It’s not everyday where you get to see a company that lives and breathes their values. Since releasing their first Pride collection in 2015, Converse is proud to have donated more than $1.3 million in support of local and global LGBTQIA+ organizations, like the It Gets Better Project, with contributions supporting safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ youth, education on issues directly impacting the community, and essential resources needed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Converse’s impact is not limited to financial efforts––it permeates through the culture of their community. For the sixth annual Pride campaign, Converse tapped a multidimensional group of All Star creatives for a new product collection and campaignfor and bythe LGBTQIA+ community. The Converse Pride 2021 collection pays homage to everyone’s individual journey of finding joy and freedom in being themselves.
We sat down with some members of Converse’s PRIDE Network to talk about bringing the annual collection and campaign to life each year, living your truth, and what they wish they knew when they were younger.
Let’s start by having you introduce yourselves:
Jessica Collado-Aleman (she/her): I am a Senior Brand Creative Manager, and live in Marblehead, MA via Miami, FL.
Elspeth Lee Macmillan (she/her): I’m a Global Product Merchandiser for Footwear, and I call Portland, OR and Boston MA home.
Lindsay Degen (she/her): I am a Senior Designer for Apparel, and I’m from Cincinnati, Ohio but now I’m in Providence, RI which feels more like home to me.
Jason Gary (he/him): I’m a Global Brand Management Director and my hometown is Norwalk, CT.
Nicholas Persad (he/him): I’m a Communications Manager and my hometown is Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.
Tell us how you’ve been able to live your values and find joy in your Pride:
When I came to Converse, I loved the inclusive and “come as you are '' workplace culture, but there was certainly an opportunity to share that acceptance, support and representation externally. Spearheading and shaping Pride at Converse, both internally through the Converse Pride Network and externally through our Pride campaigns has been the most amazing intersection of my personal and professional life. The Converse Pride collection was born out of the Converse Pride Network and today the annual Converse Pride products and campaigns are driven by LGBTQIA+ employees. Being part of a team that designs products and creates campaigns for my LGBTQIA+ community to express themselves and see themselves represented brings me so much joy.
I am proud to work at a brand that stands with my community in an authentic and declarative way. Working at Converse has provided me the opportunity to help shape work that allows LGBTQIA+ youth around the world to feel like they are seen, accepted and belong. Through this work Converse supports and funds organizations that provide safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ youth globally. I think about how I would have felt seeing this representation when I was 15, and it makes me very proud and hopeful for queer youth.
From the moment I received my offer letter from Converse that clearly stated “come as you are,” I felt the joy and relief to be part of a company where I could bring my full self to work. It’s a long way from where I first started in the workplace. For over a decade I struggled to be out, from feeling a need to hide part of myself, to eventually being the only out-woman in the office (both experiences are lonely & suffocating, and not sustainable). I’m happy to report that I’ve found my queer family at Converse. I immediately joined the Converse Pride Network, a resource I never had access to in the past. From planning events with the Pride Network, to making Pride Footwear with fellow LGBTQIA+ employees, I feel a great sense of joy and gratitude to be able to celebrate our community as part of my work experience at Converse.And sure, there are the big Pride moments which are fun, but there’s also the huge relief of being able to sit at my desk and not having to hide. The joy in the everyday freedom of being myself.
After I graduated from college I moved to NYC and started my own fashion line. Growing up in Ohio, and my parents being scientists, I didn’t know anyone in the industry, so I made a point to meet a zillion wonderful people. One person I met was a fashion designer named Todd Thomas who was a seasoned industry professional. Todd took a liking to me and my quirky knitwear work, eventually inviting me to design with him, but he also invited me to some events. One event that he invited me to was a panel at the Ali Forney Center in 2010. The Ali Forney Center is a group that provides shelter and programming for homeless LGBTQIA+ youth so that they may thrive instead of just survive. The panel was composed of people who worked across the fashion world–set makers, nail techs, designers, technical designers, even a high-end concierge service. Our goal was to show the young group of fashion lovers that you can work in your passion industry and don’t necessarily need to be traditionally creative. The very first thing we did was an introduction round stating our name and pronouns. While common now, this was the first time I had ever experienced this. These kids being so open and proud of their own identities made me understand my own more clearly.
Even though I was on the panel I think I learned the most that day. I learned that identities are complex, that my own identity could be more nuanced, and that as a queer cis-white woman I can yell on behalf of the voices that society has muffled. I’m so proud to be a part of this community and if it weren’t for these kids and my friends who supported me through exploration of my own identity,who helped me see the beauty in the grey areas, I definitely would not be as full of joy as I am today.
