Pathways to Equity at East Fork




In 2018, we worked with a facilitator and commissioned our staff to help define our company’s core values. They are:

 

Compassion, Accountability, Equity, Sincerity, and Adaptive Tenacity 

 

Naming equity as a core value for our company required us to take corrective actions for missteps that had already been made and to craft a new framework with intention.

 

We acknowledge that the realities of white supremacy, hetero/cis-normativity, and patriarchy, work in tandem to oppress both people and planet. Through proximity to power, we have benefitted from systemic inequity, but we will not allow stumbles to discourage us from continuing to confront and rectify our privilege. As we continue to build momentum within our anti-racist work we pledge to be intentional in crafting actions that support equity, diversity, and inclusion in our framework.

 

As a business we have the potential to synchronize the efforts of all our employees, customers, and investors towards a collective pursuit of our future liberation. Utilizing our most readily available platform we advocate for those who follow our brand to examine the economic structure that affects all aspects of our lives. We commit to struggling with the conflicts inherent to what we do, openly and transparently, with the hopes that by doing so the solutions can have a ripple effect far beyond our company’s boundaries.

 

We are committed to building an equitable workplace—a space where people can show up authentically in mind, body, and spirit. We honor the collective sum rather than a monolithic experience to reveal a path of excellency, yours and ours. Our dedication to achieving greater inclusivity is not a goal related to merit or morale, it is our guiding ethos.

 

Below we have outlined how anti-racism work manifests in our workplace, as well as identified emergent strategies and opportunities for growth.

 

Hiring Practices & Workplace Policies

The East Fork factory, office, fulfillment center, and flagship store are located in Asheville, North Carolina. While there is a perception of Asheville as a happy-go-lucky, progressive, “hippy” town, the city has a long-standing legacy and history of racist housing restrictions dating back to the early 1900’s, before doubling down in the middle of the century with some of the most aggressive redlining in the country. The forms of institutional racism have only continued to manifest in Asheville to current day: de facto segregation, along with some of the worst racial disparities and inequities in our education system, policing, and other sectors have only widened the gap between people of color in Asheville—especially for Black people.

 

For all its good intentions, systemic racism in Asheville continues to marginalize and disenfranchise the Black community, and perpetuate the erasure of the Black people who were born and raised here. Furthermore, Asheville has become an undesirable location for BlPOC professionals to relocate as dominant culture shifts lack the ability to welcome those who are unable to fit the paradigm. Usher in the less than competitive wages offered from many businesses in Asheville and the lack affordable housing and we continually lose those community gems to larger surrounding cities such as Atlanta and Charlotte.


In their 2001 work, “Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups,” Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun name “a sense of urgency” as a characteristic of white supremacist culture within white institutions. From early 2017 to late 2018, East Fork experienced 3x growth in manufacturing capacity and revenue and expanded from 10 to 48 team members. Insufficiently anticipating hiring needs in that growth period led us to revert to that “sense of urgency” often ingrained in many of us to recruit from a small, homogenous hiring pool—mostly leaning on our preexisting networks of calling in friends of existing employees and posting to our social media platforms, where most followers were white.

 

In an effort to overcorrect and make our workplace look more diverse, we rushed into recruiting from an organization that provides job and life skills training to people from marginalized communities who previously have had difficulty finding and sustaining employment. This process of integrating our staff brought to light the need to commit to and center equity and inclusion work. For us to truly build a company culture that allowed all team members to show up authentically, we would need to acknowledge and account for the differences in lived experience, proximity to power, and privilege between us; while holding accountability and space for the lessons learned and knowledge gained.

 

Strategies for more equitable hiring include:

 

• Budgeting more time and space into the recruiting process

 

• Posting all job listings internally to promote career advancement and provide growth opportunities within the company

 

• Prioritize hiring locally in the Asheville community to provide growth and career opportunities for life-long Asheville residents and combat gentrification

 

• Listing jobs through the Office of Career Services in historically Black, Southern colleges with a special interest in those in North Carolina and Georgia.

 

• Building authentic relationships with Black and NBPOC leaders and professionals in Asheville

 

• Networking in local professional meetup groups that value diversity, equity, and inclusion.

 

• Listing salaries and wages on all publicly posted job listings to avoid wage negotiations

 

• Working in partnership with Phillip Cooper to recruit and retain justice-involved community members transitioning from incarceration.*

 

* We work to interrupt the cycle of poverty by hiring people who had previously experienced barriers to employment, specifically those who have been incarcerated. We are committed to inviting justice-involved members of our community to find fulfilling, sustainable, well-paying employment. We take our role as a second-chance employer seriously and are realistic about the challenges and rewards that come with that commitment. We prioritize education around personal finance, as we know that personal financial security contributes directly to self-actualization. One of our core measures of business success is how well we steward each other to personal success.

