From Cat Walk to Pop Up: The Untold Story of the Butch Basix Trailer March 13 2014, 2 Comments

Part One by Ames Simpson

When I was in my twenties, I created, in my mind’s eye, a retail shop for the gender variant.  I envisioned a celebratory place in which people could find joy, camaraderie, and success – an experience culminating in a sense of broadened community. I also imagined that, through this hub, I would acquire a wardrobe more aligned with my sense of self and in a manner that countered my not so pleasant real-life retail experience. 

It is from these early musings that Butch Basix has come to fruition.  But unlike the current manifestation, the details of my earlier vision included an actual retail location in which people like me could find (in addition to cool and relevant shit) the support, understanding, respect, community, and a sense of vibrancy I so craved.  I fantasized about properly constructed and equipped dressing rooms that catered to the various needs for privacy among the diversely gendered patrons.  I envisioned cat walks in the center of the store for the flamboyant and exhibitionists to publicly model their selections and a DJ spinning funky dance music; a place where people could, together, feel a sense of belonging, reflection and pride.

Fast forward twenty years, and it occurred to Susan and me that, although we couldn't execute (at least not right away) the same vision I had years earlier, we could adapt this concept based on our acquired skill sets, actual resources, political shifts, trends, and economic and retail realities in order to launch Butch Basix. 

It’s no secret that American society is struggling with economic inequality and rapidly changing urban demographics.  Just as the forces at play and the widening income gap have made it difficult for many to find affordable housing, so too have small retail businesses been hit by the inaccessibility of affordable retail space.  Thankfully, for merchants such as Butch Basix, e-commerce has been one channel through which many small businesses can adapt to this shift.  Online retail gives us the chance to reach beyond our local markets and helps keep costs down by conducting business in the absence of a “brick and mortar” location.  And perhaps most importantly, online stores, like Butch Basix, bring empowering alternatives right to the fingertips of many people for whom the traditional “gender norms” of less progressive communities take a more acute toll and who NEED to be served, especially given the dearth of brick and mortar retail diversity. 

While it’s great that some of the barriers to entry into online retail have been removed (like the accessibility of the e-commerce platform Shopify) and give customers and merchants a larger and more diverse marketplace, I believe that we as business owners and consumers also give something up in the process.  Especially in the case of unique, artisan and handmade goods, consumers give up the chance to touch, feel, and try on merchandise before making a purchase.  We forego the chance to socially interact with the folks that produce their wares as well as the chance to personally know the shop owners and employees.  We give up the opportunity to meet other like-minded people who may share our values when shopping for similar things or in the same place.  We lose the chance to serve people who might be able to walk into a shop, but who may not have the resources to reach us through technology.  In essence, we are losing another opportunity to build and sustain diverse communities when we only interact with each other online.

As the top-down pressures continue to strain and constrict many small business owners, we are not without ingenuity, hope, energy and adaptability.  And many municipalities are taking notice.  Some cities are broadening their collaboration with non-profits and businesses in establishing and further growing pop-up zones, street markets and fairs, mobile food vending zones, and urban mobile markets.  One such event in which we've participated is Oakland First Fridays – a monthly event we plan on attending regularly.  While a local, physical presence that’s transient or temporary doesn't give every one of our customers across the Continent face time with us and our products, we have to start somewhere… and this “somewhere” feels like a movement filled with energized, hopeful and creative people and inspires us to think of ways to nurture Butch Basix, and other businesses like us, into “thriveability”.

Stay tuned for the next installment on how our Butch Basix Pop-Up Trailer Shop strategy came to be.