By Tom Reardon, August 2020 issue.
One of the first things you notice when going to Only Human’s website (onlyhumanco.com) is the tangible impact the organization has had on the global community. This isn’t just some slick marketing, either, to help you feel good about buying some clothing or accessories from one of the coolest companies currently operating out of Phoenix, Arizona. These folks walk the walk and talk the talk when it comes to working to create a better world and why shouldn’t a better world have some killer clothes?
What started as a passion project for Bree Pear in 2015, Only Human is a formidable player in the positive social change movement that is not-so-quietly beginning to take hold in more forward-thinking brains. Pear’s business partner and best friend, Crissy Saint-Massey, jumped into the fray after seeing that Pear’s enthusiasm and charge ahead attitude needed the balance she could provide by being the slightly more practical part of this dynamic duo.
Since 2017, when Only Human quickly sold out its first batch of apparel, these two lesbian moms with a background in marketing have grown a business that everyone can not only shop at, but also, if so inclined, be a part of, as well. This company is more than just a place to grab a cool, socially conscious t-shirt. Only Human is a company that strives to tell the true story of human beings everywhere and Pear and Saint-Massey do a remarkable job of welcoming everyone’s voice.
Speaking with them over the phone, it was quickly apparent that they also share a truly inspiring friendship as they occasionally finish each other’s sentences and clearly find each other entertaining. We discussed the origins of Only Human and how the company impacts the community, as well as Pear and Saint-Massey’s thoughts on the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding the 1964 Civil Rights Act covering protection against LGBTQ discrimination.
How did you two meet?
Bree: We met because of the LGBTQ+ community. We were at a party one time, and Crissy and I met ... and when we met, I was like, “Okay, I’m never letting you go. You’re my best friend forever now,” and that’s been true for the last seven years. Crissy and I also worked together for a year and a half or so at a marketing agency in downtown Phoenix.
After that shut down, she and I went in-house with different companies and were still friends but became wildly unhappy in the career path we were in and when I took that leap of quitting my job and I’m doing this thing because of the two of us, I’m like, “the wild, never know what I’m going to do, keep you on your toes” friend and Crissy is like the, “Have you thought 20 steps ahead yet? What is your fail safe? What is plan B, C, and D? Do you have enough money for this? Does it make sense?” (Crissy laughs)
And I didn’t know any of that, and I remember Crissy being terrified when I sat in their kitchen of their house, and was like, “Guys, I’m going to sell all my stuff and Mika (her dog) and I are just going to travel around, living off of the kindness of strangers and go to events. I’m going to design some apparel, and I think it’s going to do well, but I don’t know for sure, but I’m going to spend all the rest of the money I have on it.”
Wow. That’s how Only Human got started? You were all in!
Bree: Yeah, and when we became unhappy in our career path, I went down this kind of journey, which honestly, Crissy and I weren’t super close through, because I think I just had to go on my own and do this thing where I became more minimal about things. I tried to disconnect myself from what I knew I was leaning into too much, like consumerism, and I just started focusing on physical health and what I was eating.
Honestly, my life just took this 180 degree turn and it changed my mentality completely. At that time, I had these skills that I was kind of hiding from the world. I knew I could design stuff. I could create things, I was savvy enough with technology to build websites and manage marketing and run social media, so I was just going to do that alone for a while on my couch.
I started the (Only Human) website in September of 2015, and we didn’t even monetize until (late spring) of 2017. I kind of had this pivotal moment where I met a bunch of these Instagram friends that I had made in this new lifestyle I had cultivated, and when we all met up, I realized Only Human wasn’t just about my journey of struggling through some hard stuff and coming out on the other side. (I realized) everyone had that story.
That’s when I sat down with Crissy and I was like, “Look, I’m going all in. I’m quitting my job tomorrow and I’m doing it.” I was terrified. I think I spent like $800 on the first round of clothing that I purchased, which ended up selling out in days, like so quickly. I shipped all the first orders from my little apartment, and then took off.
I traveled around for about eight months in my Subaru. I had one of those tents on the top and I went to Pride festivals and met up with so many people. At that point, there was a decent social media following, 10,000 people, and it just kind of catapulted everything. It became everyone’s story and now it’s just grown into this ethics community that is there to support one another.
