pay them what they’re worth,” Stark said.