Throughout the pandemic, the entire Workhaus team has continued to support Canadian owned small businesses by shining a much needed spotlight on them when they need it most. We’ve written about how many have had to pivoted, adapted, and done all they can to survive as we all wait to make it to the other side.
With June being Pride Month, we continue this commitment by turning our attention towards LGBTQ2SIA+ small businesses. Facing hurtles to success pre-pandemic, COVID-19 only exasperated things for LGBTQ2IA+ small businesses with more support needed. But, as we know, there’s nothing like the support of a strong community willing to do whatever it takes to make things happen.
With attitude in mind, we’re so happy to present our discussion with Jack Shinton and Sica Saccone, the founders of Flamingo Market. Originally founded as Toronto’s only independent bi-monthly market for LGBTQ2SIA+ artists, makers, businesses and non-profits, Flamingo Market provides a safe and welcoming space for queer vendors to be true to their identity and connect with potential customers without feeling merely tolerated for who they are. Now online, Flamingo Market hosts vendors from around the world and is accessible every day of the year.
Like many business owners (and the entire Workhaus team), Jack and Sica felt a strong connection and responsibility to their community and were willing to do whatever it took to ensure their community remained thriving during the pandemic. Our conversation with Jack and Sica was absolutely inspiring and educational. Enjoy!
Workhaus: So tell us about the Flamingo Market including how you got started. How many vendors are currently part of the Market?
Jack: Well, I was working a lot of events and markets around town and I had wanted to create a space that would be welcoming to all LGBTQ2SIA+ vendors. Sica was already an organizer of a popular party series in Toronto called Lavender so she was known to the community. We sat down together and put our heads together on what would give vendors an opportunity to flourish as themselves and where their identity would be celebrated.
Sica: Yeah, through his event work, Jack also knew a lot of people in the community so that helped when it came time to pull things together. We launched the market in February 2019 and everything grew quickly from there!
Jack: (laughs) Yeah, things took off! Before launching Flamingo Market, there were monthly or weekly pride markets but they certainly weren’t enough for vendors to make a living off of them. But now, Flamingo Market is online with vendors from around the world and open 24/7 and 365 days a year! We have about 300 vendors currently including service providers, entertainers, non-profits, makers, and artists.
Workhaus: How did the Flamingo Market adapt when the pandemic began?
Jack: Well, there was a lot that had to happen. A lot of our vendors still relied on physical markets (i.e. pride, Etsy, etc.) as their main source of revenue – it was how they paid some of their bills! When they stopped running with the pandemic, a lot of vendors were knocked off their feet. In fact, I don’t even know if people are back on their feet now. So we felt we had to take Flamingo Market fully online to give vendors a source of income. All of April and May 2020 were spent building the website and online marketplace complete with dashboards for each vendor. I had pretty much zero web design experience so I had one window open building the website and another Googling how to do things (laughs).
Sica: As soon as we were able to launch, we made sure we had plenty of space for those who wanted to take part and just go for it. When money is tight, it’s not time to keep an opportunity away from people. But, we had plenty of vendors who had never done online sales before so that’s intimidating when there’s a lot of code and then suddenly you need to run a whole store, supply product pictures, captions, and all that.
Jack: That’s why I made detailed PDFs full of instructions on how to do everything. I also set up a Calendly where vendors could book 15 minute calls with me for direct support. We wanted to make things as easy and accessible as possible when everyone had already gone through so much.
Workhaus: We follow your Instagram (@flamingomarket.ca) and we noticed that you really foster a positive community through events. Can you tell us more about those?
Sica: Flamingo Market is more than just a market – it really is a community. We do a lot of workshops through GladDay TV (GDTV) which the community gets to attend/watch for free. These workshops can be anything from painting, how to do tie dye, to weaving. We try and do these monthly.
Jack: It’s really cute at the end of the workshops to see everyone holding up their projects, collaborating, and catching up with each other. It’s how you build a good community and it helps reinforce the values of Flamingo Market and all we do.
Workhaus: Why do you think it’s more difficult for LGBTQ2SIA+ vendors to be discovered?
Jack: It’s complicated. There’s a lot of nerves about coming out as a business. The owner may be out in their public life but many worry that if they publicly express that they’re out as a business owner it will alienate their customer base and people won’t support what they do. We have a lot of business owners who reach out and explain that they aren’t necessarily out as a business but I am personally and wonder if they can be a vendor on Flamingo Market. We always say of course they can!
Sica: Plus, outside of the month of June, the word “queer” still isn’t viewed in a positive light in a lot of places. Some still consider it not right for their children or consider products made by a queer individual to be inappropriate for their physical markets and feel the need to sensor them. Plus, if you’re visibility queer or trans, it’s hard to participate in physical markets to begin with as you never know how you’ll be received by event organizers, other vendors, and attendees. This is especially true in certain parts of Ontario and Canada where our vendors have said they’d never go because it’s just not worth the embarrassment or harassment. But with our Market, nothing has to be censored and people are your peers so you can sell knowing you and whatever you’re selling will be welcomed and accepted.
Jack: You also have the trolls who feel the need to attack small businesses for being who they are and true to their identity. It means many avoid social media because they feel they’ll be attacked but it’s still a huge advertising tool and means of doing business. It’s just not right when many are still coming to terms with who they are and coming out as a business.
Workhaus: If you could give one piece of advice to an entrepreneur in the LGBTQ2SIA+ community, what would it be?
Sica: Get on Flamingo Market of course! (laughs). But seriously, I think the best advice I can give is just do it. There’s always someone who’s not happy with what you’re doing but there’s a whole community that can and will support you. We’ve got your back!
Jack: Absolutely. You can’t make everyone happy but you can make yourself happy. By doing so, you get to show other queer people that you’re a business owner, you’re out, and you’re successful which has a massive domino effect.
Sica: We have three retail spaces now that vendors can have their products in. At the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of vendors didn’t have anywhere to permanently sell their products. Plus, three of our vendors got to design this year’s official Pride Toronto t-shirt and that’s pretty cool. So, yeah. Just do it and make your dreams come true!
Workhaus: Who are some of your favourite vendors and on Flamingo Market right now?
Sica: Oh my god, the amount of stuff we’ve purchased from our vendors is actually nuts. Like, we absolutely love our vendors and what they do. We just want to support them however we can. But, if I had to choose, one that comes to mind is Frizz Kid who’s also known as Hana Shafi. I had two tattoos from her in the past but then she came on board and designed the cover for the Flamingo Market zine. She was one of the designers of one of this year’s official Pride Toronto t-shirts and she has two books out with an audiobook coming soon.
Jack: One that comes to mind immediately is Creamery X. They sell frozen custard and vegan ice cream and it’s the best ice cream that we’ve ever had and I’m not just saying that! We say that to other people and then they try it and fall in love! They got started in September 2020 – like at the height of the pandemic – and by the end of December 2020, they were selling out as soon as they had a new batch available. They also secured a spot at Glad Day with a small freezer complete with their own logo on it. They now have a storefront near Queen St E and Jarvis Street in downtown Toronto. But, before Creamery X, the owners had regular jobs and lost them because of the pandemic. So they’re a good example of things working out.
Workhaus: Thank you so much for agreeing to chat with us. Your positive attitude and willingness to help your community inspires us and we can’t wait to see what you do next! We’ll be watching!
Jack & Sica: Thank you so much!