Spider B. Perry (He/They) is no stranger to being their own boss. Freelance design, writing, and editing – he’s done it all for many years.
Now their company NerdyKeppie, co-owned by one of their partners Emet Perry, is on a mission to bring unapologetic joy to the queer community.
As a longtime Queer and Disability activist, blogger, public speaker, and author, Spider is committed to giving back and invites other merchants who plan on selling Pride merch to do the same.
The transcript of our conversation has been shortened and edited.
When You Can't Find Something, Make it Yourself
NerdyKeppie, their family-run store, came to them by chance in 2016. It all began with a kippah.
Spider converted to Judaism by choice, as did their daughter Catherine and partners Emet and Evelyn.
“I was looking for a pretty, Trans Pride kippah for my daughter, and I couldn’t find anything that I liked – it was either not very good quality, or I didn’t care for it.
So I sat down, taught myself how to knit in the round, developed a pattern, and made one for Catherine, a couple for Emet, one for myself, and started posting them on social media.”
When their creations attracted some fans, they opened an Etsy store to sell the kippahs online.
And NerdyKeppie was born.
“’Keppie’ is ‘head’ in Yiddish, and with my focus on geeky and nerdy items, it was a pretty straightforward name. Everything in here comes from our nerdy heads.” – Quote from NerdyKeppie.com.
What followed in June 2017 was, as Spider puts it, “a perfect storm.” He got laid off from their corporate job in the mortgage industry, which pushed them to find other avenues of income.
“We started looking at how we can expand the business. Jewish people comprise around 0.2% of the world’s population. So even if I wanted to do an LGBTQ-focused store, I wouldn’t be able to live on just doing queer Judaica.”
A Family-Run Business
A few months after Spider started working to build NerdyKeppie, Emet joined them full-time, and in 2021 they started hiring their first part-time employees.
Now, they’re joined by Spider’s brother Jake who leads operations, Catherine for fulfillment, and Erykah and David for customer service and website maintenance.
“My brother Jake is my right-hand man. So much would not get done if we didn’t have his talent for organizing. He and Emet gave NerdyKeppie the structure it has today.
My daughter works for us part-time, packing the orders and sharing reordering tasks with Emet. A friend of mine, Erykah, is responsible for customer service so I can actually have days off and not check our email.
And then we have our contractor David, also a family friend, who works with Jake to create descriptions and maintain the website.”
Make It Happen Today!
Showing Up For The Community
Running a small business comes with its ups and downs, but for Spider, even the lowest of lows pale in comparison to the delight it brings them to help their community grow, heal, and prosper.
“On a personal level, it’s very fulfilling to work according to the needs of my body, my disability, and provide my partner with an opportunity to do the same. We also have three employees and a contractor, and all of them are from the community.
I can live my values through this company by paying better hourly rates and giving queer people a workplace where they are entirely accepted for who they are.”
NerdyKeppie also has a customer kudos channel on their team chat. It inspires the whole team and, of course, takes them on an emotional rollercoaster with kind reviews and heartfelt messages. Like a thank you letter from parents whose child just came out and now absolutely loves the dress they bought for her first Pride.
A quick visit to NerdyKeppie will show you how much Spider and their team value representation.
“We go to local conventions and bring some of our products. We love the expressions on the faces of these kids when they come up to us, and their flag is on pins, patches, stickers, and pants – you can tell they’ve never seen themselves represented before.”
Spider, who’s a part of the generation after the Stonewall riots and grew up during the AIDS pandemic, sees this openness and acceptance as a generational gift they can give to queer children today.
“When NerdyKeppie first started, we were really, really broke. Like food-stamp broke. But it’s always been worth it because I and everyone involved can be proud of what we do, how we give back, and our presence in our community.”
Spider’s closest circle of family and friends embody diversity – he is a Trans Jewish Lesbian, one of their partners is a gay trans woman on the asexual spectrum, while the other is genderfluid and bisexual and their daughter is a trans lesbian.
“Just to represent my family fully, I’m going to try to do as many things as I possibly can to hit a broad cross-section of the community.”
That’s how NerdyKeppie expanded their product range, and over time, they saw which designs caught more attention from customers. But they never limit themselves, the community always comes first.
“We also do custom orders, for example, when someone wants a brand new flag they’ve just developed for a very small neo-identity. They can contact us, and we’ll adapt that flag in any of our patterns, creating a design they can later use to order different items.
So that has really worked out for us. In terms of both really creating loyal customers and doing good community outreach.”
Capybaras For Everyone
Their Pride 2022 collection, starring the “most chill of all mammals”– the capybara – invites everyone to celebrate Pride and chill together in the queer community. Just no jerks.
Why Capybaras? “Because Emet loves capybaras.”
“When we were brainstorming this year’s summer collection. I said ‘we need three core designs that are going to drive the Pride 2022 collection’.
Emet was like, ‘I want capybaras on something at some point’. And I thought, Capybaras spend a lot of time in the water, which is a summer thing, so why not.
