I’ve had many conversations as a result of these wristbands, and I stand by my belief that without discourse, human beings will remain divided. If you disagree with the BLM movement or Campaign Zero and would like to have a conversation, feel free to email me. This project continues to educate me, and if there are any organizations out there, that wish to partner, or would like to take this operation over entirely, please email me. Please note that I’ve included all the prices in this post for transparency and I wrote it in 2018 (it’s now 2021 and the # of wristbands purchase and distributed have tripled each year since then). I have also connected with a trusted friend who is taking over the wristband and sticker production here on forward. They have a non-profit and can do more with them than I ever could. Thank you to them!
In 2016, after a trip to New Orleans and a conversation with a man named Don Edwards. I wanted a Black Lives Matter wristband. It’s different from attending a protest or echoing on social media. To me, the wristband provided a way in which I could present my stance daily. Without diving into the politics of this statement, I wear a BLM wristband because black lives matter to me.
I searched the conventional channels for acquiring a wristband, eBay, Amazon, Etsy. I even found them on Aliexpress, direct from China for $1 shipped. I didn’t keep looking for wristbands because I couldn’t find them. I kept seeking because I was looking to purchase from an official organization or a black owned business. Around every turn, all I could see were businesses trying to capitalize on what was “trending” at the moment. The same company on Amazon sells Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, Donald Trump hats, Pride rainbow flags, and on and on. I understand that there are “promotional” companies out there that are trying to make a living, but that doesn’t feel right, and I will not support them.
At the time, one BLM wristband was priced somewhere between $1-4. I looked into online wristband printers and found that you could get 200 custom made for $56. ( that’s $0.28 per band). I figured I would get one wristband for myself and see if anyone else would want one, if not, then I’d have a lifetime supply! I purchased from a manufacturer in Texas. ( Federal prosecutors would later bust a number of these USA wristband companies for price fixing: link).
I received my 200 bands, put mine on, and went out to see if anyone else wanted one. A good number of people in my community did. With about 100 remaining, I asked a local coffee shop owner if I could leave the rest in her shop. She gladly accepted.
In less than 3 days all of the wristbands were gone. It was clear that 200 bands were not enough.
With extra cash from a VJ gig, my next order was 1000 wristbands. (@ $180 or $0.18/pc). I handed a few hundred wristbands over to the coffee shop owner and went to another coffee shop, and then another, and then a community center. I was out of wristbands within the week. The other locations would be out within the month, and next thing I knew, I used my Xmas money to buy 2100 wristbands ($357, $0.17/pc). They were all gone in 3 months.
I needed to keep costs low, but the Texas supplier I ordered from kept increasing their prices. They went from $0.17 to $0.30 per wristband when I wanted to order 3,000. It made little sense, and I found another USA supplier ( 3100 wristbands for $423.90 ($~0.14/ band)). I wasn’t happy with the quality of, and couldn’t afford to go back to the old supplier.
It took a few months to get rid of 3100 wristbands, and by then I had two coffee shops pledging support for the next order. I started the Etsy store to undercut the other hypocritical BLM wristbands, get them out there for those who wanted them and offset the costs of giving them out for free locally.
Simple logic, if you buy one, I send you two and you’ve paid for someone else’s. A hundred orders from Etsy helped offset the costs (a little), but I’d add extra wristbands with every order, so by a year’s end the Etsy “store” would lose money (on purpose!). The prices were so low and there were plenty of times I’d only ask the person to cover shipping costs. They’d go to weddings, schools, and church groups, youth organizations, and so on.
The USA manufactures were piling on more “fees” to their quotes. And to be honest, I’m not sure any of these wristbands were made in the USA. Especially after receiving multiple bags of wristbands with Chinese characters on them. With about $350 in donations and ~$100 from Etsy orders, I set out to place an order for 10,000 wristbands direct from the source, China! I won’t go into all the midnight-3am conversations about wristbands, sizes, and options, but what made it easy were the quotes they gave me. 10,000 wristbands ( Adult & Youth sizes) for $836 (~$0.08/pc) half the price of any USA “manufactures” and delivered in 1/4th the time. My friend Alexander Cromer updated the font design, I placed the order. They arrived as expected and better quality than Texas… Not to mention, the bags had the same stickers on them as another “USA” wristband manufacturer. That’s right! The USA manufactures were middleperson-ing these operations — and as we’d all find out illegally price fixing to boot. (someone went to jail).
I know this has been a lot to read, but I am writing it down because I want to be as open about my process as possible. It took much deliberation before I opened up the Etsy store, but I couldn’t afford to continue printing and paying for them on my own. I spoke with a lot of BPOC before doing so and their words were encouraging.
Not including the time spent mailing, communicating with manufacturers and buyers, cost of labels, tape, packaging materials, and the chunk the USA government takes for taxes. Etsy only accounts for 434 orders over the last 2 years, but with its support and that of one other donor, I could distribute over ~26,000 BLM wristbands and only come out of pocket $~43. Most of which were given away free locally. The wristbands are now listed on Etsy two for 0.20 because Etsy won’t let me go any lower. (They take $0.20 to re-list the item and 5% transaction fee on the sale, including shipping). Making money is not the point of listing these on Etsy.
Coming up to the two-year mark of when this all started, I continue to distribute BLM wristbands and learn from doing so. Ideally, I like to hand this process off to a non-profit group that could take it a step further. I have other projects and techniques that I am developing to “start conversations.” I will document them as I can in the future.
A few takeaways I’ve learned from distributing these.
People’s attention spans are short. I would see weeks go by where the rate of restocking coffee shops and Etsy orders would grind to a halt. Then another person would be shot, and it’d spark back up for a little while before ramping down again. The issue doesn’t go away because the media cameras do.
Familiarize yourself with Campaign Zero.
It’s a 10-point plan for ending police violence in America that benefits police departments and all people who live within the United States.
Hard conversations matter… Sometimes my stomach twists inside and out, but this is important. I’ve spoken with people from all walks of life, including police officers; and it only makes it more clear that more conversations need to happen.
There are shades of grey to every issue. Nothing is black or white, and if we force it so, then we’ll never change, only divide. But if we can communicate, work together, and push for accountability and reform, then our society will become better.