The holiday season is here, which means it’s time for Hallmark movies, eggnog, and gift-giving. Whether you are playing Secret Santa at the office, rushing around doing last-minute shopping before you travel home, or finding a good end-of-the-year gift for yourself, here is a list of queer-owned businesses you can shop from. While this is in no way an exhaustive list, you just might find at least one company that is selling just what you need.
My Secret Sanctuary
Interested in astrology and tarot reading? My Secret Sanctuary might just be up your alley! Started by Rishi, My Secret Sanctuary is an online tarot reading service, which he hopes to expand into palmistry and astrology reading. Crystals, semi-precious stones, and hand-made items that help with manifesting are also important parts of their business. It all began when he found an interest in tarot during the lockdown. At that point, they were involved in activism for the queer community, which had begun to take a toll on his mental health. He decided to take a permanent break from activism in the form of protests and rallies. “As queer people from marginalized communities, their existence, and their opinions are all a form of protest,” he says.
The business had become a way for Rishi to be independent while fulfilling his spiritual purpose of giving back to the community. “I realized I was what I was doing was not just fun, but also a way to help people spiritually align with their path and purpose,” he shares. Today, his partner is also involved in the business, and they sell jewelry created by him on the platform.
Through the business, Rishi says they are able to sell or advertise any form of social projection while maintaining integrity in their personal identities. “Our future plans include training marginalized groups within the queer community, especially the trans folk, so we can give back and empower the community. We want to create something from the queers for the queers,” he shares.
An advice he has for organizations that hope to show up for queer communities? Rishi urges that they organize sessions that educate people about queer communities, mental and sexual health as well as the various social issues that the community deals with. “Invest in NGOs that help the queer community, and help those who are fighting the good fight on the legal front. You don’t need to be a billionaire to help those around you. You give when you are in abundance, but at the same time to manifest that abundance, you need to give,” he shares.
Where to shop from? Their Instagram page
An online and offline thrift store based in Hauz Khas Village, New Delhi, it was started by Neha Shenaz in 2020 after the pandemic hit. It was named after the book, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. “We sell handpicked & unique clothes, boots, shoes & accessories that will make you slay on a budget,” she shares.
For Neha, running a queer business means being free. “A lot of people try to fit clothes & accessories into binaries and ask us if we have ‘feminine looking boots’ or leave comments about how some product ‘looks very manly’. For us the mantra is simple: if you like it & fits you well, you wear it,” she explains. She hopes that her business grows to become a safe space for queer folks who are into fashion. “They can wear, try whatever they want to without being judged or talked about,” she says.
Don’t just turn to the rainbow in the month of June, says Neha. “Educate oneself; one can always use gender-neutral terms. Secondly, treat queer folks as human beings, and thirdly, employ queer folks,” she advises other businesses.
Where to shop from? At their store at Hauz Khas Village, Delhi
Growing up as queer kids in Indian middle-class families wasn’t easy for Syed and Utkarsh, from traumatic high school experiences to dealing with problematic family members & relatives. Becoming financially independent was extremely important in their quest to build a life where they could truly be themselves. While they tried to work jobs, not only did they not provide them with the freedom and satisfaction they wanted, they were not always inclusive. So they decided to use all their savings and start something that inspired and empowered people like them.
Self-expression, they say, is an integral part of human existence. Having never found the right kind of saucy, bold, and expressive clothing & accessories that helped them express themselves freely, they decided to change that. “We channeled all those years of frustration and create accessories that are queer, expressive and help people be their unapologetic selves,” says Utkarsh, before adding, At Cosmic Jalebi, we aspire to build a community of people where everybody celebrates each other’s differences and be their unapologetic/authentic selves without any fear of judgment.”
Being queer and in business, they say, is the best thing that happened to them. “It gives us the freedom to do things our way; if we want to feature visibly queer people on our campaigns, we don’t need any cishet person’s approval. We have the power to not only inspire the people of our community through our story but also empower them by providing them with employment and other opportunities. Being a queer business feels like a superpower. It feels like we’re finally on our way to be in a position, where we can create an impact in people’s lives and make this world a better place,” shares Utkarsh.
Instead of asking corporations and the government for acceptance, inclusivity, or employment, Utkarsh believes it is time for people from the community to join forces and show cishet corporations how things are done. “We want to set an example by building a successful and huge business where everyone feels empowered to be their true selves regardless of their difference, where inclusivity and diversity is not just a ‘Pride Month’ campaign but a core value, where everyone is treated with love, respect, and dignity.
We feel that doing all of this is going to create a lasting impact and it’s also going to force corporations to learn and evolve,” he adds.
Where to shop from? Cosmic Jalebi website
Co-founded by Deepali Gupta, artandsentiments is a brand that sells artisanal resin flower-based handmade jewelry, home decor, prints, frames, and more. A multimedia artist, who plays around with several mediums, Deepali has always loved working with flowers. Two years ago, during the pandemic, she learned about resin art, a medium that could be used to preserve flowers. “I’ve always wanted for people to wear my art; it is a way of them having a part of what I love and who doesn’t love some wearable nature?” she says.