I could make these cute little capybaras with flowers behind their ears or in crowns and that’s where I could put the Pride colors.”
And the Capybaras Summer Collection of 2022 came to be.
You’ll find summer must-haves – skater dresses, Hawaiian shirts, and swimsuits – with aromantic, asexual, bisexual, genderfluid, genderqueer, lesbian, pansexual, non-binary, rainbow gay, and transgender capybara designs. Their designs are perfect for celebrating Pride, even when you are not out.
“We would like for our designs to be something you can wear even in a situation where you’re not necessarily out.
For example, if a cis-gender, heterosexual boss looks at the capybara dress, they’re gonna be like, ‘Oh, what a cute dress!’, but if another trans person looks at this capybara dress with pink, white, and blue flowers on it, they might go ‘Hmm, I wonder’.”
“Queer Joy Is Powerful And Beautiful”
Spider and their team – Emet, Catherine, Erykah, Jake, and David – have built NerdyKeppie to be a space where people from all walks of life can come and rejoice without compromise.
Again, just no jerks.
“For those within the [queer] community. When they come to NerdyKeppie, I hope they feel the joy we take in our identities, in being able to live as who we are and live that truth out loud. We hope they feel the joy in our messaging – that being queer doesn’t have to be something that you have to apologize for.”
“Trans joy is powerful. Queer joy is powerful and beautiful. We deserve to wear pretty things, exist in the sunlight, and express our joy. What we invite people to do within our community is to come and see the love, experience it, and then carry it out. We hope they feel that every time they put on a pin, a dress, a shirt, or anything we’ve created.”
They invite people outside of the queer community to see the same joy and carry it in their hearts when thinking of LGBTQIA+ people.
“[We hope] they approach everything they’re told about our community with an understanding that we deserve the same amount of joy and happiness in our identity that a bride feels on her wedding day. We deserve to have that kind of joy in our identity that cishet people have in theirs.”
A Safe Space For Everyone
We’re in 2022, and NerdyKeppie is celebrating its fifth birthday. In these few years, they unexpectedly yet, fortunately, became a safe medium for queer people to meet one another.
“It’s like a little secret high five, where people see each other in public, and they’re both wearing a design of ours. A community is made from these designs because it’s something that is subtle enough.
Some of our stuff is not subtle, but a lot is so that you could wear it to any workplace, school, wherever.”
For Spider and their team, customer safety holds high importance. Sometimes they receive custom requests to create labels that don’t mention anything about the queer community, and the team always packs orders in plain packaging.
“I would love to be in a world where I could send someone a rainbow mailer and be like, ‘Here you go. Look at this beautiful queerness!’, but a lot of us just aren’t in that world where we’re safe enough for that. So we have to be very careful.”
Showing Up With the Right Intentions
Every year, Pride brings an opportunity for LGBTQIA+ businesses to give more to their community, as well as raise funds and awareness for queer rights.
Spider invites everyone, especially businesses run by cisgender, heterosexual people that want to sell a Pride collection, to take the time and consider the question, “Why do you want to do it?”.
“If your answer is ‘this is a holiday, and I want to make money from it’, stop right there. That’s just not the right attitude.
As a group, we’re very suspicious of outsiders profiting from us. Pride started as a radical space, pushing for rights and celebrating people who, at that time, were not even accepted within the queer community.
Today, we see large corporations making rainbow pens and doing Pride collaborations, but where are all of those profits going?
Is that money coming back into our community to help fight our high rates of domestic violence, homelessness, HIV, and AIDS? Because there aren’t enough resources.
When you enter this space, do it with understanding and respect. Take time to educate yourself on queer history, the generations before us, and what PRIDE stands for today.”
Planning Your Own Pride Collection?
If you’re planning on designing and selling a dedicated product line for Pride, start by finding a way to support the queer community. Spider suggests that you could approach local artists or an LGBTQIA+ center and ask if they would like to partner to launch your collection.
You can agree on a certain percentage to donate from profits. This way, you know for certain that much-needed resources will go towards strengthening your local queer community.
Their brother Jake is currently fundraising for his gender-affirmation surgery by selling t-shirts. While raising money for himself, he’s also found a way to support other LGBTQIA+ people by partnering and commissioning queer artists to create t-shirt designs.
Remember that when you pledge a donation, people will want to see proof, and rightfully so.
While Spider doesn’t speak for everyone, they share a general opinion:
“If you’re not willing to show receipts, then maybe this isn’t the right space for you. But if you are willing to do the work alongside us, then we welcome you in.”
We thank Spider B. Perry for taking the time to share their story of starting a small business, activism, and spreading love through beautiful designs.
For quality queer-wear, shop NerdyKeppie’s and the 2022 Capybara Pride collection. Help Jake fundraise for his gender-affirmation surgery by shopping his Postnomcore Collection, and give them a follow on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
To all celebrating, HAPPY PRIDE!
Make It Happen Today!
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