Pink Ribbons and Corporate Malignancies

There has been a recent occurrence here in my small corner of the world.  A bit of change.  Also a big calendar landmark passed.  One that I do not particularly like.  One that makes me feel yucky feelings.

The occurrence?  I resigned from my job as an education coordinator at my local Joann Fabric and Crafts.  I managed a little classroom within the store for 3 and a half years.  It was the “perfect” job.  Part time, while the kids were in school, where I could be very creative, and teach a myriad of art and craft classes.

The landmark?  Yesterday marked 18 years since I lost my mother to breast cancer.  I stand with the minority on breast cancer: there is absolutely NOTHING pink about that disease.  The pink ribbon is a light, fluffy, cute and total misrepresentation of a disease that disfigures and ravages bodies from the inside out. It should be a blood-stained cadaver purple ribbon.  Pink means dainty, flowery, feminine. Lipstick. Love. Valentine’s Day. Candy. Frosting.  I say SCREW THAT.  You will never catch me wearing a pink ribbon.

Why resign? Well, I was told by my former employer that I had to make a choice.  Either I completely stop trying to get my humble teaching studio off the ground, or I could resign from selling Joann classes as a Joann employee.  It was a conflict of interest and I was in breach of my contract.  I understood the reasoning.  It was clear.  My interests were conflicting.  The choice was pretty instantly obvious.  I couldn’t give up on my little humble stu-stu-studio dream.

So I milked it and worked a couple more shifts, claiming I was uncertain of what to do, and then I quit.  My boss gave me some very kind words of encouragement as she took my keys, cut up my employee discount card, and escorted me out of the building.  For a week or so I was in limbo; feeling pretty weird about it.  I brooded over writing some scathing words about Joann here on my blog.  About how they treat their staff poorly by paying them peanuts, regularly cutting payroll hours, often running an entire shift with only two employees on the floor, and giving those employees 8 cent yearly raises, or no yearly raise at all because they’ve reached the maximum pay rate of $10.50 an hour…after years of dedicated service…  About the corporate mindset pushing profits at any human or environmental cost… About that mailbox coupon assault being so gimmicky and cheesy…  About the rotating seasonal influx of made-in-China crap, that might decorate a table top for a month, and then end up broken in a landfill…  There is so much bad mouthing that I could do, right?  I think we all kind of know about how these entities operate.  It’s not much different with any other corporate retail chain.  Right?

So, my devil’s advocate is screaming, whose fault is it anyway???  That these chains exist and treat their people with such disregard for basic human rights like a living wage or an annual cost-of-living increase?  Well, we live in a free-ish market society right?  So those wonderful employees that came to be my friends and that I miss dearly, they could seek better employment elsewhere right?  Maybe.  I guess.  But then more people would take their place and it would go on and on.  So who else can we blame?  I think I know.  I think I figured it out.  It’s me.  And it’s you.  And it’s all of us.  I bought googley eyes there today.  I did.  I used a gimmicky coupon too.  I’m feeding this beast with my $2.78 purchase.  I buy other things there too.  They carry some very good brand names.  Clover, Tsukineko, Olfa…I could go on and on.  I am so sorry.  I really am.

From a total different angle, a complete flip-side of this seemingly crappy coin, I am quite grateful for the experience Joann Fabrics and Crafts offered me.  I learned some very important, downright invaluable, classroom managerial skills and was able teach hundreds of classes.  I can confidently say, that there exists no home sewing machine anywhere on the face of this Earth that I cannot thread correctly.  And that, for me, is very empowering.  I am being 100% serious.

Now, about my mother.  She loved making Christmas tree ornaments.  It was her thing.  Just about every year around the holidays, she’d craft up some ornaments.  The last major act of my mother’s life was something so touching that I will remember it clearly for the rest of my days.  I feel compelled to share.

When she was sick and dying, around the end of November 1997, we got a Christmas tree.  Over the next two weeks, she proceeded to fill it with handmade felt ornaments.  Stockings, stars, and angels.  They were all hand-stitched with embroidery floss.  They had sequins and beads and other stitched on embellishments.  They were beautiful. One of a kind little works of hanging fabric art. She strung about 20 feet of popcorn garland too.

