Representation matters, especially for members of underrepresented communities. For many members of the LGBTQ+ community, self-expression through clothing and fashion is a vital part of building confidence and celebrating who they are.
This theme of self-love and the joy found in representing one’s community is the driving force behind local artist Michelle Soto’s work.
Soto, whose pronouns are they/she, is a queer Latinx artist based out of Vancouver who operates under the online alias Minichelle Designs.
Minichelle Designs is an online business run on Etsy that features products and accessories catered specifically toward the queer community. With items like hats, stickers, pronoun pins, and keychains made in all the colors of the various pride flags of the community, no matter what letter of the LGBTQ+ a customer best identifies with, they’re sure to find themselves represented amongst Soto’s wares.
Soto got their start creating on Etsy back in 2020 as a way to escape their traditional 9-to-5 working in retail.
“I didn’t set out to become a LGBTQ+ pride-focused shop at first. I had a hard time finding products with my own pronouns and identity on them, so I decided to make my own, just for fun,” Soto said. “I didn’t expect those original designs to take off, but they did! Soon people were messaging me asking for their own pronouns and identities. So, along the way, helping fellow queer people feel seen and valid became my mission.”
Mainstream acceptance of LGBTQ+ culture has come a long way, with many large clothing brands sporting their own Pride collections each June. For many in the queer community, it is important to make sure their money is directly going toward supporting other members of the community as opposed to large corporations.
This sense of community is the driving force and direct inspiration for many of Minichelle Designs’ products.
“A lot of my designs are things that I wish I could buy in traditional retail stores, but unfortunately no one is making, so I make them myself,” Soto said. “I’m also inspired by queer internet culture that I see online, as well as my own experiences as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Taking inspiration from friends as well as suggestions from my customers helps give my shop a ton of variety.”
While being an openly LGBTQ+ business can bring negative attention, with Soto citing a recent influx of transphobic comments on their work, Soto said she doesn’t let bigotry stop them from creating. For them, the positive interactions they get from their business will always outshine the hurtful ones.
“My favorite part of running Minichelle Designs is the positive affect my work has on people’s lives,” Soto said. “Some people use my products to come out to their friends and families, or to support a loved one. Some people tell me that they’ve never seen their identity represented until they came across my art. It gives me so much joy to read these messages and it reaffirms that I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing.”
In times when society is seeing a resurgence of hostility toward members of the queer community, Soto hopes that their work can be a beacon of positivity. Reminding everyone that while we don’t all have to agree with or understand each other, the least we can do is be kind.
For those interested in checking out Soto’s art, in addition to visiting their Etsy store, people can also find examples of their work on their Instagram or TikTok accounts @minichelle.designs.