Tess sat down for an interview with Michael Ayre (he/him) and Luke Jordan (they/he) of new “Home of Diverse Brands,” SheHeThey. This conversation took place prior to the successful June 21st launch of the company, which solely features minority-owned businesses.
Tess: I’m going to start with a simple question: what are your backgrounds? How did you meet? Tell me about you personally.
Luke Jordan: I’ll start. So, I have a background in branding design. I’ve worked in multiple design and brand agencies across the UK from the Northeast, which is where we’re originally from. But – to put it in the nicest possible way – I don’t enjoy working for people. [laughs] I find a lot of the time their values are completely different to mine and I never feel like I fit in. I always feel very limited by people’s leadership skills and ability.
So you’re more of a free, entrepreneurial spirit.
LJ: Yeah, exactly. I also own a second company called Studio Potts, which is – have a guess – design and branding. And I also do training as well on the side, helping small businesses to understand how branding works in their business, and how to develop the business further as well.
And what about you, Michael?
Michael Ayre: I actually worked in recruitment for a few years before moving into the prison service.
I didn’t see point A leading to point B, not going to lie to you. What did you do in prison service?
MA: I worked with high risk men who wouldn’t engage in education work, wouldn’t accept visits from family, wouldn’t leave the cells, so they really were kind of the highest risk, but also the furthest away from being rehabilitated.
Sounds exhausting. How long did you do that for?
MA: I did that for six years.
MA: Yeah. And now I work as a relationship manager, supporting businesses of all shapes and sizes.
So you have an expert in design, and an expert in the human psyche. How did you two come together with this business plan?
MA: Way back when we first met, actually, we said someday, we wanted to run a business together. Once we knew we were serious, we knew that we wanted to be self-sufficient. We’ve come up with all sorts of ideas about what kind of business that we want to have.
So SheHeThey started… where?
MA: We came up with the concept of SheHeThey because we went looking for SheHeThey. I think we were buying something for a friend and we were online and we were jumping from website to website and we were on the fourth or fifth page of Google still looking for that gift. And then that got us thinking, well, if these amazing businesses are hard to find, is there not an opportunity to create a platform where they are easy to find?
When we started to do some digging around minority owned businesses and the representation that they have and actually the chances that they have really opened up our eyes to the fact that if someone is a minority or they have a minority background, then their chances of being successful are slashed at all levels. And we just thought we had to do something about it. And that’s where SheHeThey came from.
Entrepreneurial and mission-driven.
MA: We felt like we had a unique idea, or a ‘unicorn idea’ as it’s called. We felt like we had something fresh and new, and we knew that it had the potential to go global. So we then did months’ worth of research to see if there was anything like SheHeThey out there. We looked at the UK, Europe, the US, Canada, Australia, the other side of the world. There were a lot of marketplaces that were dedicated to a specific minority group, but not dedicated to people who embraced equality and had the foundation behind the business.
So you’re filling a gap. And it’s not excluding products – it’s about the business owner themselves.
MA: We said, from day one, it wasn’t about the products that a person sells, it’s about the person that sits behind the business. And that is a driving force behind everything that we do.
So, the launch is coming up, are you okay?
Both [grimacing]: No.
Alright, that’s fair. But you took a year to do this. That must have helped, rather than just throwing it on the internet a month after concept.
Michael Ayre: It took a lot of research, a lot of number crunching. So we just didn’t put ourselves under any pressure. We knew that if we were going to do this and we were going to dedicate time, effort, love to it, that we wanted to do it right. That’s not to say we are perfect, because we aren’t and we will hit a lot of highs and lows and bumps along the way, but we’re giving ourselves the best chance that we can to get things right the first time.
Like QUILL, you’re dealing with sensitive topics. Disability, race, gender disparity, the LGBTQ+ community…
Luke Jordan: Exactly. What we are trying to create is so sensitive, and I think there’s a responsibility to make sure that, sure, it’s not going to be perfect, but it at least needs to be done right and respectfully. And I think that requires a lot of time, dedication, commitment to learning the language, to understanding different people, to connecting with different people.