Being a queer business helps her learn more, she says. “And, there’s just so much more love always. It’s more about the relationship with all my people and never about the transaction,” she says.
An advice for organizations hoping to stand as an ally for the community? “Include us in their businesses in all aspects and have something for everyone. Create much safer spaces so that people can just be who they are, and give us more opportunities,” she adds.
Needles and Monkey
Letitia Mendes, graphic designer, and tattooist banded together with their friends, Ali and Kaushik, during the lockdown when they realized they wanted to do something different in the tattoo and piercing space. “We wanted to create a safe space, free of judgments where one can be themselves and express who they are when getting a tattoo/piercing. Tattoos are often a piece of our soul that we wear on ourselves. Needles and monkey is not just a tattoo and piercing studio but also a place that supports talented artists who need a space to tattoo from with no strings attached,” they say. From bringing a concept to reality, Needles and Monkey is a team of experienced artists in the industry that offers aims to design intricate designs to showcase your personality in the form of art on your body.
Being a nonbinary person in business with allies as partners means to be seen and respected as a person/human and not for one’s gender or sexual orientation, shares Letitia
In a world where rainbow capitalism is the norm, Letitia wishes that more business owners would take the time to learn, listen and educate themselves and the people within their business to understand queer people. “ Don’t assume but ask politely if you’re not aware of the terminologies; respect one’s identity and pronouns and use gender-neutral greetings,” they add.
Run by Jesmin Ahmed, Quire Studio is an aesthetic, sustainable, and handcrafted lifestyle brand with gender-neutral, budget statement pieces. “We had this vision in mind and we kept growing with time. We started in March 2021 with only jewelry. Our product line has now expanded to jewelry, candles, and home decor pieces,” she says.
Their goal is to ensure all products are gender-neutral. “We cater to all kinds of customers. Being queer is part of our identity and being inclusive is essential for us not only as part of the business but also our product line,” she shares.
From simply promoting or collaborating with a queer business, to enabling mediums that allow them to flourish, there is so much that organizations can do to stand as an ally. “A lot can be done if one is open to actually listen and identify the needs,” she adds.
Where to shop from? Quire Studio website
Run by Varun Abraham, Qucciberry is a fashion and lifestyle brand, that aims to make fashion accessible for all. Even the brand’s logo, a lamb with a rainbow-colored horn, was created as a symbol of diversity. “It is weird but sweet. I wanted to convey the idea that we may look different but we are all good,” he says.
The journey to becoming an entrepreneur was not an easy one for Varun. Trained in culinary arts, Varun began his professional life as a Trainee Chef. However, following the sexual and emotional abuse, he had to face, he decided to leave the field and began working in a BPO. “I had to deal with several instances where I was set up for failure. Managers would not give me good headsets and then, quality managers would raise questions about my work,” he shares. His parents, he says, advised him to change how he appears, and to try to look more masculine so that his queerness was not noticeable. And at the time, he listened.
It took him three more years to realize that the answer was not in trying to make himself fit. “Being a queer-run business means accepting yourself as who you are and accepting others. I want to use my business to stand up for the community, fight for my own rights and for future generations,” he says.
If big corporations really want to be an ally, they should be doing something every month to allow for more exposure to the LGBTQIA community, he says. “People bully you explicitly or implicitly and leave you without options, making it very hard to survive. Instead of spending on campaigns, hire people from the community, be inclusive in your workplaces, and don’t set us up for failure,” he adds.
Where to shop from? Qucciberry website
Mae is a Delhi-based indie clothing label founded by Jayeta Rohilla. “We take pieces and fabric seen in a traditional way, such as the ghoongat or the saree, and upcycle them to create pieces that are comfortable and modern. We draw nspiration from the fabric to hopefully, change the narrative to make it more resonating. Traditions are nice, but they need to be updated,” says Jayeta.
Mae finds its roots in Jayeta’s wish to create clothes that would help her showcase her aesthetic while being a reflection of who she was. “I started the business 6 years, but it took me a good 3 years to find my voice,” she shares. However, the journey is not without struggles, “I want to create gender-fluid clothes, but at the same time there are some measurements I need to refer to to get the fitting right, so I struggle with this. I want to be able to dress people of all body types. Clothing as it is, doesn’t have gender, but how do we categorize things when the world is so binary?” she shares.
On Mae’s website, you will find members from the community modeling their clothes. This, she says, is what companies should be doing to show up as an ally. “Put us on the catalog and, on the website and not just some banner to feature as some highlight. We should be generically included, throughout the year,” she says.
Where to shop from? Mae website
Founded by Francis D’costa and Nisha Nichola Jacob, Salsette Collective sells handcrafted textiles, such as home furnishing and stoles. They create artisanal products by working with artisans from Nagaland, West Bengal, Assam, and Kutch in Gujarat.
Skip the tokenism and invest in sensitization workshops to make your workplaces inclusive, Francis advises businesses that spend on campaigns during Pride Month. “When homosexuality was criminalized, how many companies came out and stood as an ally? Today, it is okay, so they will spend money to seem cool. I wish people did sensitization workshops as a policy to fight deep-rooted patriarchal prejudices,” he shares.
Where to shop from? You can view their products and DM them on their Instagram page.