I’ve witnessed my evolution through my experience of showing up to work. My style has evolved over the years as I’ve grown more comfortable in my skin and felt empowered to be my risky, funky, bold, expressive self at Converse (thank you!). It is a work environment that embraces creativity and, in many ways, has fostered my own. Whether it’s a hairstyle or an outfit, I’m truly joyful and Prideful when I can roll up to work in something atypical and be celebrated – instead of shunned or gawked at. I’m just living and being. It really keeps me going. It continues to inspire me.
Being part of the LGBTQIA+ community, I like to think that I live by my values—especially when it comes to finding joy in my pride—every single day.I am gay 24/7, and I make it known to everyone that I’m out and proud.
However, this question brings up the concept of “coming out,” something that is very difficult for a lot of LGBTQIA+ people. Even after we’ve come out to ourselves and the people closest to us, we have to make a decision to “come out” whenever we enter any social situation and be mentally prepared to engage with a number of different reactions, both positive and negative.
Personally, the “coming out” moment where I felt that I truly lived my values and found joy in my Pride was coming out to my father. Growing up in an extremely religious country in the Caribbean where homosexuality isstillviewed negatively, I lived in an ongoing state of fear over being disowned and rejected even while living as a gay man in the United States. We would speak to each other on the phone every week, and I would simply omit anything about my life that was about my LGBTQIA+ identity. It was a tough balance because I felt like I was thriving by being so open, but I was still lying to one of the closest people to me because I thought being honest would be so much worse. Eventually, I made the decision to be completely honest about everything.
To my surprise, my father accepted it all without hesitation. He knew I was happy, that I had found a man that I loved, that I had a job that I loved, and I was building my own dream life. He told me nothing could ever change our relationship. That moment put the saying “a weight lifted off your shoulders” into a completely new perspective for me.I discovered that being my authentic self was enough, and it was the most joyful feeling in the world. I know many LGBTQIA+ people aren’t fortunate enough to have an experience like this, but I also learned that being honest will ALWAYS make you feel joy.
Professionally, the work I’m fortunate enough to do as a member of the Converse Pride Network has been life-changing. One moment that I always reflect on is when we invited LGBTQIA+ youth from one of the local organizations we’ve partnered with to come into our Boston HQ office and meet LGBTQIA+ employees.
There was one youth who was very closed off. They seemed almost scared to be there. They barely spoke, and I remember trying my hardest to engage with them so they would feel comfortable enough to open up. Eventually, we had a great—albeit short—conversation on being out in the workplace and what it meant to me. The next year, we invited the group back, and this person was completely different. They were open and talkative and proud to be LGBTQIA+. While my one interaction likely didn’t change their life—I like to hope that by being my most authentic self, they left that interaction feeling more determined to live their life authentically.
What would you tell your younger self or someone who is struggling to find Pride?
People might have told you your life would be harder if you are gay. It’s just not true. We are normal. We are happy. Our love is real. I know how alone you feel right now, but you will find acceptance, within yourself and your family will come around eventually…. but if they don’t know you will find family. They might not be blood, but they will make you feel accepted and loved. In my blessed experience your chosen family will love you unconditionally. It truly does get better. When you accept yourself, you will find the people that love and accept you for who you are.
Lean on your chosen family – your friends. Surround yourself with those who support and love you and remind you of who you are. They’re the ones who’ll help carry you through tougher times. And if you’re not out to them already, maybe give them a chance – they may surprise you in how supportive they actually are. At the end of the day, your found family will just want to see you happy.
Try stuff on! You don’t always know what identity fits. And seek the people who support you as you do so.
It’s easier said than done, but I would encourage them to aim to be their full selves whenever possible. I had a guidance counselor and mentor in high school who said to me (regarding my Pride): the people who matter, don’t care, and the people who care don’t matter. That and the line in “Happy Face” by Destiny’s Child – “There's plenty of people who don't like me, but there's ten times more who love me, and I love myself,” still resonate with me today. You will blossom to be steadfast and proud of who you are. You will be surrounded by people who love you for you, unconditionally. I have so many wonderful family members, friends, and colleagues where my Pride is just another interesting part of what makes me who I am. While you may not see it not now, you will get there. You won’t and shouldn’t accept anything less.
Take time for self-reflection. Give yourself the space to truly understand who you are and who you want to be, your likes and dislikes, your interests, your style and how you want to present yourself to the world.
Once you’ve done the work to better know yourself and build confidence in who you are, you are ready to find yourtribe.
Remember, you are not alone. The LGBTQIA+ community is filled with countless amazingly diverse people who are telling unique stories, and you are one of them. There are LGBTQIA+ people out there who are waiting for YOU to be part of their chosen family. Don’t lose sight of that!