Homespun BLM products including cookie kits, garden gnomes raise concerns of exploiting movement

A few weeks after nationwide protests erupted over the police killing of George Floyd, Julie Muller looked for something positive she could contribute to the movement from her Houston home.

The 67-year-old white woman, who has been selling homemade cookie-decorating kits online since March, decided to offer one with a Black Lives Matter theme. The kit comes with cookie cutters imprinted with former President Barack Obama’s face, sprinkles and icing in red, black and green — the colors of the Pan-African or Black Liberation flag.

Other examples of homespun BLM merchandise include wine stoppers and even garden gnomes — objects more often associated with white suburbia. The white sellers insist they are not trying to make light of racial issues or widen their profit margins. But to many onlookers, the sales through the crafts marketplace Etsy may straddle an uncomfortable line between supporting the movement and exploiting it.

Muller’s three children were the first to warn her she might appear to be capitalizing on racial unrest. But that’s partly why she wanted to act.

Julie Muller, who sells cookie decorating kits on Etsy, poses in her kitchen Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Houston.  (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Julie Muller, who sells cookie decorating kits on Etsy, poses in her kitchen Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

“I’ve been thinking about what’s systemic racism and what is racial profiling,” Muller said. “It’s more about doing my part. What can I offer?”

The protest movement ignited by Floyd’s death in May under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer compelled businesses large and small to declare publicly that they were “woke” to the pain of Black people. Manufacturers soon began making BLM T-shirts, face masks and signs.

It’s not surprising that independent merchants wanted to express solidarity too, said Patti Williams, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

To demonstrate sincerity, sellers should commit to making these items permanently to show their efforts are not just an attempt “to jump on a fad,” she added.

There’s also potential for the items themselves to be seen as offensive or tone-deaf.

Sugar cookies with the likeness of President Obama are displayed as part of Julie Muller's cookie decorating kits which she sell on Etsy, on Sept. 22, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Sugar cookies with the likeness of President Obama are displayed as part of Julie Muller’s cookie decorating kits which she sell on Etsy, on Sept. 22, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Ashleigh Boutelle, 45, of Twin Peaks, California, custom paints garden gnomes as a side business. After making gay pride gnomes, he decided in July to try painting a Black Lives Matter gnome. The yellow-and-black-clad gnome — a nod to the colors used on a Black Lives Matter website — wears a “BLM” hat. He also painted it with a darker skin tone.

“I was just trying to be very careful and present something that you might say is neutral,” Boutelle said. “Hopefully, someone who sees it is not offended.”

He has since gotten a few orders for either Black Lives Matter gnomes or African American gnomes. Boutelle hopes people don’t question his sincerity because his support is displayed on a mythical figure with a pointy hat.

“I like the idea of offering it to

Read more

Homespun BLM products include cookie kits, garden gnomes



Sugar cookies with the likeness of President Obama are displayed as part of Julie Muller's cookie decorating kits which she sell on Etsy, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Houston. One of the cookie-decorating kits she offers has a Black Lives Matter theme. Amid all the Black Lives Matter themed T-shirts, face masks and signs appearing in recent months, some unconventional merchandise has been popping up on online crafts marketplace Etsy. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)


© Provided by Associated Press
Sugar cookies with the likeness of President Obama are displayed as part of Julie Muller’s cookie decorating kits which she sell on Etsy, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Houston. One of the cookie-decorating kits she offers has a Black Lives Matter theme. Amid all the Black Lives Matter themed T-shirts, face masks and signs appearing in recent months, some unconventional merchandise has been popping up on online crafts marketplace Etsy. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

A few weeks after nationwide protests erupted over the police killing of George Floyd, Julie Muller looked for something positive she could contribute to the movement from her Houston home.

The 67-year-old white woman, who has been selling homemade cookie-decorating kits online since March, decided to offer one with a Black Lives Matter theme. The kit comes with cookie cutters imprinted with former President Barack Obama’s face, sprinkles and icing in red, black and green — the colors of the Pan-African or Black Liberation flag.



Julie Muller, who sells cookie decorating kits on Etsy, makes cutout cookies for her Black Lives Matter kits Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Houston. Amid all the Black Lives Matter themed T-shirts, face masks and signs appearing in recent months, some unconventional merchandise has been popping up on online crafts marketplace Etsy. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)


© Provided by Associated Press
Julie Muller, who sells cookie decorating kits on Etsy, makes cutout cookies for her Black Lives Matter kits Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Houston. Amid all the Black Lives Matter themed T-shirts, face masks and signs appearing in recent months, some unconventional merchandise has been popping up on online crafts marketplace Etsy. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Other examples of homespun BLM merchandise include wine stoppers and even garden gnomes — objects more often associated with white suburbia. The white sellers insist they are not trying to make light of racial issues or widen their profit margins. But to many onlookers, the sales through the crafts marketplace Etsy may straddle an uncomfortable line between supporting the movement and exploiting it.



