At Faire, we’re fortunate to partner with many remarkable artists, makers, and entrepreneurs from the LGBTQ+ community. In recognition of Pride Month, we’re highlighting the work and stories of some of the many incredible LGBTQ+ owned businesses on Faire.
This week, we’re featuring Little Rainbow Paper Co—a stationery brand from Calgary, Alberta. We spoke with owner Heather Hansler about the mission behind her inclusive greeting cards and how she uses her business to give back.
Heather Hansler has always been artistically inclined, but she always saw her illustrations as more of a hobby. “Growing up, it was common to be told by parents that being an artist isn’t a career,” she said. “So I never pursued it outside of personal projects.” That is, until 2018 when she started sketching greeting cards that celebrated LGBTQ+ relationships and individuals.
“[The cards] were born out of a desire to see things in the world that reflected my community,” she said. “I wanted to make items that reflected our unique identities and celebrate the way we show joy and affection for each other.” She put this mission into practice by illustrating cards that celebrate milestones for transgender individuals and their loved ones, as well as wedding cards for same-sex couples.
Audiences responded to her work, validating that Heather wasn’t the only one who noticed this gap in the market. Since then, she’s sold thousands of unique cards to people worldwide and ventured into wholesale markets. Her cards feature affirming messages like, “I see you, I hear you, I love you, and I am here with you.” Since 2018, she’s expanded into making enamel pins (including ones that display gender pronouns) and stickers.
The challenges and joys of entrepreneurship
Today, Heather feels like she’s still discovering the ins and outs of being an entrepreneur. She’s still committed to her day job serving the population of immigrants in Calgary, and she squeezes creating, designing, and learning how to run a business in her limited free time. She’s had to learn everything about running a business from scratch. “As a one-person operation, you don’t know how to do everything right off the bat,” she said. “You have to learn how to do everything as you go.”
But for Heather, it’s a welcome challenge, and the scarcity of time doesn’t deter her from experiencing the many joys owning your own business can bring. “My biggest achievement is that I sell anything at all,” she said. “As an artist, you can deal with a lot of imposter syndrome. The fact that it’s successful at all is still a surprise to me.” She credits much of her success to the support from her customers. She’s taken their feedback into account throughout her journey, and she’ll often create new products based on requests from her supporters.
This care and attention to her supporters does not go unnoticed, and it’s not uncommon for patrons to send notes when they purchase cards describing what it means to them. “They’ll say it’s their first card for someone who’s trans, either their child or their partner,” she said. “The labor of love is for moments like that.”
Giving support back to the communities that support her is as important to Heather as the work itself. “Ultimately I want to make people feel like they’re seen, heard, celebrated, and loved,” she said. To help do this, she donates 1% of every purchase to a rotating list of non-profits supporting LGBTQ+ individuals and Black women. She also recently partnered with the Gender Phluid Collective in San Diego—a group that provides resources and support for the LGBTQ+ and BIPOC populations in the city—to sell her pins as part of a fundraiser for the organization. “I want to lift up voices in my community using the platform I have,” she said.
Heather would like to see other companies and larger corporations follow this same path—and not just during Pride Month. “We don’t disappear after Pride ends,” she said. “Corporations need to support us year-round.” That support can come in many different forms, the simplest of which is purchasing unique products from smaller independent makers who are part of diverse communities.
Support from larger corporations also means looking inward. “Big corporations need to legitimately assess their organizations,” Heather said. “They need to do a deep dive into discrimination and inclusivity work within their organization, and that includes hiring individuals who are part of the community to do that work.”
Beyond the celebration
Support for LGBTQ+ individuals and businesses can also look like going beyond just the celebrations and remembering the importance and origins of Pride month. “We have to remember why it started in the first place,” Heather said. “It started as a riot.”
Heather emphasizes the importance of continuing to fight for LGBTQ+ rights and reflecting on those who fought for those rights before us. She also sees this as a time to acknowledge and emphasize the many issues that still affect the movement for equality today.
“It’s not just a celebration of our lives,” she said. “I see things like the recent legislation around trans rights in the U.S. and remember that we need to stand up against the discrimination in our societies. If there’s a member of our community that doesn’t have access to the same human rights we do, none of us are liberated. We should recognize the things we still need to do and think about what kind of world we’re building for our next generation.”
Advising hopeful business owners
When it comes to those hoping to dive into an entrepreneurial endeavor, Heather’s advice is simple—just start. “You’ll learn what you need to know along the way,” she said. She also advises to remember that nothing will be perfect the first time, and it’s okay to grow slowly. “I made $165 my first year,” she says. “I think I had nine products. It’s not an overnight process.”
Entrepreneurship, Heather says, can be a particularly good avenue for members of the LGBTQ+ community. “As someone who’s part of a marginalized group, I see it as an incredible opportunity. We see limited opportunity for growth in the corporate sphere, so being an entrepreneur gives us the opportunity to create and grow on our own.”
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