Speaking of these sensitive topics, I want to congratulate you: you’ve embodied inclusivity, in my opinion, starting with the name.
LJ: Well, thank you. The name itself, I love it so much because I think it is an inclusive name and I know that there are other pronouns out there, but it encapsulates everybody. It acknowledges the fact that it’s not a gender binary and we can break free of that. And that is this literal foundation of SheHeThey, no matter what other minorities you represent. It’s just an inclusive term in itself, which is amazing.
Now, on a personal level, with QUILL and your personal outspoken activism; how will SheHeThey play a role in activism as well?
LJ: I’d like to think that everything that we’ll be doing will be a form of activism in the sense that we absolutely will not be doing what the UK government is doing – excluding trans people, nonbinary people, etcetera – for obvious reasons.
It’s absolutely horrible, both where you two are and where QUILL is, the political climates and the oppressive agendas against the LGBTQ+ community.
LJ: It just comes back to that point of: it’s allowing somebody to simply exist and acknowledging that their existence is perfectly valid and they don’t need to explain themselves to anybody. They shouldn’t have to fight for their rights.
LJ: And yet. So we will absolutely be doing our part to make sure that we’re in these places to support trans people and anybody else who needs that support.
MA: We won’t be afraid to have an opinion because SheHeThey, I think, will grow to a point where people will look to us to see what SheHeThey has said. It will outgrow us, and we will have to bring other perspectives in with other people with lived experiences.
Which just adds to your dedication to inclusivity – not assuming experiences.
Michael Ayre: No, no. Which is why, while it’s us, what we want to do is create partnerships with organizations, charities, individuals, and make sure that we are getting different perspectives that are different to our own, so that we aren’t solely the only voice coming out of SheHeThey.
Love that. So, what are you feeling as the launch date comes up?
MA: For me, personally, it makes me feel excited, full of pride. There’s no fear attached to SheHeThey. I think as long as we stick to our values and we try and do good, then surely there can’t be anything bad that comes out of this. And you know what? If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. That’s okay. But at least we’ll give it a good old try to try to make the world better.
Luke Jordan: For me as well. Just pride. For me as well, it’s a lot of pride, and I don’t know what the right words are, but I just think it’s so incredibly important. … I just think it’s an important message to get out there. An important platform.
You have pride, but no ego.
Michael Ayre: There’s no ego attached to what we do, because if there was ego attached, we wouldn’t be the right people to do this.
What are you hoping to get out of SheHeThey, ultimately?
MA: We now know that we are the people to create this platform, because we’ve identified a need. So, the first thing we want is to create this cycle of positive consumerism and we do see that in our branding. Because what we want to do is offer a space for those people who’ve been looking for something like us, just like we were, or who are learning and learn through SheHeThey and then start to come back and buy things from people who are underrepresented, who are in the minority. And then those businesses are starting to grow because they’re more visible.
That’s very entrepreneurial, but let’s get personal. What do you want to get out of SheHeThey for yourself? You can be selfish.
MA: For me personally, we want to disrupt the industry. So we want to look at other brands and say, you don’t do what we do, so you need to do better and really start to challenge these mainstream brands who make millions, hundreds of millions by feeding into the mainstream narrative. And that has to stop because, look at all of these amazing businesses that sell with SheHeThey, look at the diversity that we represent, and look at these amazing entrepreneurs who you basically have trampled all over.
And you, Luke?
Luke Jordan: To me, it’s about healing the narrative. It’s about healing our society. Society has been fine tuned to only give opportunity and reward a certain kind of person and that needs to be healed. We need to acknowledge that everybody needs representation, everybody is just as needed and wanted, and should be visible, and should be able to be successful, and should be able to thrive. For me, that’s what I hope people get from it.”
Thank you both so much, and I can’t wait for the launch!
Both: Thank you!