Queen’s retailer donates $5,000 to Black Lives Matter, local Kingston organization

Oil Thigh Designs follows through on donation pledge and new business model 

OTD transitioned to remote sales this year.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

Amid a year of lockdown, Queen’s only student-run, non-profit retailer, Oil Thigh Designs (OTD) rallied to donate $5,000 to Black Lives Matter and Almost Home, a local Kingston charity that works with sick children and families, as its annual charitable donation. 

Mitch Kalins and Lauren Chin, OTD’s managing directors, told The Journal the executive selected these charities following a pledge last summer to Black Lives Matter and Reclaim the Block, a grassroots organization in Minneapolis that works to move money from the police department into other areas of the city’s budget. 

The selection process traditionally begins with the executives pitching four Kingston charities for consideration, including polls on social media for community input, Kalins said. 

This year, the retailer decided to make the BLM donation decision internally but collected feedback for the local charity selection on a Facebook poll.

“For BLM and Reclaim the Block, both charities [are] committed to a fight against inequality and injustice,” Chin said. “In the summer when a lot of us were just starting to educate ourselves, we wanted to follow through on that process.”

Regarding the transition to remote sales, Kalins said OTD underwent significant changes to the business over the past year. 

Kalins said staff members were unable to access the brick and mortar store in the JDUC during the Fall 2020 semester due to COVID-19 restrictions. This resulted in the company storing and packing inventory at Kalins’ home. The team is also working with Canada Post to manage contactless porch pick-ups, deliveries, and shipping.  

“We had to change the way we did sales as well,” Kalins told The Journal.

“Typically, we make the majority of our money from HOCO and St. Patrick’s Day, where we get most of our revenue and where we get most of the money we use to donate […] this year we didn’t have that kind of sales volume.”

Instead, OTD shifted sales to stay-at-home loungewear, including sweatshirts and sweatpants. 

The retailer also launched a streetwear sale, in which students could order a print of their house number and a map of the immediate off-campus neighbourhood on merchandise. The website includes a section for custom apparel.

“[This was] definitely a very, very challenging year for us, especially running a 35-member executive all through Zoom, keeping everyone engaged and motivated,” Chin said. 

Chin said OTD plans on enabling shipping across Canada, a feature the group hopes to keep long-term. 

“It expands our reach in terms of the customers: we can sell to alumni, incoming students who are not yet on campus, we definitely want to keep that going,” Chin added. 

A key goal for OTD is balancing logistics between in-person, brick-and-mortar sales and the online order system for staff members. 

“Our goal is to increase our donation amount, but we are also planning on doing other philanthropic activities […] This year was a challenge because we were not able to go out and do these activities around the Kingston community,” Kalins said.

Both Chin and Kalins praised how the OTD team adapted and transitioned to a virtual setting. 

“We were worried that it would be hard to foster the same team culture as when we are in person—working shifts together, having socials, volunteering together,” Chin said.   

“I think the team really just came together and had so many good ideas, in terms of shipping and different types of sales we could have. We’re just so proud of everything that we have accomplished.”

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