This Sept. 21, 2020, photo provided by Ashleigh Boutelle in Twin Peaks, Calif., shows Black Lives Matter gnomes and gay pride gnomes he painted and is selling online. Amid all the Black Lives Matter themed T-shirts, face masks and signs appearing in recent months, some unconventional merchandise has been popping up on online crafts marketplace Etsy. (Ashleigh Boutelle via AP)


© Provided by Associated Press
This Sept. 21, 2020, photo provided by Ashleigh Boutelle in Twin Peaks, Calif., shows Black Lives Matter gnomes and gay pride gnomes he painted and is selling online. Amid all the Black Lives Matter themed T-shirts, face masks and signs appearing in recent months, some unconventional merchandise has been popping up on online crafts marketplace Etsy. (Ashleigh Boutelle via AP)

Muller’s three children were the first to warn her she might appear to be capitalizing on racial unrest. But that’s partly why she wanted to act.

“I’ve been thinking about what’s systemic racism and what is racial profiling,” Muller said. “It’s more about doing my part. What can I offer?”

The protest movement ignited by Floyd’s death in May under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer compelled businesses large and small to declare publicly that they were “woke” to the pain of Black people. Manufacturers soon began making BLM T-shirts, face masks and signs.

It’s not surprising that independent merchants wanted to express solidarity too, said Patti Williams, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.



Julie Muller, who sells cookie decorating kits on Etsy, mixes up cookie dough Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Houston. One of the cookie-decorating kits she offers has a Black Lives Matter theme. Amid all the Black Lives Matter themed T-shirts, face masks and signs appearing in recent months, some unconventional merchandise has been popping up on online crafts marketplace Etsy. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)


© Provided by Associated Press
Julie Muller, who sells cookie decorating kits on Etsy, mixes up cookie dough Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Houston. One of

Read more

Pandemic Projects: Garden gnomes get a home of their own

A garden gnome home has been on Debbie and Ed Cogswell’s to-do list for years. Thanks to the pandemic quarantine, it’s checked off.

The Cogswell family moved into their Tulalip home eight years ago. When they cut down a diseased tree in the front yard, they left the trunk so that it could eventually be turned into a home for Debbie’s gnome collection — an idea from a local garden show. They waited about five years for the tree suckers to die off.

“We had gnomes out there for a while in the yard,” she said. “They were waiting for their house. Then the virus hit, and we were looking for home projects, so I said, “Hey, honey, it’s time!”

Her husband, Ed, 66, built the gnome home inside an 8-by-10 foot frame. With help from Pinterest, he got to work repurposing fencing and roof shakes he’d collected over the years. They wanted the house to look old, rustic and nostalgic.

It features a pitched roof with shingles, a stone path that leads to the front door, crooked white-painted windows and a smokestack with a funnel on top.

The door for the house was shipped from the United Kingdom, which the Cogswells call “real gnome land” because the figures have been an element of English gardens since the 17th century. The funnel on the smokestack is reminiscent of the Tin Man’s in “The Wizard of Oz.”

“You can’t go out and buy yourself a kit to make this house, so we had to put on our artsy fartsy hats and figure this out,” Ed Cogswell said. “I have a bit of a knack for building and creating things, so I dove into this project.”

With husband and wife building and decorating together, they finished it in two weeks in May.

A gnome-size fenced yard surrounds the Cogswells’ creation. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A gnome-size fenced yard surrounds the Cogswells’ creation. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

In addition to nine bearded garden helpers, they’ve decorated the tiny house’s yard with garden art: solar lights, a hanging hummingbird, a mock bird bath and a Sasquatch statue.

“We’re always tweaking it, you know,” Debbie Cogswell said. “Adding things like flowers or whatnot.”

Will more gnomes find a home there soon? Maybe. Debbie found hers at Goodwill and Fred Meyer. She’s also been lucky to find the garden-dogooders at garage sales. If she doesn’t buy them herself, she receives them as gifts from family and friends.

“I’m just afraid of making it look junky, so I don’t want to keep buying them and putting more and more in there,” she said. “But if I do get more, we have 2.5 acres, so I’m sure we’ll find a place.”

Much like the garden gnome in the 2001 movie “Amélie,” Debbie’s gnomes sometimes go missing. She likes to picture them off on an adventure — but in actuality, her relatives play jokes on her by taking them home or moving them around the yard.

Her gnomes aren’t the only ones who like the new house. Their orange-and-white tabby

Read more