Why the Co-Founders of WELL PEOPLE Are Committed to Equality

Last Update: April 12, 2022

Welcome to What I Eat in a Day, a blog series that showcases the daily lives and meals of Thrive Market members like you. Today we’re talking with Shirley Pinkson Mañas and James Walker, WELL PEOPLE Co-Founders. They’re sharing their perspective on the importance of healthy living and how they’re celebrating Pride Month from home.

Why is healthy living important to you?

Shirley: Life is challenging right now, and while I may indulge more often than I’d like these days, it’s important to stay healthy and ‘woke’ to the world before us. Treating myself with respect and love allows me to stay aware, open, and brave to the growth and lessons placed in front of me.

James: I want to milk every last drop out of this life. I need energy and vitality to do it, which equals being mentally and physically healthy. What’s more, the act of investing in feeling good feels good unto itself. So as my mom would say, “Porque no?”

What’s your biggest challenge with healthy eating and/or healthy living?

Shirley: I’m an emotional eater, so there’s that. Otherwise, it boils down to time. Allowing myself time for self-care has always been a struggle. The thing is, I expect myself to meet the often unachievable standards we see socially and immediately set myself up for failure. And we know what happens then! Meditation has been a soul savior for me. Whether I have 10 minutes or an hour I always come away feeling more balanced and stronger.

James: The mental component. I dig the good feels of surrounding myself with all that is auspicious. And too, I get the thrills of “shadowy” stuff. It really is all about balance. The catch is, balance requires—first and foremost—self-awareness. The media, social media, and all the senseless, noisy chatter in our culture and in my head dull that awareness. It is a constant practice to tune into my truth, which has taken me a while to figure out. Then I feel powerful. Then I don’t eat the peanut buster parfait with a side of fries. Or, maybe I do and know that it does not define me. Did I just say a peanut buster parfait doesn’t define me?

How has your work life changed during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Shirley: Travel has completely stopped, so I can’t lie, I am missing my WELL PEOPLE family!

James: I’ve been working remotely from home and, more importantly, have not been on an airplane for almost three months. This is a ginormous shift from my normal work life. But on the other hand, working from home has led to blurred lines which I would just assume keep a bit more tidied up. Ultimately, I think a work blend of office and home is great.

How has your life outside of work changed during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Shirley: I now have invaluable time with my wife and son. I actually get to put my son to bed every night! My wife and I have not eaten or ordered out since the pandemic started. Our cooking skills are on point! Although I would kill for sushi from our fave Brooklyn spot right now.

James: This has offered an opportunity to grow new and deep roots with my family and my community, for which I am blessed. Here’s to reducing those carbon emissions and staying in touch with what really matters: relationships and nature!

Which moments of your day bring you the most joy?

Shirley: We’ve taken so much for granted. Our lives are so limited right now, so on weekends we make a point to take ‘an adventure’ (as my three-year-old calls it). This adventure could be as simple as taking a walk around the neighborhood. These moments where our family of three deeply connects and indulges in the simple things that really shine light on what being human is about.

James: It’s those early morning rays of sunlight streaming through my windows and hearing my mother’s voice.

What do you love most about your job?

Shirley: I’ve been given the greatest opportunity to do BETTER by creating products that have health and self-love/acceptance in mind. Whether you wear one beauty product or twelve, skincare and makeup simply make you feel better.

James: Creation. And that creation applies to relationships, products, and emotions.

June is Pride Month. How do you honor and celebrate the LGBTQ community all year?

Shirley: The big picture starts at home. It starts with kindness, but it goes far deeper than that. We seek safety, acceptance for everyone; but when speaking to our son, we highlight that we are all different. We are individuals, and that is beautiful. And, within those differences we are equal. My son, my wife, our families, and our chosen families—we are part of the LGBTQ community, and we celebrate our lives daily.

In the workplace, three goals are always in play:
Making inclusivity a priority and standard.
Creating a space that is welcome and safe for all.
We put our money where it counts by donating to initiatives that support the LGBTQ community, such as the Trevor Project.

James: By celebrating me. And striving to give room and respect for everyone to celebrate themselves in their own human, beautiful, messy, bold, annoying, quiet, inspiring, confusing, challenging, weird way.

As an identifying LGBTQ community member, what has been a lesson you’ve learned that has moved the needle for your career? Or for your business?

Shirley: I came out when I was 32, and despite my age, my achievements, and my commitment, I don’t feel that I was truly seen. Don’t get me wrong, those that matter most saw me, but there was more to it. There was still a part of me that felt shame. The seed of shame that was implanted in me early on still remained. And I kept feeding it.

Bringing WELL PEOPLE to life was not an easy feat. It took a team, and it took an invaluable amount of support from family and friends who really showed up. Their faith and belief in me devoured the fear I had in starting a brand. This bucket of love also contained the two people I started WELL PEOPLE with—James Walker and Renee Snyder. James and I, both being gay, dedicated much time to LGBTQ partnerships and efforts from the start. And, from the start, I was clear about my sexual preference. Initially I felt terrified of judgement. Guess what? There was none! And if there was, I quickly realized that it didn’t serve me or my mission, so I moved forward. I made a commitment to myself and I was honoring it. I am not saying that owning a business is the only way to be ‘seen’. I am saying that when one realizes what they are truly capable of, a fire builds within that extinguishes fear, doubt and shame that allows us to overcome any roadblocks or challenge.

James: As a Hispanic gay man in America, I am used to feeling different—particularly in the business world. I have spent a lifetime challenging the status quo. This spirit has served me well in business where strength and self-reliance are essential to face the “no.” I knew then, as I know now, that difference is good. Being different and thinking different is the fertile ground where new ideas flourish and create positive change. WELL PEOPLE in all our conventional-beauty-busting-badassness is a prime example.

What professional and personal advice do you have for the younger LGBTQ community?

Shirley: ‘Keep swimming’ as my son would say (he’s a big “Finding Nemo” fan). I wish I told my younger self that I was capable, that I was worthy, that I have the power within to make my dreams come true. I let my fear, insecurities, and self-inflicted challenges get in the way. Shift your energy to what serves your soul, and let go of everything else.

James: In the late ’80s when I came out, the HIV pandemic was in full swing. It was a dark time for me. The conversation in play was based on my two least favorite things—ignorance and fear. It was challenging to have a productive dialogue with myself, much less those around me, including my family and peers. Ultimately, I had to find the love and understanding I sought from within. Once I did that, it all started to fall into place. If you can muster the courage to simply speak your truth, people may not like you, but they’re probably going to respect you. And I’ll take being myself and being respected over being financially successful, or famous, any day of the week.

This article is related to:

What I Eat In A Day

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Lily Comba

Lily Comba has never met a baked good she didn't like. When she's not baking, you'll find her writing, taking a Pilates class, or collaborating with the editorial and social team as a Senior Content Writer at Thrive Market.

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