If you can’t leave the house, these women will bring their services to you. Check out four woman-owned, Austin-based subscription boxes for some quarantine-approved activities.
By Landry Allred, Photos courtesy of respective companies
We live in a world where almost everything is conveniently attainable by the click of a button. You can have tea, new reads, a miniature garden and even advocacy delivered to your doorstep. Austin Woman talked to the owners of four Austin-based, woman-owned subscription-box services about building community digitally and through the mail during a pandemic.
A decade after embarking on a tea tour of Asia, Staci Brinkman launched Sips By, a monthly subscription service that delivers personalized tea boxes to your doorstep. Traveling through Japan and China witnessing formal tea ceremonies left Brinkman in awe of tea culture. Upon returning home, she perused the internet for the tea she fell in love with but was unable to find affordable and accessible options.
For seven years, Brinkman kept an Excel spreadsheet, logging the ingredients, locations and categories of the teas she wanted to try. She also compiled a list of 100 potential brand partners and started contacting them.
“Seeing more of the culture behind tea really [fueled] my passion,” Brinkman says. “Tea and Eastern culture have this appeal and [by] making tea fun, personalized and affordable for people, we’re helping them connect to the wellness and culture aspect of tea.”
From shipping 100,000 boxes out of Brinkman’s living room for its first delivery to now having commercial warehouse space and partnering with more than 150 tea brands globally, Sips By has increasingly grown over the past three years.
During this journey, Brinkman has realized the power tea has to connect people, whether in person or virtually. During the coronavirus pandemic, she’s been hosting virtual tea parties and other Sips By members are having tea dates together with identical tea boxes.
“Even if you can’t physically be in the same place, you can drink the same tea over a video chat and it’s like you’re able to get together and share a cup of tea,” Brinkman says. “It’s about getting together and connecting.”
Meredith Speer loves books. When she was younger, her parents grounded her from reading after they discovered forbidding television wasn’t an effective means of discipline. To her current customers, she’s known as the “book fairy godmother.”
After leaving her floral-design business, Speer launched Foxed with her sister in 2019. The subscription service curates used books based on customer preference and delivers monthly or quarterly.
“So much of our world is online and digital, and I love that,” Speer says. “But there is something so powerful about holding a tangible book, a handwritten note and receiving mail.”
A handwritten letter is included in each delivery, making the reader feel more connected to the company. Through this personalized approach, Speer has built relationships with her customers through their shared love for reading. Upon sourcing new books, she immediately thinks of specific customers and their preferences.
“That’s cool to have these bookish relationships with people I’ve never met,” Speer says. “I don’t know anything else about their life, but I know what they like to read.”
The Foxed team also fills the gap in the market to serve readers who read quickly and are interested in different book genres. With the option to have monthly or quarterly deliveries, customers can pace themselves while also experimenting with different genres. Speer’s ultimate goal is to share the joy of reading and make her customers feel known.
“In a world that can feel transactional and not personal, there’s something special about what we’re doing,” Speer says. “We’re taking you, as an individual, and finding books specific to your tastes. The mission is to share the joy of reading with our customers. And if you’re a reader, you know that makes a difference.”
For thousands of years, humans had a more harmonious relationship with the earth, growing food rather than relying on convenience and efficiency as we do today. But neglecting the necessary connection between humans and nature leaves a hole in the human experience.
Gardenio aims to change that by offering a subscription service delivering edible plants every three months. The plants are based on the user’s location, setup and the time of year.
“We’re trying to connect people back to where food comes from,” Gardenio’s Co-founder Chelsea Shaw says. “We’ve moved away from that. My closest relative [who] grew food is my granddad.”
Roman Gonzalez launched the company in 2017 when he realized growing your own food is more difficult than expected. Plant advice on the internet rarely takes into account the impact of a gardener’s geographical location and climate. He wanted a plant service that considered specifics. After Gonzalez worked alone for two years, Shaw joined in 2019 and later evolved into a co-founder.
With this service, the user never has to wonder when to feed their plant: Gardenio sends plant meals when needed and in the amount they need. It also offers an accompanying app to give contextual advice based on where the user lives (“It’s freezing. Bring it inside!”) and the team is currently working on creating a community to share your process and building tools to help solve plant-specific problems.
“We see a pretty big movement going back to our roots as humans,” Shaw says. “Building a daily practice of gardening is akin, in my mind, to building a daily practice of meditation, yoga or whatever feeds your soul. We just want to connect that to as many people possible.”
After realizing other people were not as invested in politics as she was, Martha Pincoffs created a service that encourages people to engage in social issues: Waking Giants.
Waking Giants, founded in 2019 by Pincoffs and Sera Bonds, is a quarterly subscription service that delivers tools and resources to help people dip their toes into the political world and find common ground by tackling one social-justice issue at a time.
“When I spent time with family members [who] are Republicans, we were able to connect when we focused first on our relationships and when we went one issue at a time,” Pincoffs says. “When you distill it to that one thing, while we may have a different approach of getting there, the things that keep us up at night are the same. People want their families healthy and their loved ones to have what they need. We are not that different.”
The first resource delivered is the primer, which dives into the historical context of an issue. Following the primer, users receive a toolkit, which contains both tangible things to do to engage, like a postcard or prayer candle, or resources to dig deeper.
Waking Giants aims to pull in those disengaged from politics and busy with everyday life, so they understand that government policies impact our lives every day. So far, it’s curated kits to discuss immigration, gun control and civics during COVID-19.
“The more people we can pull into the process and pay attention to voting, the census, local elections, then it will have an exponential effect on our voices when they come together,” Pincoffs says. “I don’t care if they agree or not. I just want participation. In fact, it’s important we remember we can hold disagreement and love for a person in the same jar.”