 

Workplace Policies

East Fork writes workplace and job policies that take into consideration the inevitable socio-economic imbalances that exist in our workforce. We do what we can to write policies that center and support the health and wellness of our team members. Our workplace policies have been reviewed by our DEI coach to ensure that they provide an effective framework upon which to build a safe and equitable workplace, where all employees feel valued, respected, and heard.

 

Examples include:

 

• 4 weeks of Paid Medical Leave


• 16 hours of Parental School Leave

 

• Up to 5 paid days of Bereavement Leave for family members or affinity whose close association is the equivalent of a family relationship, miscarriage or loss of a pet.

 

• Inclement Weather Policy

 

• Flexible Holiday pay that decouples our company holidays from the national holiday calendar.

 

Consulting

The executive team works with Desiree Adaway at the Adaway Group for business coaching through a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion lens.

 


Third-Party Investigations

When accusations of workplace misconduct arise and/or tensions between employees erupt, we seek outside, third-party counsel in the claim’s investigation and hire an impartial party to mediate and facilitate resolution. This includes mediation services from certified peer support counselors such as Michael Hayes and Philip Cooper, consultation with our coach and DEI specialist, Desiree Adaway, and legal oversight and advice from an Employment and Labor Law specialist, Angelique Vincent-Hamatcher of Robinson Bradshaw.

 

Community Partnerships

Green Opportunities: East Fork works with Green Opportunities to provide well-paying jobs with benefits to people who have previously experienced barriers to maintaining long-term employment.


UpSkill: East Fork works with Upskill to provide well-paying jobs with benefits to people who have previously been involved in justice.

 

Soliciting Employee Feedback

We take employee feedback seriously and encourage a feedback culture year-round. We create both structured and informal opportunities for team members to have their voices heard.

 

1:1’s with team leaders and Director of Culture & People

 

30-60-90 Day Culture Check-Ins

 

30-60-90 Manager Check-Ins

 

Annual Development Reviews

 

6-Month Check-Ins

 

Annual Employee Surveys

 

Open-Door Feedback Policy

 

CEO Open Office Hours

 

Staff-wide Trainings

Staff-wide trainings provide team members with a shared framework of understanding and language that can be used to more effectively communicate with each other around issues of equity, personal boundaries, cultural differences, and more. Below are examples of trainings we have offered to staff:

 

Tepeyac Consulting: In early 2019, we solicited the services of Marisol Jimenez at Tepeyac Consulting to onboard the team to a shared language around social justice. Together we explored how inequality is perpetuated in our own company and co-created a list of what we wanted to keep doing, what we wanted to start doing, and what we wanted to stop doing in service of equity in our workplace and community. You can see a report prepared by Marisol here. This workshop and follow-up support served as a jumping point from which our efforts began to take clearer shape.

 

Our Voice: In fall of 2019, Our Voice provided an anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training and policy review. Together we created a framework for all new hires to receive training quarterly moving forward and all employees to receive refreshers on both anti-harassment / anti-discrimination trainings and bystander training annually.

 

Whiteness at Work: This summer, 10 members of East Fork’s leadership team, across all departments, are taking The Adaway Group’s “Whiteness at Work” summer series.

 

Fundraising

East Fork engages in year-round fundraising for regional, secular*, justice-minded organizations working day in and day out to contribute to a more joyful and just Western North Carolina. As East Fork is not yet profitable (working toward it!), we’ve developed creative ways to raise funds while not putting untenable pressure on our production team.


Fundraising has taken many forms, including raffling off one-of-a-kind pieces or experiences, the sale of event tickets, or direct donation of portions of proceeds. We’re proud to provide our community with accessible ways to redistribute wealth to good work being done in our town. While our growth deepens and complicates our complicity within an economy so in need of reimagining, it also allows us to put more money in the hands of educators, leaders, and organizers for justice.

 

From January 2019 to 2020 we have raised:

 

Colorful Pages Coalition: $5,670

 

Colorful Pages Coalition works with educators, families, and librarians to help them select and use literature written by authors of color about characters of color for their elementary-aged children and students. They support educators in developing their awareness to call out and act on the internalized, interpersonal, and structural biases and injustices in their own classrooms and schools.

 

Light a Path: $3,400

 

Light a Path brings mind-body healing and resiliency practices like yoga, meditation, acupuncture, and massage to vulnerable and marginalized residents of Western North Carolina.

