[Queer Changemakers] This e-commerce platform is bringing Queer entrepreneurs to the mainstream
From selling on the international market to fielding corporate orders, BeUnic is creating an inclusive platform for queer artists and entrepreneurs to grow their small businesses.
Co-founded in 2019 by Ashish Chopra and his mother Simmi Nanda,now works with over 30 queer creators and the platform boasts a catalogue of over 400 SKUs across footwear, clothing, accessories, home décor, and stationery among other categories.
“BeUnic is a social enterprise that curates lifestyle products from the Queer community, underlying the idea of Being You and Being Unique.” says Ashish.
The team also supports the community by working with various NGOs across the country and by offering upskilling, counselling, and by enabling market linkages. They donate a portion of their bottom line to support underfunded non-profits working on queer rights, mental health, and other issues.
Power of Your Purse
The value proposition to customers is that these products are not mass-produced and are very unique. “We are not like the H&Ms and Zara where you go to a party and a hundred people will be wearing the same shirt.”
More interestingly, as a purpose-driven social enterprise, BeUnic is tapping into the growing demand for conscious consumerism and using the power of the purse to advance equity.
“There are queer folks who lost their livelihoods during the pandemic. They took the entrepreneurial risk and started a creative business. Shopping their organic cotton dress or decor items made with upcycled household waste, that’s how straight and queer cutomers alike can make a difference with the power of their purse.”
Talking about the supply chain challenges faced by upstart e-commerce marketplaces, Ashish mentions that BeUnic follows the custom-made-to-order and pre-order models. Successful sellers on large e-commerce platforms tend to invest heavily in inventory, product photography, SEO etc. To be eligible for Prime delivery, sellers usually need to slot their inventory at an Amazon warehouse. These can be insurmountable entry barriers for small businesses and queer creators. “For small businesses on tight budgets, having working capital locked up in inventory is like the kiss of death” he adds.
Ashish is also a drag queen who performs as his alter ego Cumsin Hasina. He uses his social media and personal brand to promote BeUnic sellers and their products. Outside of moonlighting as a brand ambassador for BeUnic, in his full-time role at Google as a recruiter, Ashish uses 20 percent of his time on facilitating sensitisation workshops, changing policies, and building a supportive community for queer folks and allies.
Looking back at the larger LGBTQ+ movement in the last five years and his position today as a Queer Changemaker within the corporate world, Ashish says “There has been a great deal of progress made between when I joined my first job and today. I remember the days when I was reprimanded by my superiors for wearing too many studs, which was considered unprofessional.”
He adds that “Today the definition of professionalism has grown to be inclusive of self-expression and the need for bringing your authentic self to the job. That is critical to boost the Meaning Quotient at your company, the sense of purpose that employees feel when their company’s goals and values look beyond profits.”
According to McKinsey, productivity can go up 5X if employees experience the Meaning Quotient at their workplace.
Ashish shares that “Some companies now are willing to put their money where their mouth is and be conscious about their vendor contracts. For instance, some corporates are placing bulk orders with us for mousepads, jackets, and other items. Every new employee in their company will receive a mousepad designed by a queer artist. This makes the company’s stance clear to every team member. And it's a big part of building an inclusive culture within the organization.”
Real Inclusion vs. Rainbow Washing
Understandably, this progress is not without faults. Ashish makes a distinction between real inclusion and “Rainbow washing,” the corporate practice of profiteering off of the queer movement while doing very little to be inclusive employers or to use their leverage as an organization for social change.
“They don’t donate to the non-profits working on queer issues. They don’t hire LGBTQ+ talent. And when they do, they are unable to create an inclusive workspace and folks drop out within months. Some of these companies don’t event cast queer artists in their Pride Month ad campaigns!” laments Ashish.
Looking ahead, the BeUnic team is currently fundraising and hopes to onboard 200+ queer sellers and work with 100+ companies on diversity and inclusion initiatives in the near future.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)
Edited by Diya Koshy George