For most of my life, I’ve never paid much attention to politics. Until 2008, I could have told you who the Prime Minister was, but not much else. These days, sadly, I do pay attention. It’s hardly headline news that the current political landscape is divisive in a way my generation has never seen before.
But does your politics affect where you spend you money? And for business owners, do you ever express personal opinions which may be controversial, and would you consider the effect on your business of doing so?
I wandered down this path of thought after seeing Tilly’s (of Tilly & the Buttons fame) Instagram post supporting the women’s marches. Under a T&TB graphic saying ‘Women for women’, she wrote ‘..and men for women too, for that matter. Sending peace, love & solidarity to you all, whether you can make it to a march today or are standing up for kindness and respect to all humans in other ways in your daily lives.’
Pretty uncontroversial, no? She didn’t criticise anyone. It actually wasn’t political. But several commenters didn’t like it. Some objected to the sentiments expressed (difficult, really, to see how ‘peace, love & solidarity’ are objectionable, but there we are), but the main issue seemed to be that she had something to say which wasn’t sewing-related. The theme of the unhappy comments on this and similar posts is ‘I come here for sewing, and don’t want more politics-talk’ – which means, ‘I want to see pretty pictures of ribbon, but hate it when you talk like you have a brain with thoughts in it.’
It seems many people (I’ve seen plenty comments on other posts, not only this one), believe that if you mainly post about sewing, then you shouldn’t post about anything else. And that if you have a business, you shouldn’t have opinions on anything, because you could lose custom from people who disagree with you. Kind of interesting, since it’s your business, not theirs.
A big part of the reason we buy indie is because small brands usually have a relatable personality at the forefront. We invest emotionally in the person behind the brand, with their weekly posts on what they’re wearing, how they’re feeling and what they’re sewing. We like to buy from a person. What shouldn’t really surprise us is that, actually, we like to buy from a person like us. Because we’re the best kind of people…
On the other hand, some business owners are pretty picky about who they’ll sell to. The owner of The Joy of Knitting’s now infamous rant (I’m not going to repeat it here, because my opinions are unprintable, and if you get me going on religion we’ll all regret it), showed that she felt secure in potentially alienating plenty of her customers. What’s more, she did it in a particularly rude manner. She got a lot of publicity for it, so good for her.
Not that any of this is new. Customers have always used their spending power to support business in their community, and boycott those whose views opposed their own. But it is interesting to see it demonstrated so starkly in the cuddly world of crafting, where perhaps we’ve all been pretending that a shared love of perfect topstitching is enough to keep us together.
Would your political and social beliefs dictate who you buy from, or even whose creative output you follow? I’ve never before given a moments thought to whether people whose quilts I admire might have voted for the wall. But after reading some of the discussion in the comments, now I sort of do wonder (and in some cases, know). Which is a bit sad really.
To answer my own question, I would never ask anyone to disclose their personal beliefs on behalf of their business. Business owners who choose to do so un-asked clearly believe that the benefits of being outspoken outweigh those of pleasing everyone. And it would affect my opinion of them – I’m only human. The era of political difference being a subject to be debated with friends and acquaintances, perhaps with a bit of enlightenment of either side, is rapidly slipping away as battle lines are drawn up. As long as we can respect another’s right to their opinion, and express our own respectfully, we’ll win the last skirmish.
Good night, and good luck.