We’ve seen marriages and friendships, and everything come out of this community and now the volunteerism and the philanthropy, which was at the root of what Crissy and I really aimed to do. Now it’s just, “How can we do more good in the world?” We want to come together to create that change and we found out a way to make these skills we had is marketers work to build a platform that others could do that with.
Are you still traveling around a lot and going to Pride festivals? Well, before and hopefully after the coronavirus?
Bree: Crissy and I became parents at the same time, and it was right at the start of Only Human. Not only did we have this new baby of a company, we had children ourselves. I became a bonus parent to two — we have a seven and a 10-year-old. Crissy had a child who is now two, and that kind of kept us from the constant travel like I had been doing, but we still travel.
Crissy: Last year we went to 40+ events, this year, obviously COVID-19 has changed some things up for that lifestyle, but we were set to travel to 80+ events this year.
Bree: We’re doing tons of virtual Pride events and we are focusing on how we can bring in other people’s voices to host workshops to talk about mental health and just further build that community even in this time of being shut in and feeling isolated, even.
That’s amazing. So, if I’m hearing you correctly, the goal is for only human to continue to grow and grow.
Bree: Our ultimate goal is, we call it a platform for good, and there’s multiple different ways under that platform that we see that happening. Both with our advocate community who helped grow volunteer events in different cities all over the U.S., who get early access to any of our campaigns, they give us their honest feedback on a lot of things and that’s where we see that connection happening. It might be at protests or rallies or figuring out how we use our voice on the political front.
That’s where these (Supreme Court) rulings and the voting that’s happened recently has really been a huge success for us. We’ve been on those front lines; we’ve been those people really fighting for human rights and equity across the board.
Crissy: We also have an impact model that, essentially, is the same journey that Bree and I have gone through in our own personal life, but it’s how do you focus on providing free resources on mental health, physical health, LGBTQ stuff for individuals so they can become empowered themselves. Then, how do you prepare community where those individuals can link on with others and feel like they belong, right? That sense of belonging.
And then collectively, how can we use our voices, our time, our hands to give back and do good in the world. And then how can we bring that full circle and share that with others and inspire them to then embark on that same journey of evolution and giving back. What ultimately comes out of it is social change and a better world for all humans.
Bree: That’s what we revolve around because it starts with self, moves to community, you add that give back, community angle, and then share that story, and that’s really what we focus on doing within that platform.
What were your initial thoughts when you heard about the Supreme Court’s ruling on June 15th regarding LGBTQ protection from discrimination?
Bree: For me, it was just as important as the decision (President) Obama signed when we made marriage equal. It was just celebration and we needed it in the midst of where we are. Between the coronavirus keeping us all together, and then honestly, this awakening that we’re feeling with racial injustice, we needed a win, and it came at a good time, and I think those people who are out there fighting for their lives and for human equity and equality that this decision was needed. It was almost like that breath of fresh air in the midst of some really hard stuff.
Crissy: Yeah, I would say that the first feeling that hit me was relief, if that makes sense, because I remember interviewing for some of my first jobs as a teen or in my early 20s, I would always try to weave in organically in an interview something about my wife or to kind of just check the room or get the pulse and read how I was going to be responded to because I was always fearful that I was going to get a job somewhere and feel unaccepted.
This thought, that so many humans who identify as LGBTQ+, I’m sure have felt this overwhelmingly in their daily life. This idea that you have to think about showing up each day at work where you spend so much time helping (your employer’s) progress and all of that, and to know that you’re not accepted for who you are and to have to fit in on your identity and kind of choke, honestly, on not being able to be authentically you in your work place, that Is heavy and it’s unfair.
For me, it was a huge sigh of relief followed by the celebratory, just happiness that came from it.
View the extended interview at phoenix.outvoices.us/only-human-2020
Bree: I remember an occasion when I was 20 or 21, for almost a year in a job, I changed every pronoun in my stories, I felt so heavily like I was going to be fired if I came out. I was terrified. I couldn’t share my life. I couldn’t share this huge part of who I was and just to have to do that is, I can’t even imagine all the people that go through it, and then the layers of just injustice that can be done based on race and ethnicity, and it’s just ... (pauses) This is a step in the right direction for sure.