All That Glitters: queer adornment and ethical small business with Brettley Mason

Recently I interviewed friend and die-hard babe Brettley Mason, founder of Teal Pansy Jewelry.

Teal Pansy features powerful, hand-made, body positive jewlery. This new queer small business is just beginning to bloom and already I see many of my friends & community members dawning these gorgeous pieces.

In this interview Brettley and I talk about magic, queer-empowerment, small business ethics and their commitment to using their business to support indigenous solidarity. I could not recommend supporting this business enough and in reading this interview I’m sure you’ll understand why. You can peruse the gorgeous wares of Teal Pansy on their Etsy.

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Stunning Amazonite Pendant from Teal Pansy Jewelry

What relationship do you see between making jewelry and queer empowerment? Do you see adornment as a liberatory act?

I think queers have always used adornment to express ourselves and, in queer-hating cultures like Western culture, we’ve used it to resist a society that wants to make us small or wants to make us disappear. Whether this was the spike heels and red lipstick and ties and blazers of the 1950s that I read about in Stone Butch Blues, or the stories I’ve listened to about Two Spirit people in Wet’suwet’en culture and how they lived outside of gender norms – this has always been a part of us.

When I mix styles traditionally associated with masculinity or femininity, like wearing a “masculine” cut dress shirt and a beautiful necklace – I feel lots of things – sometimes scared or internalized shame about being different, and I almost always feel strong – like I’ve lived one more day in this world and I’ve resisted the pressure to conform. For me, expressing my gender through jewelry and clothing feels subversive, and I know that is because I live in a culture that dishes out a lot of effort and hatred to make it so this doesn’t happen.

When I get dressed, I sometimes think about how I’m putting on symbols that given me strength and physically show the differences that are in my heart – that are probably in all our hearts if we were able to show those parts of ourselves to the world. I also want to acknowledge that there are many of us whose genders are under cover because of the hatred we might experience in our day-to-day.

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Wyatt Riot wearing a Luminous Rose Quartz Triangle Pendant

Do you see making jewelry as a magical or witchy practice? What spiritual intention to do you weave through your work?

I love Starhawk’s definition of magic: “the ability to change consciousness at will.” I think we have the power to change how we think about things – through experiences, knowledge, connecting with people and the earth. For me, gem stones, metals, and shapes connect me to the earth and herstory. They raise memories and ways of thinking.

When I need reminders to love myself in a world that tells me to hate myself, or when I’m feeling intense amounts of guilt due to being a part of the colonization of Turtle Island, I wear rose quartz to remind myself of the need for self love. Guilt is paralyzing and it doesn’t help or make anything better for anyone – I can honour the sadness about the state of the world that is what the guilt is based on, and not get stuck in it.

To me, crystals are reminders of many things – of how amazing and beautiful the earth is, of love, and femme resistance (loving ourselves and adornment despite living in a culture that tells us not to). This connection with the Earth I think is so important – it seems like in nature, everything is possible. For animals other than humans, there is no gender binary.

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Aurora Borealis Quartz Necklace from Teal Pansy Jewelry

I first discovered my own need to connect with nature in this way when I was at the Healing Walk in Northern Alberta in 2013. An elder was talking about traditional spirituality, and made mention to how it exists in every culture, and he urged settlers to explore their own Earth-based spiritual roots and not take his spirituality. This made me want to explore my own roots and how my ancestors connected to the land, which launched me on a journey of going to Aurora Borealis Witch Camp in 2014, doing personal rituals and getting outside more, talking to my remaining grandparents about my ancestry, doing weeks of volunteer work with Indigenous communities resisting colonialism, even doing a free-trial period on ancestry.ca – among other things.

This led me to more peace – knowing where I come from – and also more questions about what these spiritualities were like. For example, Catholicism in France wiped out most records of earlier Earth-based spiritualities. I think of my jewelry as one way to have a physical reminder of our connection to the Earth, which can be a constant presence to help people through the hard times – and add a little sparkle to the good times.

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Teal Pansy Jewelry founder, Brettley Mason, wearing a Quartz and Gold Pendant

Your work aims to support indigenous solidarity and land-based struggle. Why and to where are you dedicating proceeds? Do you have an standard of ethics for where you source your stones from?

Thanks for asking about this! I want to be transparent about it and am also seeking ideas about how to do this better. I invite anyone reading this who is in a similar boat of trying to work in solidarity with Indigenous communities resisting colonialism to get in touch if you wanna talk about how we can do this better or support one another. I get discouraged by businesses saying they support environmental or humanitarian groups, but when you look into it, they donate 0.1% to a not-super-effective environmental NGO.

