Mississippi Entrepreneur Offers Gifts With ‘A Common Thread of Love’
Ask CeCe Garrett why her craft shop, SewNerdyGifts, carries a selection of Pride items geared toward the LGBTQ community and allies, she is quick and unflinching in her answer.
“It’s important that my brand reflects my life and what’s in my soul. Your brand is the soul of your business. I’ve always had LGBTQ items in the shop, and I’ve always been an activist.”
A crafter and creator, Cece and her husband Larry, a minister with a nondenominational LGBTQ-affirming congregation, started their business journey in Ohio. Larry attended seminary in the city of Delaware, eventually becoming ordained as a Methodist preacher, then was transferred to Dayton. Simultaneously, CeCe launched her shop; she explains that upon the move to Dayton, she and Larry were disheartened by how anti-LGBTQ they found the area’s Methodist community, and saw up close how many LGBTQ people were hurt by the rejection and cruelty they found.
Originally hailing from Texas, both had felt for some time that they wanted to move back South and try to change things from within the religious community. In order to do so, Larry decided to leave the Methodist church and all job security, retirement benefits, income, and housing. The couple and their family relocated to Mississippi, unfortunately home to one of the most anti-LGBTQ state laws in the country. However, CeCe explains that there was a method to their move.
“We wanted to go to a place where we knew there were going to be a lot of LGBTQ people who might be in crisis, or experiencing hate, discrimination, and harassment,” she said. “One of our particular focuses was on LGBTQ youth. There is still a lot of homophobia here, and instances of kids being thrown out of their homes. My husband and I opened an affirming Methodist ministry as a way to give people a safe space to be themselves, and somewhere they could go for the love and support they might not find otherwise.”
It was this imperative that led CeCe to continue adding pride and LGBTQ-supportive items to her shop, which has been online since 2014 with the tagline: “Uncommon Gifts With a Common Thread of Love.” While she is not LGBTQ herself, she advocates a personal philosophy of inclusion and acceptance.
“If we look at life in general and in business, it all encompasses us being human. Ignorance and hate ‘keeps our room dark.’ If you know the truth, that everyone should be loved and deserves love and joy, you realize you have the ability to spread the message, and you also have a higher duty to recognize and embrace those who have been excluded by others. Love is the ultimate law.”
CeCe’s success has allowed her to hire some additional help, many of whom areLGBTQ; her pieces have been picked up by media outlets including Buzzfeed and HGTV, and later this year she hopes to expand her shop’s online presence. While she is proud of the work she produces, CeCe knows that occasionally, someone will take issue with her pieces, and she’s gotten some negative feedback from those who are hostile toward the LGBTQ community.
“We get some hate mail about some of the items we sell, but those are so easily wiped away when we get a thank you note from lesbian moms who got one of our items at their baby shower and think it’s beautiful. My choices may not be considered financially safe, but safe is no way to live if it’s cutting whole swaths of people out of the equation. We’re all connected with a common thread, and it’s time to celebrate it.”
SewNerdyGifts makes products for everyone that are inclusionary across all walks of life. CeCe says one of the most touching and memorable moments she has of her business involved a young, differently abled girl who needed a last minute Halloween costume.
“We made a mermaid tail for a little girl who uses a wheelchair.. Her father is one of those dads that is super inventive with Halloween costumes, but he broke his arm three weeks before Halloween. I got a message from her mother asking if we could do something, and we were able to put together the tail for her. I got the sweetest message from the mother afterward with a picture of her in her costume. The fact that we made her look magical and like a mermaid, and that she felt magical and beautiful…that was the most incredible feeling.”
Small businesses across the country overwhelmingly support nondiscrimination. In a 2017 survey by the Small Business Majority, 65% of business believe that businesses should not be able to turn away customers by claiming a religious exemption; furthermore, 68% believe there should be a federal law banning discrimination against LGBTQ people in public accommodations, including restaurants, hospitals, and hotels. CeCe is included among these majorities and is determined to make sure that customers she interacts with receive her respect, and the highest quality of work.
“As a Christian business owner, I am aware that having pro-LGBTQ items in my shop limits me and might have people questioning my faith, but love is the law…it’s how I live personally and how I live as a businessperson and entrepreneur,” she said. “We cause so much damage by not loving someone for who they are. Until people with more common sense are in charge, we’re going to have to keep fighting. I hope that when the future generations take charge, we’ll all be able to breathe and show that we were on the right side of history, that we had to keep pushing through and showing the world that love Is love. There is no price point for that.”
CeCe Garrett operates SewNerdyGifts, an Etsy shop. Visit her store here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/sewnerdygifts