The importance of shopping small: how to vote yes to queer, women-owned businesses

Meet Alena and Jamie of Automic Gold. Automic Gold is a queer, women-owned company selling sustainable jewelry. Their goal is to create genderless, size-inclusive, and diverse jewelry. Everything is handmade by Alena using reclaimed gold and ethically mined gems.

I love supporting small businesses like this because I know exactly who my money is going to. As much as I love buying from companies like Aerie and Dove, brands that advocate for self love and body positivity, those brands are still large corporations with sister brands and/or parents companies that often don’t promote the same kind of messages. Dove, for example, is owned by Unilever, which owns brands like Axe that often promote toxic masculinity and objectification of women in their ads.

Alena and Jamie (left to right) of Automic Gold

Alena and Jamie (left to right) of Automic Gold

When I buy from small businesses, though, I know exactly who I’m supporting and can feel good knowing that I supported a business whose mission and views align with mine own. In a capitalist society, this is massively important. My purchases are more than just giving a company my money. Each time I purchase from a company, I vote “yes” to that company and what they stand for and support.

As an intersectional feminist, I want to vote yes to empowering women. Supporting women-owned businesses, especially WOC owned and queer owned, through my purchases and my platform is just one way I can do so. I’m privileged enough to come from a family that can afford to send me to college without putting me in debt, so it’s especially important to me that I use this kind of economic privilege to spend money where it really and truly matters.

Photo by  Erin Hill , edit by myself

Photo by Erin Hill, edit by myself

I also want to ensure that in supporting other women, I don’t speak for them, but rather amplify their voices. (I actually gave Make Muse my take on being an intersectional feminist last month! Check out the article for more advice from other bad ass babes.) For this blog post, I wanted to introduce you guys to Jamie and Alena of Automic Gold through a simple interview with them while allowing them to also speak to their experiences as queer women in regards to starting a business and beyond.

I hope you guys find them as amazing as I do! They sent me the most beautiful bead choker and I rarely take it off. I even wear it into the shower and to bed! They claim that their jewelry is super comfy and they’re completely right. It also hasn’t rusted at all despite my wearing it in the shower for many weeks now! Anyway. onto the interview!

Photo by  Shawn Bruce

Photo by Shawn Bruce

Meet the amazing women behind it all: Alena and Jamie.

Can you guys give everyone a brief introduction as to who you are and what you do with Automic Gold?

We are Alena and Jamie, and we are co-founders of Automic Gold. Alena is a metalsmith and jewelry designer, and Jamie is a visual artist and a techie. We are married and have a cat.

How did Automic Gold come to be? Tell us about your mission.

Alena: I worked with fine jewelry for a decade before Automic Gold, and I was never able to find jewelry that was comfortable and good-looking enough for me to wear it. A lot of the fine jewelry industry is dominated by men with old money and there is little incentive to improve things. Fine jewelry is designed by people who will never wear it and, as such, don’t have incentive to make it comfortable or practical. I wanted to change that. 

I was accepted into the Tory Burch Foundation program, which gave me confidence to pursue my idea for what became Automic Gold at the end of 2016. Jamie quit her day job at around the same time and joined me in this venture. 

Photo by  Erin Hill , edit by myself

Photo by Erin Hill, edit by myself

There’s a lot of significance behind using reclaimed gold that many people don’t understand. Can you talk about what reclaimed gold is and why it’s better to use than typical gold?

Alena: Because gold is so rare, a lot of mining is required to source new gold. Reclaimed gold, on the other hand, is gold that’s already in circulation (usually it comes from older jewelry). By using only reclaimed gold in our jewelry, we do not damage our planet’s environment through harmful mining practices.

Jamie, you mentioned that you worked in corporate America before starting Automic Gold with Alena and saw sexism in its ugliest forms at that time. Could you speak a bit more about that and what led you to finally leave corporate America?

Jamie: My last place of work was Tumblr, where I got to work alongside some of the most talented people. I was a huge Tumblr user (and still am!) and it was great to contribute to this amazing platform.