My mother knew, as we all did around that time, that she wouldn’t make it to see Christmas.  My mother’s last act of her life was ensuring that her only child had a Christmas tree made with love for the holidays.  When her very last hand made ornament was hung on this tree, my mother had finally lost her eyesight and couldn’t actually see her masterpiece.  She never regained her eyesight and died a few days later.  A painful, disfigured, non-pink, metastasized-breast-cancer death.  I’m quite sure too that she had purchased a lot of the supplies for the ornaments from Joann Fabric and Crafts.





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  1. Mandy,

    I am so sorry that Sharon died so young and so painfully. She was beautiful, smart, creative and funny, too! I see a lot of Sharon in you.

    You are so right about corporations and how they are allowed to treat their employees. How did we let this happen? They are so powerful now, their greed is out of control.

    And the crap from China? You nailed it. Thanks Mandy, for articulating so well, what I’ve been trying to say for years but never quite got it down right.

  2. Thank you! I am happy to share. It only took 18 years! Well, the thing about my mom, not the thing about Joann. I tried to be fair to poor Joann… I think I was fair…

  3. Thoughtful and written from your heart. I agree we all participate in feeding the beasts we say we deplore–corporate greed, exploitive marketing, violence for entertainment and desensitize…giving up privacy through our use of internet programs that tell you they will collect and analyze ever aspect of you… Life is complicated. You have already proven you have abilities that will serve you well in your own business. Your mother would be proud of you.

  4. Yes Stephanie, it is a catch 22, right? A conundrum. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Thank you for your kind words about my mom. She would be proud!

  5. Your mom was truly an amazing, strong, talented woman. I loved when she would share her beautiful necklaces that she was beading with us in high school. I think that’s when my infatuation with necklaces began! ;) I agree about pink ribbons, too…I told my husband that if I ever get cancer, I’d prefer no ribbons.
    Joann’s loss = your gain! Corporate greed should never get in the way of artistic genius! You go, girl!!! :)

  6. Thanks Jaime! I remember the necklaces too! The funny thing about the ribbons is they are strictly for awareness. They don’t fund research. And a pink ribbon to generate awareness isn’t generating the right kind of awareness. It says to me that this is a light fluffy feminine disease. When it’s really a brutal killer. Not too long ago Joann got a truckload of pink ribbon crap from China. Stupid stuff that said shit like “Fight like a Girl” on it. All to raise awareness. It was then that I started brewing about pink ribbons. I know the stuff was made with absolutely no regard for environmental safeguards. So, the crap went to 700 stores nationwide, generated a boatload of cancer-causing toxins, and had stupid, brainless messages on it like “fight like a girl.”

  7. Mandy-As a reader, writer,blogger and crafter, I appreciate your honesty in writing about breast cancer ribbons and the corporate exploitation of (mainly ) female consumers. The cute meme on Facebook or a ribbon reminding us of our losses aren’t the worst symbols in the world but they do remind us of our powerlessness in the face of tragedies.Thanks for posting

  8. That makes better sense than my own post! You nailed it. Powerlessness. That’s it. I guess another reason I make art and do crafts is to have ultimate power over my project! More fun than therapy!

  9. Mandy, I loved your blog! It brought tears to my eyes. Both happy and sad. Happy tears for your progress in life. You have allowed your talents to expand, and create this wonderful life of creativity. You have not allowed your mothers passing to give you excuses to fail in life. It has been awesome watching you blossom as an artist! As far as JoAnn’s goes, chain craft stores allow us artists to keep creating without waiting for the mail to deliver, so I am thankful for them.

  10. Thank you Teresa. I know you have known pain in your life. I guess to be human is to know pain. I’m still struggling with the whole “defining” me part. Occasionally I second guess whether it defines me or not. I can still become righteously pissed off about my mom, huh?? Thank you for your kind words. And Joann is a mere mile down the road for me. They are a primary source for my materials! That and Artist & Craftsman in Portland. It’s so good to hear from you!!!!!!!

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