I donate 13% of everything split evenly to the Unist’ot’en camp, the late Wolverine’s garden on Secwepemc territory, and Ulluisc (formerly “A Voice for the Voiceless”). This means that if I sell $100 worth of jewelry, $13 goes to these groups. I want to be clear too that I think no business is ever going to change the world or be the revolution or anything remotely like that. What I want to do is be able to personally support Indigenous communities resisting colonialism and start the process of decolonization in my own life.

I know that my ancestors and myself have benefited hugely from the colonization of this land, and I want to start making reparations for this in a bigger way. I know I have made excuses of reasons why I couldn’t do this to this extent in the past – not having a high income, or sending money to support my mom when I have any extra, but I have realized that this isn’t enough. If I have a low income, my contributions will be smaller, but they will be something. And I’m finding ways to send my mom money too.

I have chosen to support these specific resistance projects for a few reasons. I started supporting the late Wolverine’s garden in 2014 when my friend asked me to help do a social media fundraiser for the farm where we raised (with many, many other people working on this) approximately $20,000 to buy a new tractor and other farm infrastructure. She had been to the farm, and had been doing solidarity work there for a number of years. From there, I went to the farm a couple times to help with harvesting, and with other work. I saw the difference we were making – and how there was no admin overhead or fundraising costs because it was going directly to the farm’s infrastructure and expenses. To learn more, check out the Calgary Solidarity with Nourish the Nation Facebook or the Nourish the Nation website.

glitter5harvesting potatoes at the garden on Secwepemc Territory

I learned about Unist’ot’en through my work with Wolverine, because much of the food from the garden goes to Unist’ot’en. I went to Unist’ot’en for a month in the summer of 2016 to work on building projects and help in the kitchen. I fundraised to bring a carload of food up with me, and organized to get the Good Life Community Bicycle Shop in Calgary, AB on Treaty 7 lands to donate bike parts so I could fix the bikes there. I saw the need for donations there, to help them continue fighting the pipelines – work they have so been successful in, because there has yet to be a pipeline in Northern BC. Go here to learn more and if you are interested in supporting through volunteer work or monetary donations, check out the supporter website.

While I was at Unist’ot’en, I learned about Ulluisc, and there was a request for supporters to go there. I went for some time in August 2016 to help on projects, and learned about what the people there were doing. It’s hard to get information on Ulluisc because they live traditionally in every sense of the word – including not using facebook, social media or much traditional media to talk about the work they do. They share what they are doing through story, and I felt privileged to hear so many stories around their fire about traditional living, and resisting mining and forestry.

I feel connected to this work because the territories being protected are on lands close to where I have lived my whole life and because in all these circumstances, support was invited.

glitter6Unist’ot’en spokesperson Freda Huson and a supporter on the bridge at the Wedzin Kwa Checkpoint

I am still figuring out the most ethical ways to source stones. One way I do ethical sourcing is by staying away from precious stones – like diamonds and emeralds for example – because these are the stones that wars are fought for and around which major human rights abuses are occurring. I stick to semi-precious stones. I’m also pretty committed to keeping my jewelry relatively low cost and financially accessible, which is another reason I use semi-precious stones.

One way I ethically source jewelry materials is by collecting them and processing them myself. For my sea glass and sea pottery, I collect this sustainably in Lekwungen and Coast Salish Territories (otherwise known as West Coast British Columbia, Canada). This removes human made debris from the beach. I process it using low-environmental impact methods, and then make the jewelry myself. For these pieces, I am the orchestrator at every step – other than smelting the metal findings I use. I like doing every part of the process and would like to do this for other pieces as well. I’d also like to get some tools in future to be able to work stone myself.

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Recovered Message Earrings, ethically harvested sea pottery from Teal Pansy Jewelry

You and I have talked a lot about queer small business. What makes you excited about creating and supporting queer small business? How do you think customers and other makers can support each other to keep our valuable work alive?

If I am going to purchase a gift for someone or get something for myself, I would always rather support a person making things or a small business. Corporations in capitalism are legal entities with many rights but almost no responsibilities. If a corporation destroys an area or makes a river no longer safe to drink from, no people are ever held responsible for that – they can hide behind the legal entity of the corporation

I think with buying things directly from people, there is greater accountability. You can ask questions. If something breaks, they will usually fix it or replace it. The small businesses I support usually have politics behind them outside of their structure – such as ethical sourcing, not using heavy chemicals in the processing or creation of the items, reparations, they wouldn’t poison a river in the first place, etc.

One way I’m supporting other small queer businesses is through cross promotion – I regularly promote my friends’ work and the work of shops that I think are bringing something good into the world. Inviting friends to like a Facebook page, tagging someone in a photo, or writing a review might seem small – but it actually helps a lot. For really small businesses like Teal Pansy Jewelry, word of mouth, community and social media shares are how I have gotten all of my support.

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Elle Peters, Co-owner of Fat Fancy Clothing Boutique, Brettley Mason and Wyatt Riot

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