Championing Diversity And Values Appropriately With SheHeThey’s Michael Ayre

Diversity, inclusion, practicing what you preach. There’s an argument to be made that in today’s world these are buzzwords that are used to tick a box.

It’s vital that business owners take these words heart and soul and apply them appropriately and it’s refreshing to see a marketplace like SheHeThey take it on board. 

Created by Michael Ayre and Luke Jordan, SheHeThey is a new marketplace for diverse brands and people who want to share their story. 

It was a pleasure to talk to Mike about the mission behind the platform, businesses truly practicing what they preach within the LGBT community and the cycle of positive consumerism. 

For people who’re unfamiliar with SheHeThey, what kind of marketplace is it and what inspired you to set it up?

SheHeThey was devised back in June 2021 between myself and my partner Luke and it came from data. We looked into a lot of studies done by charities and governments that demonstrated there was a disconnect between minority-owned businesses and consumers wanting to buy from them.

Statistics that stood out to us were that around 90% of businesses felt they didn’t fit into the mainstream and 90% of consumers struggled to buy from brands they resonated with or understood their own identities. 

This disconnect and data piqued our interest and we looked for a platform that solved these challenges and we couldn’t find anything. So, we decided to build the platform and gave ourselves a year to do it.

We successfully launched SheHeThey on 21st June 2022 and achieved our goal. 

Congratulations on the launch. What kind of businesses are eligible to sign up to SheHeThey? 

We exist for anyone who identifies as a minority or a marginalised group and who can demonstrate that they are an ally and support minority-owned brands and people. We also welcome businesses who give a percentage of their profits to good causes too.

What we’ve seen recently, especially during Pride Month, is that a lot of organisations will change their logo to Pride colours. But there’s no substance behind that and it doesn’t actively help minority-owned businesses. 

We know as an organisation we’ll be held accountable for practising what we preach and we want to lead the conversation and not shy away from the ugly topics of calling out marketing tactics like this. We want to hold our partner organisations accountable too.

So, any brands we work with who do identify as allies have to be a part of this conversation in a positive way. 

What are your thoughts on how businesses can show they are acting authentically and what does authenticity mean to SheHeThey?

I think it’s easy to get caught in the mainstream narrative and we want to sit outside of that and celebrate that we sit outside. People often compare us to Etsy, Amazon and eBay but we’re a different entity. 

What we do is hone in on the people behind the products and businesses, whereas other marketplaces only focus on the products. The conversations we’ve had with our sellers are they don’t feel they get the opportunity to be visible as a person or tell their story.

For example, a queer, body-positive black trans woman wouldn’t put that in their Etsy bio. We want to empower that person to share their story and it’ll resonate with others who want to follow that journey.

It’s about building a cycle of positive consumerism. We want consumers to connect with sellers on a human level so they want to feel encouraged to tell their stories or to earn repeat business. 

How do you see this cycle of positive consumerism evolving? 

As a society, our habits are changing and we’re more likely to buy from businesses we believe in and demonstrate their values. We know we have to adapt too as a marketplace and constantly look at what the impact of business values are and what that impact is like on the world.

We plan to publish impact reports and this will give us the ammo to go to larger businesses and challenge them to do better. We want the cycle of positive consumerism to be something that holds those organisations accountable. 

We know we’re going to piss some people off and that’s a necessity to get certain brands to do better. 

What will these positive impact reports look like?

At this early stage, we want to talk about the positive impact SheHeThey has on the economy by increasing the visibility of minority-owned businesses. 

If we can demonstrate that these businesses have grown by X amount by being on the platform and generated X amount of sales, then we can quantify how minority-owned brands have supported the economy.

It’s much wider than that because we’ll talk about the feedback we’ve received from partners, consumers, and sellers on the full impact we’ve had as an organisation and what we’ve committed to. 

We want to be a climate-positive workforce and we’ve partnered with organisations that have offset our climate impact. 

SheHeThey as an organisation doesn’t have any negative impact on the planet and that’s because we pay another organisation for their expertise and they offset what we contribute by planting trees, raising awareness and doing research that’ll feed into wider policy change.

The idea of practising what you preach continues to come up in this conversation. 

How would you say that brands who profess to be allies to SheHeThey and LGBT causes can truly show they practice what they preach?

One of the things that we were asked during Pride Month was why we didn’t our change our logo to the Pride flag. Apart from onboarding sellers who were going to sell on the website we didn’t have much substance behind putting the pride flag on our logo.

Yes, we’re a queer-owned organisation but that doesn’t give us the right to put the flag on our logo. 

We always look for substance and we see on LinkedIn all the time, especially in the financial and legal sectors, that organisations will change their logo but then don’t release impact reports or demonstrate what the internal recruitment or culture is.

They don’t publish how many people are LGBT or are in senior positions and 90% of the time it’s because they don’t have the data. 

Going back to our impact report, we collate how many queer-owned, POC and neurodiverse businesses we have. If organisations aren’t asking those kinds of questions then they’re letting themselves down.

They may have a diverse mix of people and be doing some amazing things. But if those businesses aren’t collecting that information and publishing it then they are doing themselves an injustice.

You have a lot of sellers on SheHeThey and are there any particular brands that stand out to you that have been helped by the platform? 

What we’ve found is that sellers have felt empowered to be themselves through SheHeThey. 

An example is that one of our sellers lives in a small, traditional village in the Wales Valleys. She’s bisexual and doesn’t have any other queer friends locally. Through conversations with SheHeThey, she closed down her Etsy store and migrated everything over to the platform.

She knits and has started making products that represent her identity. Through her craft and hobby she can now celebrate herself. For us, it’s about how that individual can be celebrated. 

Where do you see SheHeThey in 10 years?

In ten years, I see us being international and global. We’ll be at a scale where people know who were are and we’re established enough that the business has outgrown Luke and me. 

We only come from one perspective but if we’re lucky enough to build a team then we’d want those people to come from diverse backgrounds and have diverse perspectives. 

We would hope their voices take over our voices and SheHeThey would be a global brand leading the way on consumerism done right and representing people from all walks of life. 

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