October 2, 2020
We are an ecommerce and retail business selling products that we make. And we’ve just quit social media for good. This is our story.
“Most of us need to be reminded that we are good, that we are lovable, that we belong. If we knew just how powerfully our thoughts, words, and actions affected the hearts of those around us, we'd reach out and join hands again and again. Our relationships have the potential to be a sacred refuge, a place of healing and awakening. With each person we meet, we can learn to look behind the mask and see the one who longs to love and be loved.”
— Tara Brach
In 2008 when I started Betsy & Iya, I knew, simply, that I needed to live an honest creative life, and that deeply connecting to others was important to me in every aspect of my life, including work. I didn’t know much about business (how to start one, build one, or grow one...yep, ha!), or social media (instagram didn’t even exist at the time), or blogs, or even making jewelry. But I knew that when I decided to make a go of it as an entrepreneur, I would stop at nothing to make it roar and soar– at every stage of its life.
In the beginning, stopping at nothing meant: saying yes to every single street fair, craft fair, church fair, convention, trade show, house show, mom show. I delivered fliers to every small boutique in Portland inviting them to my grand opening party which took place in my 125 sq ft studio. Once Will, my husband and business partner, joined the business, we took multiple road trips across the country with our puppy, schlepping the jewelry in a bag, meeting with any small shop owner who would take an appointment with us. We went on to open a brick & mortar store in 2011 from which we’d eventually see upwards of 75% of our revenue. That’s right; 75% of revenue derived not from the great promise of online, algorithms, influencers, and virality, but from a simple, millennia-old shopping experience happening in real time.
In-person connections are at the heart of our business. Belonging is at the heart of our business. It’s what we care about most. It’s why we started and how we grew. In 2019 we conducted interviews with a selection of B&I customers and you know what we discovered? Most of them first learned of us through some kind of person-to-person interaction, whether with a friend, an acquaintance, a stranger, or with us. Connections, y’all, real connections are what have fueled this little business. It warms our hearts endlessly imagining these real life encounters where stories of the jewelry’s journey accompany the rich experiences of those who wear them. It’s overwhelming to conceive that all these little bits of metal I dream up and our team creates here in Portland are out there in the world, accumulating stories and amplifying confidence and beauty, and the soft ripples of positivity this boost may have on not just the wearer, but on us all… These real life encounters start in our retail shop, and it’s why we say hello warmly to every person who walks in our door and why we’ve cried and laughed with customers we’ve known and grown close to over years and years. These connections are stronger than any form of digital marketing we’ve ever done. And these connections mean way more to us than dollars. That is reflected in every big decision we’ve ever made with this business, including this one– whether or not to quit social media forever.
“Our attitude in the face of life's challenges determines our suffering or our freedom.”
— Tara Brach
When the pandemic hit, like many others, our world came crashing down. Our business shifted forever during those first few weeks and here we are still riding that wave. We refused to let that seemingly never ending tsunami pummel us, toss us around like trash, forever rolling over itself, churning and spinning in great, tangled masses out at sea. (Sounds so super dramatic. It was. It is.) We clawed and climbed to the crest for air (buoyed, certainly, by our love for this business, the emotional support of friends, family and each other, a certain tolerance for sleep deprivation, the relationships we’ve cultivated over years with our customers and staff, a lack of any meaningful safety net, a bit of luck, and yes, our white (and other) privileges) and realized it’s where we had to stay, but without tension. We let go without answers and just rode that thing into every sunset since. During that time, Will and I had many heart-to-hearts about ourselves, our lives, our business, our staff. As painful as it was at times, we went back years and years to search for answers on how we’d gotten where we were in hopes that we might take this unfortunate opportunity to learn from our failings, find the ground again, and plan for a future we want ourselves and others to be a part of.
Ultimately, what we’d realize is that somewhere along the way we lost faith in ourselves as leaders. At some point, the story we told ourselves (thank you, Brené Brown) is that we weren’t good managers, we couldn’t lead the company the way it needed to be led. And with that we’d make decisions that we thought were elevating the business, but instead they became self-fulfilling prophecies down the wrong path. We became ineffective leaders because we believed we were ineffective leaders. Whoa.
As devastating as the pandemic and everything in its wake has been, we’ve been given space to find ourselves again, dig down to our roots, and prune back to what matters most–those earlier convictions… truth, creativity, respect, hope, action, passion, authenticity and real genuine connection, these are the things that we believe are blooming again.
Sonya Renee Taylor recently wrote “We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.”
We want to be a part of this stitching.
In June 2020, equipped with re-blossoming confidence in our ability to lead, and fighting to stay above water as a small business, we decided we had to focus every ounce of our energy on the things that were working for us lest we lose it all. Social media was not one of those things.
For years, social media had been a fight – a fight against the algorithm to actually stay connected to people who’d chosen to follow us. A fight for our time, which was increasingly being spent on caption writing and photo editing and strategy sessions and marketing consultants and on and on and on. A fight to be who we set out to be. The truth is our content was only reaching a very very small percentage of our community. No matter what we tried we couldn’t crack it. We found ourselves spending uncomfortable amounts of time comparing ourselves to others, worrying about our look, likes, followers, shares, etc. This caused stress, lost time, lost money, lost connections, and even loneliness–essentially, the opposite of why we started with social media to begin with – a fun, new technology that was supposed to help us share with and connect to more people with greater ease.