But even though Tumblr and Yahoo might seem forward-thinking (Yahoo was headed by Marissa Meyer at the time), the gender wage gap was abundantly clear. Around the time in 2016 when the tech field’s lack of inclusivity came into spotlight, women of Tumblr started asking questions and uncovered an undeniable wage gap compared to men. It was brought up to HR numerous times over the year, but HR persistently denied existence of the problem. I was hushed from speaking up about the wage gap by c-level execs during one of my last all-company meetings. The final straw came when I comforted a fellow employee who burst into tears because she was paid less than her male peer and was tired of her year-long fight to be recognized as equal.

Photo by  Shawn Bruce

Photo by Shawn Bruce

What challenges have you faced since beginning this journey? Have you dealt with other instances of sexism, etc. as a result of starting Automic Gold?

Jamie: We used to make Youtube videos - small educational videos where I talked about jewelry. However, I started getting transphobic hate comments and eventually we had to delete all videos from our Youtube account.

Alena: Where do I start? Fine jewelry is a hugely men-dominated industry. I can barely count on one hand all the influential women CEOs in the industry. And even then, in the best case scenario, women will be running the company together with their husbands or will be confined in cis-hetero-normative standards of their investors. As a loudly visible queer person and a young woman, I am often not taken seriously in the industry. Typically people assume I am an assistant, not a CEO. What I hate the most is when I present masculine in my clothes and men try to bond with me using misogynistic jokes about their wives. Sorry guys, I’m feminist AF and I love my wife.

Photo by  Shawn Bruce

Photo by Shawn Bruce

There’s a lot of companies nowadays claiming to support women, sustainability, the LGBTQ+ community, etc. but sometimes, it’s just for show. For example, Feminist Apparel’s founder was accused of sexual assault. You guys are truly champions of these communities and causes, especially as members of them yourselves. I’d love to hear your take on that.

Jamie: I won’t call us champions - true champions are activists, civil advocates and change-makers that fight for women, racial, immigrant and LGBTQ rights. We just want to lead a business that is self-conscious and self-aware and does right by everyone.

Alena: Yeah, I think the bar is really low for many businesses. Inclusion of sizes, representation and caring for people and planet should be standard, should be the base, not something you ask to get a cookie for.

I’d love to hear your personal reasoning on why it’s so important to support businesses like your own.

Jamie: I was listening to Cameron Esposito’s podcast recently and heard that advice: Support your queers. It takes enormous effort to be in an old industry like ours, and we need all the help we can get if we want to achieve our goal of changing the industry from the inside out. We cherish every order we receive and every mention we get on Instagram.

Photo by  Shawn Bruce

Photo by Shawn Bruce

You guys include a wide range of sizes for all genders so that anyone can wear your jewelry. Bustle recently featured you guys (Congratulations!) and talked about this, but I saw on a recent Instagram post that you had never even stopped to consider whether or not to include plus size jewelry. Can you guys talk a bit more about this?

Alena: I created all my and Jamie’s jewelry for a long time, so we never had to shop for jewelry ourselves. So I kind of assumed that in the year 2018, there will definitely be some plus-size carrying brands. To my surprise, my search did not result in a single fine jewelry brand that carries plus size jewelry beside Automic Gold.

I do not understand when designers complain about creating products for larger people. It literally IS your job to create for people. I’m “sorry” you have to put an effort for plus-size people just like you already did for skinny people.

What’s next for Automic Gold?

Jamie: Being bolder, louder, and more unapologetic than ever. We are not afraid to speak up, and we want our personal values to be reflected in everything that Automic Gold is.

Alena: My dream is have 100 stores all other the US where sales people can receive $50k+ a year and love the job. To never be backed up by big money (and big control). Lead by example in caring for environment, in fair pay for employees and in fair business practices.

Photo by  Shawn Bruce

Photo by Shawn Bruce

What do you want to leave people with after buying something from you? What do you aim for their experience to be?

Jamie: Unapologetic badassery. Is that a feeling? I want everyone who wears our jewelry to feel great about themselves and be confident in what they wear.

Alena: I want people to be empowered by my jewelry, I want for people to see more beauty in themselves. I want them to feel like they got a treat for themselves and they deserved it. 

Anything else you guys want to share?

Jamie: We think Pose is a great show and everyone should watch it.

Annabelle SchmittComment