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Crying Out Loud

Crying Out Loud

Crying Out Loud is co-founded by Shannon Culver, Sarah Keast, Alexie Landry and Janice Tsao. We had the pleasure to interview them and learn about the brand.

How did you fall into sisterhood with this group of women and how did Crying Out Loud come to be?

The four of us met after the shared experience of losing our partners at a young age. As each of us lost our partners, we found ourselves needing community, and community with people who were experiencing the same things as us. Young widowhood is not common, and although all of us have very supportive families and friends who were doing their best to support us, we needed to find people who knew exactly what we were feeling and thinking. Through the power of the internet and our networks, we were all connected over time, and by the Fall of 2017, our 'widow gang' was complete. The idea for Crying Out Loud came later. Our friendship rooted in our grief journeys came first. As our friendship, and our widowed lives progressed, we started talking about life changes we wanted to make (the cliche about how death changes you is so true!) and what type of impact we wanted to have on the world. Our own personal journeys to find mental wellness in the face of the traumas we were enduring served as the seeds of Crying Out Loud. We realized how hard it was to support someone going through a terrible time, and we realized our lived experience and our openness to go into the hard places and the dark spaces was an invaluable offering. We saw a gap in the market and felt we were uniquely positioned to fill this gap. The wellness industry is a packed space, but most of it focuses on physical wellness, not mental wellness. We realized we could create a space that could support people on their journey of self care, and on their journey of community care. How transformative could it be to have a place where it was normalized to go a buy a gift for someone who is was struggling with anxiety or who was grieving a recent miscarriage? Reflecting on our own bereavement gifts we had received, we realized how important they were. Those little cards and gifts didn't take away our pain, but rather provided us with a small dose of joy or love and each of those tiny doses gave us the strength to take another step forward. Once the idea of a boutique focused on mental wellness became clear in our minds, we were off. Within days, we had a name, a concept and unbridled enthusiasm for what we could build with Crying Out Loud.

Tell us more about Crying Out Loud and how people can reach out to you.

Crying Out Loud is a retail company that promotes mental wellbeing through a thoughtful selection of self and community care items, and curated care packages for all of life’s ups and downs. We have a bricks and mortar location in the east end of Toronto (2005 Danforth Ave, open Tuesday - Friday 12-6pm, Sat/Sun 10-4pm, closed Mondays) as well as an online shop which ships across North America, You can also find us on Facebook or on Instagram (@cryingoutloudto). 

What would you share with people who are impacted by an intimate tragic loss?
I would first say, I'm so very sorry that such a traumatic and tragic thing has happened to you. It's f**king awful and nothing can change that. I would also say, be gentle with yourself. Grieving, especially early on, is all encompassing and exhausting. Accept any and all offers of help. Take time off work if you are able. Western society has done a terrible job teaching us how to grieve, and despite the messages all around us, grief is not something you get over. It's something you learn to live with, but it is always there. And that's okay. I would also recommend grief counselling as one of the tools you can put in your tool kit of things that can help you cope. My husband died 5 years ago, and I still see my grief counsellor regularly. 
What have you learned about grief and has your experience changed at all over the years?

I have learned soo much! And continue to do so. But 2 of the most impactful things I've come to know and understand over the years are these. First, grief is not linear and it is not time bound. It comes in waves and sometimes the waves are massive and pull you under. Sometimes the waves are merely ripples and they pass by gently. But I now know when a wave comes, that eventually it will recede. I don't fight it. I let it be messy (as my grief counsellor has taught me) and then it passes. I've also learned the size of my grief will not lessen as the years go by. My life gets bigger around my grief, but the grief stays the same. Something that the Crying Out Loud team really has learned in our years since our partners have died is that you can be multiple feelings at the same time. We can be sad that our partners died, but at the same time happy that we have found new loves. We can be angry that death has touched us in such an ugly way, but also at peace with the paths we are on. Emotions do not exist in an either/or scenario, but in fact in all shades of grey. Feeling multiple things at the same time is normal and healthy and okay.

What are some simple things we can do every day to honour our feelings when we are living with grief?

Talk about your person! I'm constantly sharing anecdotes with my kids about their dad or mentioning stuff like 'oh daddy would have loved this dinner, he loved pizza. He would have grabbed for that last piece for sure!' And if you have someone in your life who is grieving, ask questions about their person! We love to talk about them, and we love to know that other people haven't forgotten about them either. Display momentos or photos in your home if that feels good to you. Talk to your person (whether it be in a journal, mumbling to yourself, sending them emails etc) and develop a way to have a relationship with them, despite their physical presence being gone.

I was really happy to learn about your Anti-Racism action plan. Can you tell us more about that?
Our Anti-Racism action plan came as a result of the BLM movement in the wake of George Floyd's death in 2020. Like so many others, we have begun the process of learning and unlearning the ways in which we have been complicit in the harm done to BIPOC. The place of silence and ease we existed in for so long, is in fact a place of harm. Our commitment is to break that silence and be vocally anti-racist. We have publicly committed to doing the work to become an anti-oppressive business. We seek to use our power and influence to fight against white supremacy, systemic inequity and racism. Our corporate gift giving strategy now includes organizations focused on supporting mental health in BIPOC communities. Through our product selection and sourcing strategies, we are working to increase the amount of BIPOC brands in our assortment, as well as divesting from brands whose values do not align with ours. We have expanded our book titles to include more titles on race and racism (including kids books). As well, we continue to use our voice on social media to speak out against racism and to amplify BIPOC voices and content. Our plan is an organic document and continues to evolve as we learn, grow, and unlearn.
What are your care packages about and what is the feedback you’ve been receiving on them!?
Our care packages are thoughtfully curated gift boxes to help friends, loved ones, or yourself, honour all of life's moments (including those messier times when you want to show support but don't know what to say – or gift!). We have care packages for grief, for infertility/pregnancy loss, for promoting family connection, for providing a gentle dose of healing to someone struggling, for cancer support, for self love, for unique date nights....the list goes on! It's a real labour of love for us to think deeply about what types of care packages are needed and what items make sense to be included. The feedback has been outstanding. It's one of our favourite things to hear from customers how well their gift was received and how helpful it was to the gift recipient. We love seeing our gifts tagged on Instagram and we love packing up the care packages and seeing the notes of love and care that customers are including with their gift (we include a handwritten note with each care package). It's really energizing and affirming to know our care packages are serving exactly the purpose we thought they would have when we dreamed them up...providing love and care to someone in your life. We are thrilled to be the conduits and the facilitators of this love and care!
What is coming up next for Crying Out Loud?
Reacquainting ourselves with in person shopping! Over the last year, we've been closed to in person shopping longer than we've been open so we are thrilled to have our doors open again! That said, re-entry anxiety is a real thing and we are being gentle with ourselves as we navigate this transition back into the world. This summer for us is about rest, rejuvenation and re-energizing. With ourselves, our partners and our kids, there is work to be done to tend to the scars left from quarantine/virtual school life. We are rebuilding ourselves and our families and look forward to growing our business through 2021 and beyond. Workshops and in person events are something we believe in, and we will get back to those as our energy levels build. Our care packages continue to be our pride and joy and this part of the business will continue to grow through 2021 as well (some new launches coming up, stay tuned!) We are learning now how to balance in person shopping with online order fulfillment so that is a focus for summer, to adjust to a new way of working in the retail space. Lots of exciting things happening for us both in the shop and online, so stay tuned!

Crying Out Loud's online store

Instagram: cryingoutloudto

Photography by Constant Van Ruymbeke