While this story was playing out for the business, in our personal lives, we felt less and less excited by the implied promise of social media and our actual experience of it. We found ourselves tapping the social icons on our phones out of habit. We found that the more time we spent on social media platforms, the worse we felt. We felt riled up, angry, anxious, even sad and depleted. We felt almost no desire to share our own experiences/thoughts/photos as we did back in the early days of social media and had an increasingly hard time engaging online with those we admired and loved. Our focus and spirit were fragmented by a product we didn’t even really like using.
And the time that went to that did not go to other things. The time that went to that did not go to other things. That time is gone. Time is finite and we have a choice on how to spend it.
While this story was playing out in our personal lives, we were reading and watching things which worried us about the impact of social media on our society at large: skyrocketing depression and suicide rates, foreign interference in our elections, algorithms designed with only one main goal: to keep eyes on screens by concocting an addictive and toxic blend of all our freely given content so the platform can continue to profit from the sale of ads and influence, not just at a cost of dollars, but increasingly at a cost of our humanity, too.
But when we paused social in June 2020, we weren’t thinking of all of this. We were thinking how can we focus on what’s working in order to save our business, the jobs we provide, the relationships we’ve built with our community and customers? What we found was that when we paused, we got back a lot more than business stability. We got back our focus; we got back our inspiration; it seems almost crazy to say, but we got back a piece of our humanity we’d kind of forgotten about. In 3 months of zero posts: Sales didn’t go away. Connections didn’t go away. Our business didn’t go away. Our spirits didn’t go away. Our hope didn’t go away.
Turns out, it started coming back. Like the skies and waters that cleaned themselves when the pandemic forced us all to just. stop. moving. for a few weeks, as we stopped pouring time and energy into social media platforms, our natural states clarified and began to reveal themselves to us again.
We focused on the work we’re great at; the work we’ve dedicated ourselves to; the work we love doing. In those three months of no social posts, we designed and made over 60 meaningful custom jewelry projects for incredible customers with beautiful stories to tell; we mentored; we donated; we created a whole new cozy outdoor shopping experience that we’ll maintain throughout the pandemic for your safety and ours; we started dreaming up and planning our buyback program – Recast; we dug deep down to make sure we are creating a place truly worth working for, raised our company wage floor to $18/hour, transitioned to 4-day work weeks for all, and implemented paid mindfulness breaks; we invested in our makers and trained the whole team on stone setting, casting, and more; we designed new collections of jewelry; we launched Brilliant Cuts, our profiles of people we admire who lift us up… all of this and so much more.
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
So in September 2020, when we stopped for a moment and looked back on all of this: what we had, what we left behind, what we gained… the new path forward was obvious. We could no longer participate in platforms which took so much from us and gave back so little in return, and not just for ourselves, not just for our business, but also for our customers, our society, and the world we want to leave behind.
Simply: We don’t want to participate in systems and businesses which repackage our time, creativity, and humanity into societal division, depression, addiction, growth and creation of shareholder value at any cost, and vast dollars of profit in fewer and fewer pockets. And we don’t have to because our time is our own. Our way forward is our path to clear.
Do we believe that social media is all bad? No. Do we think you’re bad for using social platforms? Absolutely not–you are a brilliant, shining star. We know our way forward will not be the right way forward for everyone. We’ve loved social media communities we’ve been a part of, especially in the earlier days, and will cherish those moments, connections, conversations. While we love, for instance, what the platforms have done to raise awareness about important issues like #metoo and #BlackLivesMatter, we don’t love the algorithms’ imperative to convert our neurological responses to these movements and messages into input signals for the algorithm, which then creates a steady feedback loop of calibrated content that polarizes, siloes, snuffs out dialogue, moderation, and consensus building, maligns truth, and manipulates our most primitive human instincts and reflexes (our deep desire to love and be loved, to protect those we love from harm, fight/flight/freeze, negativity & perceived threat biases) to create compulsive behaviors that keep our eyes on these apps. We need connection and unification more than ever before. So while we don’t think social media is all bad, we believe the companies and app developers can do a lot better. We aren’t waiting around for it, though.
Since our founding in 2008, we’ve always believed that by being honest, by working hard, by being ourselves and being real, by fostering genuine and meaningful connections that maybe we could create a viable business, spread some love and positivity, and maybe just maybe do some good for the world. We might have stumbled, lost our way here and there (okay, okay, throw in a few faceplants, too), but we’ve carried that energy throughout everything we’ve done at Betsy & Iya and we won’t ever stop. Now more than ever, that is our promise. And with that promise we will say goodbye to social media for good.
We deeply believe we all belong to one another, and that finding our way back to that might start changing the world. Thank you so much for being a part of our community. We can’t wait to continue growing with you.
With love and hope,
Betsy and Will
Some (of many) resources we found helpful: this sobering documentary recently out on Netflix called The Social Dilemma, or this inspiring talk on why you should quit social media by Cal Newport, or (if you’re a business) this encouraging email on why businesses are quitting social media. This book by Dr. Vivek Murthy. Basically anything by Tara Brach or Brené Brown.