Today we’d like to introduce you to Sunny Wilson and Chris Mitchell.
Sunny and Chris, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Old Pueblo Collective was dreamed up four years go on the doorsteps of a posh little gallery in Tucson, Arizona. My husband Chris and I were shocked to find we could either afford to start an art collection or send our kids to college. I tried to convince Chris college was overrated, but we left empty-handed. As art lovers and creators, it made sense for us to build an organization that values artists and makes wildly unique art accessible to everyday people like us. We were not rich by any stretch of the imagination, and investors were not lined up with stacks of cash to throw at our startup.
Like most small businesses, we began with what we had, an unimpressive shelf of art supplies and a walk-in closet with enough space to cram in a student desk and a laptop. Indeed, OPC’s first office space was in our bedroom closet. I swore I’d never tell anyone at the time, but now that we don’t share a space with our winter clothes, it’s almost laughable.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
The pandemic ravaged our goals this year, but the real struggle began the day after George Floyd was murdered. I awoke to an alarming text containing a screenshot of from the Ring Neighborhood Community, which is essentially a digital neighborhood watch app. Our youngest son was shown standing at a neighbor’s door with a friend. The caption above the image read, “Suspicious Teens.” The post accused the boys of “casing the neighborhood for theft.” We wanted to believe there was no racial motivation, but the brutality of the post made it clear these lives didn’t matter to the man who created it.
Normally, this would have been just another day in the life of a Person of Color, but this app was location driven. It started getting attention from a lot of nearby neighbors, who responded thanking the poster for warning them to look out for these “thugs.” We were terrified, our son had just become a target in our own neighborhood. With the help of our extraordinary friends and family, it was taken down after two of the most stressful days we had ever faced. The magical world of love and wonder we once knew had come crashing down around us. I was starting to see a new reality of the world and began to believe that OPC could never succeed with me, a woman of color, in the lead.
Weeks later, the idea had nearly taken hold. I was searching the words to tell Chris I was out of the art game, when a friend shared a post from the angels at Forward Printing that lit my fire. Outraged over the recent murder of George Floyd, the company asked the community how they could help. Today we call them our sunshine soldiers because they came through with a donation of over three hundred Rise & Shine t-shirts, seemingly overnight.
Rise & Shine is a collaborative design Chris and I created to help fund movements for fairness, and equality which is why we jumped at the opportunity to donate 100% of Rise & Shine profits to Tucson Educational Empowerment for Minorities – TEEM, a registered non-profit providing college resources for minority youth in Southern Arizona.
We tapped into the power of community, asking our fellow makers to contribute items to help fund-raise. Creators, small businesses, and allies from coast to coast came through in major ways, helping raise enough to donate over $3K to TEEM in just a few months. The best part is the Rise & Shine project is not going away, and profits continue to go to TEEM. Local businesses are supporting in monumental form. Starting this October, Rise & Shine tees will be available at the Food Conspiracy Co-Op on Tucson’s Historic 4th Ave!
We’d love to hear more about Old Pueblo Collective.
OPC is a funky little creative collective and online store specializing in affordable, unique, and quirky home décor. The best part about owning a small business is that you get lead with your heart. We won’t pretend the people-centered path is an easy road, but it’s generally the highest one. Chris and I are passionate about OPC because we make wildly uncommon art available to every budget, but even more because our strategies and partnerships are driven by a deeply rooted mission to invest resources back into our community.
Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
For two arduous years we attempted to break into the industry with extraordinarily little success, but the undying support of our family and friends kept our tanks full enough to keep driving forward. The big break came in 2018 when our beer pioneering friends at Crooked Tooth Brewing Co. invited OPC to show exclusively in a month-long exhibit. Opening night was a huge sales success, but the cash was a silver lining in comparison to the new relationships formed.
Our lucky stars aligned when one of the owners of Pop Cycle Shop introduced their self as a “big fan” on opening night. Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t begging for merch or anything, but a seed was planted that has since grown into a magical relationship and the foundation of our success. We had no idea how much the beautiful souls at Pop Cycle Shop would help us get our act together through their constant and diligent efforts to support and uplift local makers.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” – Steve Jobs
After being turned down by more markets and distributors than I care to admit, Pop Cycle opened their doors and hearts to us. We joined their creative family and they taught us the ropes of professional making, while we learned the art of people centered leadership from Libby, DeeDee, Shannon and Jen. Pop Cycle Shop was the magical dot that connected us to the world we thrive in today. We are forever grateful for them and pledge to pay the favor forward as we continue to grow and flourish.
- Art Prints Start at $8.99
- Gift Sets Start at $14.99
- Rise & Shine Tee Retails for $20 (Profits donated to TEEM)
- Website: opctucson.com
- Phone: (520) 965-2785
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: instagram.com/opctucson
- Facebook: facebook.com/opctucson
Photos of OPC Founders by Kensy Apodaca Photography. All others by Sunny Wilson.