 

Word on the Street: $2,000

 

Word on the Street is an online literary publication showcasing and celebrating the literary work of young, emerging writers of color.

 

Homeward Bound: $16,235

 

Homeward Bound works to end homelessness in the Asheville area by placing people in permanent homes and providing wrap-around support services—helping find our neighbors safe, dignified places to live, heal, and grow.

 

Vecinos: $15,025

 

Vecinos is a free clinic providing mental and physical healthcare services to uninsured and underinsured patients working in the Latinx agricultural community.

 

Pisgah Legal Services: $15,000

 

Pisgah Legal Services provides free civil legal aid for people in our community below the poverty line facing eviction, domestic abuse, custody battles, and immigration disputes.

 

AVL City Schools Foundation: $11,415

 

Asheville City Schools Foundation provides equitable opportunities for all children in our public school system, which is essential for breaking the cycle of poverty and sustaining our democracy. These funds went directly towards an emergency assistance fund for social workers to draw from when the families they serve are faced with a crisis that requires immediate financial aid—everything from paying rent, buying groceries, and paying for medical bills.

 

Haywood St. Congregation: $20,860

 

While it is company policy to donate only to secular efforts, we choose to work with Haywood Street Congregation because of the profound impact of their justice-driven ministry to feed Asheville community members facing addiction, mental illness, and homelessness.

 

Sistas Caring 4 Sistas: $36,765

 

Sistas Caring 4 Sistas is a doula program working to fight the disparities that women of color face when giving birth by providing free support to high-risk and low-income expectant mothers and advocating for the quality and success of their medical care.

 

Campaign for Southern Equality: $14,700

 

Campaign For Southern Equality works across the South to promote full LGBTQ equality—both legal and lived. Every year, we run an annual fundraiser to celebrate the Supreme Court ruling on June 26, 2015 that same-sex couples are legally guaranteed the right to marry by making our coveted Equality Mugs—as a gesture of gratitude for queer people’s history-long contributions to art, culture, imagination, and new visions for society.

 


Events

East Fork hosts events in our community that amplify the voices of POC, especially queer and gender-nonconforming POC. We are diligent in offering fair pay to speakers and contributors and, whenever possible, offer a sliding scale ticking model that allows us to extend discounted or free tickets to community members with less disposable income.

 

Examples of past programming include:

 

An evening of Poetry with Danez Smith

 

In the Spring of 2019, we welcomed acclaimed Black, queer poet, Danez Smith, to our Asheville factory for a poetry reading, dinner, and important discussion on gender identities.

 

Filipinx feast from Chef Silver Cousler

 

Our friend and Filipinx chef, Silver Cousler, hosted a Boodle Fight-style dinner at Buxton Hall Barbecue. The sold out event raised funds for The Campaign for Southern Equality and their work to create inclusive communities for LGBTQ+ Southerners.

 

Sharing Southern Stories Panel at The Wing

 

In an effort to bring together Southern thought leaders, storytellers, artists, and activists, we hosted a panel discussion at The Wing in December of 2019 to talk about grappling with and celebrating Southern identity, and the importance of sharing Southern stories.

 

A community craft fair benefitting SisterSong

 

In July of 2019, we hosted a fundraising event in support of SisterSong—an Atlanta-based organization focusing on the reproductive justice of people of color. Local artists, makers, and East Fork team members donated items for sale and auction to contribute to the cause.

 


Storytelling

Storytelling is a conduit for change in a way that connects people and contextualizes the “other” experience. We believe that when words are presented thoughtfully, enthusiastically, and wholeheartedly they matter. At East Fork, we use our platform to tell the story of our company, our team members, our work, and our town, authentically. In order to do this in the most organic fashion, we lend space on our platforms for other storytellers to share their narratives as well. Our voice is our brand and we use it intentionally. It is our responsibility to use our privilege, in every capacity, to advocate for our mission statement and educate our audience.

 

A few examples of what that looks like...

