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Godfrey Riddle is creating apparel with a purpose
Running a business

Godfrey Riddle is creating apparel with a purpose

In honor of Pride Month, QuickBooks is spotlighting the LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs who play a vital role in creating an inclusive and vibrant small business community.

Name: Godfrey Riddle

Location: Kansas City, Missouri

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Business: Civic Saint

Tell us about your business.

Civic Saint is a Kansas City, Missouri-based purposeful lifestyle company that creates statement apparel and accessories to stylishly incorporate your values into your wardrobe. From our signature “I Am Human” tee that features a hand-treated-look to our “Live With Pride” collection, we inspire our customers to create spaces of inclusivity and joy. 

Why did you decide to start your own business? How did you get started?

I was diagnosed with a rare form of head and neck cancer in May 2018 at age 29 and, six weeks later, my father Cecil suddenly passed away. My mother, Goldie, followed fourteen months later, weeks before my cancer journey entered its most grueling chapter: a major surgery to remove a tumor and rebuild my left jaw followed by six weeks of chemotherapy and proton radiation.

My tipping point toward founding Civic Saint was the 2020 summer of social unrest—as a Black, gay man who lost so much, I was tired of waiting for equal justice and deferring my dream to build an ethical business. I want Civic Saint to inspire people to live their values and get involved in their community. Because we dream of an equitable, inclusive world where everyone can live to their full potential, we donate a portion of our proceeds to organizations that advocate for racial and social equity. 

What is the biggest lesson you learned in the first year? 

Customers first, everything else second. This is a thought exercise from my business coach that is meant to help you manage your task list by ranking which tasks will help you get closer to your target customer. For example, coding receipts versus responding to a wholesale inquiry from a brand-aligned retailer. Both are essential to your business’s operation, but a wholesale inquiry outranks receipt coding because it presents a direct opportunity to tap into new customer bases and fortify your finances. Because the list can easily become overwhelming, I try to focus on accomplishing only the top one or two items from day-to-day.

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Customers first, everything else second.

Also, poise is priceless. In the first days of any company, you and your co-founders are the brand. It’s important that you develop clear, consistent messaging that can help people understand what your business does, why your business exists, and your ideal customers. A one-minute elevator pitch can be a game-changer because it helps people understand if and how they can assist or advocate for you. Personally, I recommend a sentence or two that you can easily deliver in one to two minutes (or less), avoid industry jargon, and try to compose your pitch using fifth-grade level English so that it is intellectually approachable for a variety of listeners, then practice it in the mirror. For example, “Civic Saint creates apparel and accessories to advance social justice.”

What was the most surprising thing about becoming a business owner?

My local library systems have a surprising array of high-caliber business resources, services, and databases for entrepreneurs and business owners of all types and scale–and all you need is your library card! For example, I was able to access a robust database of consumer profiles through my regional library system, Mid-Continent Public Library. Not only did a staff person help me identify profiles that might align with Civic Saint, he also taught me how to use the information to build a marketing strategy that led to my first organic sale outside of Kansas City! Many library systems around the nation offer entrepreneurship resources and programming for free, or will help you locate resources in your local community.

What is an aspect of running a business that you needed to learn more about when you started? How did you learn about it?

Understanding how to read and interpret business financials at a basic level (like balance sheets, profit and loss, and accounts receivable). These items are important to establish and keep updated because they are indicators of your business’ health, and allow you to make data-driven decisions about where to place your limited financial resources. Fortunately, I was able to benefit from educational resources offered by my public library system for entrepreneurs. 

How does running your own business make you feel?

Empowered. I have dreamed of owning a business since I was 12 years old, and bringing my vision to life—especially after all I have lost—has restored confidence in my ability to rebuild a meaningful and happy life, whether it be personal or professional. 

What are some of the challenges you’ve overcome or are working to overcome as a business owner? 

Time management.

What are your proudest moments? 

I love the experience of helping others feel seen and valued through my products! For example, one of my customers who is a trans man incorporated our “I Am Human” tee into a personal photoshoot they did to reveal the results of the top surgery, and celebrate the completion of their transition.

What are three things that you feel have contributed to your success as a business owner?

I’ve made it easy to work with me, to the best of my ability. 

What challenges do you feel are unique to small business owners in the LGBTQIA+ community? Have you come up against any bias? 

Fortunately, I have not faced any direct bias or barriers for my business or as an LGBTQIA+ business owner. Instead, I have been able to find a supportive community through local craft shows, my chambers of commerce, and entrepreneurship programs. I became certified as an LGBT-owned business through the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, which opened up opportunities to meet with buyers at Target, Hilton, and Hallmark. I think the challenge we face as marginalized entrepreneurs is ensuring that we are treated equitably and that our lived experiences are not appropriated. 

When you’re having a tough day, who or what inspires you to keep going? 

Art and music. In addition to leading Civic Saint, I work full time at ArtsKC, Kansas City’s nonprofit arts council, that supports our regional arts community with services, advocacy, and investment. Art is a renewable resource for inspiration, relaxation, and joy. I was able to share the story of the arts and culture in Kansas City through a new 1-hour film I created called “Art Moves Us.” Watching this film sparks joy because it reminds me how fortunate I am to call Kansas City my home, and to get out to enjoy the art in all its forms! 

To learn more about Civic Saint and support the business, visit their website or them out on Instagram.

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