Beautiful Intentions: A Conversation with Parker Thatch

June 15, 2020

This is a moment. Normally, a profile piece about a brand that I love would open with me talking about how I discovered the company and what caused me to connect to it. This one is different. I'm sharing this story of my introduction to Parker Thatch and its owners Irene Chen and Matthew Grenby in a bit of an inverted order. 

The past few weeks feel like they've spanned six months. The killing of George Floyd, on the heels of Ahmaud Arberry and Breonna Taylor's violent deaths, has caused a firestorm in America and abroad that has been impossible to ignore or tamp down. It has been all-consuming and infused the reality of racial inequality and inequity into virtually every facet of daily life causing us to not just pause but stop. We haven't been able to push through and get back to our normal routines, and that is where this story begins. I discovered Parker Thatch in my Pinterest feed late last year and started following them on Instagram shortly after. When the pandemic hit, I watched Irene and Marisa's daily work-from-home IG stories for a break from the monotony, and I became familiar with their collective voice. I've heard people say that you can't know someone from their social media presence; however, I felt, to some degree, like I did get to know them. And so when I came upon the company's posts a little more than a week ago about standing in solidarity with the Black community and in support of the message that Black lives matter, I left a comment asking how Parker Thatch would make a contribution to the BLM movement. But, my question alone didn't feel like enough. I wasn't there (in their comments) to agitate. Distraught about what I was seeing on the news, I was all at once feeling emboldened to ask others to not just hear but for allyship. So, I went to my computer and wrote an email asking for clarity on how they would commit. I asked them how they would come out of their comfort zone and be vulnerable for this cause. I didn't know what to expect but their response was much more than I imagined would come back. I received an email from Irene asking if we could talk by phone that afternoon. Of course, I said yes. We had a lengthy in-depth and transparent conversation about each of our personal experiences, including her own experiences with race as an Asian American, and how exactly I believed the brand could be an asset to this human rights campaign. Up until that moment, I felt as if I had been holding my breath for a week ... During our exchange, the entire weight of trying to figure out how I would go back to my relationships with people who didn't know the Black experience firsthand fell from from my shoulders. In that moment, I felt hope.

I say this feature is different because I haven't just discovered a handbag company with beautiful wares; I discovered real people making products imbued with beautiful intentions. 

Our meeting just recently was like a moment of serendipity in the middle of very heavy mood and atmosphere in the country. It happened because you were willing to be vulnerable. What caused you to reach out to me for a conversation (instead of an email)?
PT: Our talk in the middle of a very heavy week was like the optimistic feeling you get when you see a flower bloom in the middle of the desert. Your question was like a bright light and I felt compelled to have a chat instead of an email. I believe leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability is how we can learn and change.

Yours is a brand that pretty clearly understands having a real connection with its customers. How, if at all, has 2020 impacted your brand ethos and further how you cultivate your engagement (relationship with your following)? 
PT: 2020 has forced our brand to find a gear we were not aware we had. Our North Star is always just being us. We show up to every story exploring our fears, anxiety and sharing things that bring us joy. 2020 also forced us to reconsider both the how and the what of engagement. The pandemic forced us to figure out how to stay connected with our audience despite the fact we could not share physical space with our customers and colleagues (or even go into our office or retail space). Our home became our studio and Zoom allowed us to keep the conversation going. The national grief, rage, and call for social justice resulting from the police killing of George Floyd led us to "reconsider what we consider" as we engage with our audience. We are just beginning our journey in this regard. Our first steps are informed by the understanding that we must first take a pause to listen, learn, empathize, and expand beyond our comfort zone in terms of what we would otherwise consider relevant to our engagement work.

There is a feeling and aesthetic about Parker Thatch that is magnetic. I could describe what attracted me to it, but I’d love to hear what it is that’s inspires you to create the products as well as the company you’ve built?
PT: Matt (my husband and co-founder of PT) and I built this company around the concept of ease and elegance. Our design inspiration invariably comes from authentic styles from the past mixed with a twist of modernity. Matt always asks, "How do we move the conversation forward?" We believe our products should become a welcome companion that travels far with you as you find your way through the ups and downs of your day and your life.

What is your go-to source of inspiration?
PT: “Unstylized” photos of chic people, rooms, gardens, cars and places. There is something very inspiring of how people look when they are truly themselves.

As an ethnic minority woman, there are experiences of prejudice you have faced that make up your own personal story. And while the Black Lives Matter movement can on some level only be understood by the people who have endured the oppression that inspired the movement, how has entering the conversation of advocacy with me and others who support the Parker Thatch brand affected you?
PT: The last couple of weeks have been an emotional rollercoaster ride. Growing up as one of the only minority kids in my school I have suppressed years of racist experiences internally. The Black Lives Matter movement has inspired me to allow myself to be vulnerable and acknowledge my own unrecognized bias. The real work will be a lifetime of change and commitment to call out racism when we see it. At work we are committed to pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone in ways that will open us up to educating ourselves through stories, dialogue, and discoveries which in turn will allow us to more effectively do the work to realize the change we seek.

What mark would you like to leave on the world?
PT: Recent public and private happenings have emphasized the precious fragility and transience of our time here. It is our hope that, once we have left the stage, our efforts (manifest in our conversations and our creations) will continue to serve by inspiring those who come after us, as we were inspired by those who came before us.

What's Next:
Parker Thatch will make a donation to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, which supports three main things areas: voting rights, reform of the criminal justice system and equal access to education. 

The brand will also support Black Girl Ventures,  whose mission is to provide Black/Brown woman-identifying founders with access to community, education, and leadership development in order to meet business milestones that lead to economic advancement through entrepreneurship.

As well, follow PT for the launch of dedicated product to mark their support of this Movement.

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