 

"The City of Asheville was an early adopter of racist housing restrictions in the early 1900s before doubling down in the middle of the century with some of the most aggressive redlining in the country. In this decade, the majority of Asheville's black community has been displaced from the city center...." Keep Reading

 

"For the long term healing of our broken nation, it is absolutely imperative that all of us—no matter how *woke* we all believe ourselves to be—identify how we are complicit in feeding and perpetuating an unjust society. Just as many of us pay for business coaches or external operating systems, consider adding professional Racial Equity Training as a line item for your 2020 budget..." Keep Reading

 

"While we're proud of the company we're building, we're also acutely aware of the myriad privileges implicit in selling a luxury good to mostly white customers. And being based in a small, fairly homogenous mountain city, our employees are also mostly white. We have a long way to go toward our goal of running an equitable, diverse workplace where people of all races, genders, religions, and socio-economic background feel invited to participate. Today and all days, we're grateful to Martin Luther King and activists of color everywhere working to dismantle the shackles of systemic oppression, and to conscientious allies, and to listening, listening, listening, then acting." Keep Reading

 

"Black History Month extends an important invitation for us to acknowledge the enduring marginalization and systemic violence inflicted on Black Americans. Facing that head-on, with eyes wide open, is an essential step toward racial justice and social wellness. But just as important, we think, is acknowledging, showcasing, studying, and purchasing work made by Black and African American Artists..." Keep Reading

 

"The City of Asheville was an early adopter of racist housing restrictions in the early 1900s before doubling down in the middle of the century with some of the most aggressive redlining in the country. In this decade, the majority of Asheville's black community has been displaced from the city center...." Keep Reading

 

"For the long term healing of our broken nation, it is absolutely imperative that all of us—no matter how *woke* we all believe ourselves to be—identify how we are complicit in feeding and perpetuating an unjust society. Just as many of us pay for business coaches or external operating systems, consider adding professional Racial Equity Training as a line item for your 2020 budget..." Keep Reading

 

"While we're proud of the company we're building, we're also acutely aware of the myriad privileges implicit in selling a luxury good to mostly white customers. And being based in a small, fairly homogenous mountain city, our employees are also mostly white. We have a long way to go toward our goal of running an equitable, diverse workplace where people of all races, genders, religions, and socio-economic background feel invited to participate. Today and all days, we're grateful to Martin Luther King and activists of color everywhere working to dismantle the shackles of systemic oppression, and to conscientious allies, and to listening, listening, listening, then acting." Keep Reading

 

"Black History Month extends an important invitation for us to acknowledge the enduring marginalization and systemic violence inflicted on Black Americans. Facing that head-on, with eyes wide open, is an essential step toward racial justice and social wellness. But just as important, we think, is acknowledging, showcasing, studying, and purchasing work made by Black and African American Artists..." Keep Reading

 


Representation

Our pottery is expensive because it costs a lot of money to make it. Our pottery is not for “everyone” in that many—or most—do not have the disposable income to spend on non-essential dinnerware. While income levels will continue to be a barrier that prevents many from making purchases with our company, race, ethnicity, age, and body type, should not. In making marketing materials, we invite our employees, friends, and neighbors to model our products. The line between tokenism and representation is a fine one to walk, but we believe it is worth the risk to increase visibility for faces historically left out of advertising. Cheesefest for a second—there are so many ways to be human, and beauty is everywhere.

 


Emerging Strategies

When you set out to build a garden you must make a plan, nourish the soil, plant the seeds, water, nurture—and still, no matter how vigilant you are, there will be weeds to pull. We want to be clear that we are not blameless and that we are still actively working to build an equitable workplace. Every day provides an opportunity for reflection, action, and growth. This work is iterative, and it is lifelong. Part of doing this work has been acknowledging and accepting that things take time and that time and money are limited. Below are a few strategies we’ve been developing this year that are still in the planning phase.


Most BIPOC and non-Black POC at East Fork are currently employed in entry-level positions; while we believe wholeheartedly that we can create jobs that are personally and professionally fulfilling on the factory floor, we look forward to being able to make available more director and manager-level positions as our company grows, as well as continuing to create clear pathways to leadership within the company for entry-level employees.


We recognize the connection between environmental and racial justice. Beginning in 2020, we will be charging ourselves a carbon tax. We are currently working with soil scientists and carbon sequestration experts to develop an initiative that reinvests our carbon tax into land trusts that secure property for Black farmers and fund regenerative implementation on Black-owned farms. We are in early development stages of this initiative—more to come!


As a not-yet-profitable company, we’re thinking of ways we can make available our non-monetary resources to support a more equitable economy. We are working towards getting our factory-kitchen fully certified by the health department so that we can offer it as a community resource for POC-owned food businesses to utilize during non-office hours.


In efforts to create a pipeline to employment and leadership for young people in the community, East Fork will look to partner with mentorship programs such as City of Asheville Youth Leadership Academy to bring opportunities for growth and learning to middle and high schoolers.


As our company grows, so too does our capacity to fundraise at a meaningful scale. We will need to develop needs assessment tools, more thoroughly vet community partners, and calendar fundraising events with non-profit partners farther in advance to allow partners to account for our fundraisers in their yearly financial planning. Setting ambitious yearly fundraising goals will help keep us on track.