Glitter, hearts and Pinterest: HelloXOXO gets crafty with women's empowerment, but is the group's approach more Betty Draper than Betty Friedan?
It's the last week of February, and at the meticulously shabby-chic headquarters of HelloXOXO in Midtown, Jessica Pollock, blond hair tucked tidily behind her ears, demonstrates the process of applying a heart stencil to the front of a blank canvas tote bag.
Four women have shown up on this unseasonably warm evening for “Tote Bag Glitz”—the first class since the fledgling organization held its official launch party earlier in the month. As the attendees begin to mix red and white paint, Pollock comments on one of the unfortunate byproducts of crafting: “I come home from this place covered in glitter,” she says, laughing. “I joke with my husband that I was at the strip club.”
Though the turnout this evening isn’t as strong as co-founders Pollock, 37, and Caroline Winata, 35, expected, the room still hums with excitement. As the attendees decorate bags by dipping a pencil eraser in paint and stamping dots into the shape of a heart, one woman discusses her upcoming nuptials, another compliments the bride-to-be’s craft blog. A bubbly mother of two, donning a blue-and-white striped dress and a matching bow, expresses gratitude for having a reason to ditch her mommy clothes and dress up, “because [I’m] going to be hanging out with a bunch of cute women,” as she puts it.
This kind of communal chatter is very much the idea behind HelloXOXO, described by the founders as a “modern-day knitting circle.” The space itself is intended to serve as a “nest” where women of all ages can meet other women and participate in classes covering topics as sundry as makeup techniques, running an Etsy business and coping with divorce.
Currently in the process of filing for 501(c)(3) status, the concept has grown up quickly since its inception last summer—much quicker than expected by Pollock, a mother of four and former owner of a wedding-invitation company, and Winata, a well-established wedding photographer who moved from Indonesia to San Francisco for art school and relocated to Sacramento four years ago. The two founders can’t seem to express often enough how thoroughly their expectations have been exceeded in terms of public response, and indeed, the turnout for their launch party on a recent Sunday evening was impressive, both in terms of crowd size and production; the party featured a full open bar, passed appetizers of chicken tandoori and samosas, and a lavish pink-hued spread of sweets.
At one point in the night, a roster of 16 bloggers was introduced—14 of whom sought out the opportunity unsolicited—in addition to the group board members, among them Beth Hassett, executive director of Women Escaping a Violent Environment, a prominent local nonprofit.
The concept for HelloXOXO is more ambitious than one might guess just from walking by the pink-streamered storefront or perusing its website. In addition to craft classes and providing a no-guys-allowed spot to get together, Pollock and Winata are establishing partnerships with area organizations with an aim to provide resources for just about anyone with XX chromosomes—teenage girls, disenfranchised women, low-wage earners (one upcoming class will discuss thrift-store interview-outfit techniques, for example), women escaping abuse, budding entrepreneurs.
Winata, in particular, seems emphatic about providing a forum for women’s issues that have been the source of rancorous division in politics and public discussion—issues such as birth-control access, abortion, marriage and divorce, infertility—“These things that women suffer quietly on their own. They don’t have to,” she says.
When asked how they will deal with potential belief conflicts among attendees, or with the issue of underage girls coming to them with these issues without their parents’ consent, Pollock and Winata acknowledge that there is still much to be ironed out, and that they will be seeking the help of professional counselors and legal experts.
Ambitious, indeed. But is it overly so? The notion of taking on the gamut of issues all the while maintaining an aesthetic that could be interpreted as a little Stepford wife-ish seems potentially incongruous. Last year, Hannah Rosin’s bestselling book The End of Men put forth a compelling argument for women out-evolving their male counterparts in the wake of the Great Recession and their dominant role in a job economy in flux.
“In 2009, for the first time in American history, the balance of the workforce tipped toward women, who continue to occupy around half of the nation’s jobs,” Rosin wrote. “Our vast and struggling middle class, where the disparities between men and women are the greatest, is slowly turning into a matriarchy, with men increasingly absent from the workforce and from home, and women making all the decisions.”
This shift has been in the works for a long time, of course, but it’s more apparent than ever that a woman’s domain is no longer limited to meatloaf making and child rearing. Who has time to embroider place mats anymore? And for that matter, who even cares?
There are, as it turns out, plenty who still care. Last year, Pinterest, the social-networking and micro-blogging site dedicated by and large to crafts, recipes and pretty things in general, was reported to have more than 10 million users, 80 percent of whom are women; the largest portion of its users fall in the 25-34 year-old range. Pollock and Winata are both enthusiastic participators, the latter spending up to an hour every morning seeking inspiration from projects and images posted by users. The viral popularity of the social-media platform leads one to believe that the idea of the domestic goddess wasn’t so swallowed up in the smoke of burning bras after all.
But for the founders of HelloXOXO, the resurfaced image of the crafty homemaker poses no conundrum when it comes to women and their status in society.
“We want women to know that crafting can be a solid source of income and business, and that it can take [them] out of whatever social or domestic situation they’re in,” Winata says.
Do they consider themselves feminists? The answer from both is a decisive no. “It’s become so complicated. … We just want to take out the complication. We’re just women,” Pollock says.
As for Winata: “I don’t even think about it, to tell you the truth,” she says.
What they spend time thinking about instead is the enormous potential they see in HelloXOXO. The founders plan on expanding to San Francisco next and helping women set up chapters across the country. Interest has come in from as far away as New York City and Boston—women curious to know more about HelloXOXO and how they can get involved. Much of the interest has been in the entrepreneurial-education aspects of the organization, which Pollock and Winata believe has been sorely lacking in Sacramento up to this point.
Winata, who is unmarried and spends her sparing free time with her two dogs, Milou and Mayhem, very much comes across as a put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is manifestation of her personal beliefs.
“Women entrepreneurs [have been] hiding,” she says. “They’re drowned out by women on a six-year plan that want to go to bars, get a boyfriend, get a husband, have kids and move to Roseville. Which is fine, if that’s what you really want, but there’s plenty of us that don’t want that. Or not only that. There’s a new crop of women that are strong, wanting to get out there.”
A new crop of women, sure. Just don’t call them feminists.