Photo credit: Will Crooks
Greenville-based Savereign is more than a plant store in South Carolina. There’s plenty of potted and hanging greenery for sale, but the space also doubles as a community gathering place, with tables and chairs for coworking and a comfy couch to lounge on. The storefront was developed with a lot of intention by its owner, AJ, a queer Filipino-American who wants everybody to feel welcomed and loved.
AJ moved to Greenville from Chicago with an ex-partner, but remained there following the breakup. “As I was starting my business and getting to know the community, I started to make individual connections with all these beautiful people who didn’t feel seen or heard at all,” AJ told For the Record. “The universe gifted me with a loud freaking voice. I felt there was a gap in queer representation, in people who were up and out and could speak up and stand up, in my area. So I decided to stay.”
He also set out to bring the community together through virtual spaces as well as his physical store. He started interviewing the people who made up his community, and in 2020, he created a podcast to highlight those individuals using Spotify’s podcasting tool, Anchor.
“It’s very DIY. I’m not the most digitally inclined human. It was great to run into Anchor because it allows you to do everything all at once and it’s very intuitive and easy. It allowed me to just be able to go and not think about having to get equipment and materials.”
Although podcasting is increasingly accessible, finding time and space to record, acquiring gear, and developing editing skills is still an involved process that can be even more unattainable for individuals with marginalized identities. So Spotify and Anchor’s latest podcasting initiative, Making Space, helps elevate underrepresented voices by creating accessible podcasting spaces within the LGBTQIA+ community. Through the program, we’re setting queer businesses up with the tools and resources they need to make podcasts. Savereign is the first stop.
As the inaugural Making Space participant, AJ will receive a comprehensive podcast tool kit that includes a microphone, recording equipment, and educational resources—effectively giving him everything needed to create his own in-house recording studio at Savereign. Other creators in his community will also be able to access this space for free to begin recording their own shows.
“I’m so excited because it’s all the things I didn’t know I could ever have or use,” said AJ. “Now we’ve got mics, a mixer board thing—there’s one or two other podcasters that I know here and they’re like, this is crazy and this is perfect. I’m excited to learn how to use that gear and record with them.”
For AJ, bringing this studio to the community is a natural transition as he’s already been using Savereign’s Instagram to amplify local businesses and creators.
“I see my work in retail as an art form,” explained AJ. “It’s something that is going to be seen and something that has the capacity to change perspectives. So for my ‘marketing,’ I wanted it to be personal to me. So you’ll see shots of me in there, but it’s mostly people within the community: people with businesses, queer individuals who are also making their mark here, and leaders. I wanted to get those people to also be seen through whatever form of voice or visuals I have on me. I’m one of those people who when I’m on the up, want to raise up everyone else around me because I wouldn’t be where I am without a lot of the people you see on my Instagram.”
Spotify is always looking for ways to help nurture new and emerging voices, and Making Space is an example of how we’re making podcasting possible for anyone, anywhere. By making professional-quality podcast equipment more accessible across community spaces, we can give creators a safe, inclusive place to have their voices heard, and can help drive a more diverse podcaster ecosystem.
“The concept of ‘making space’ is to barrel down a lot of walls that are put up for a lot of us who are ‘different’” says AJ. “It allows us to make room for everyone who is making a difference and everyone who wants to cheer on those who are making a difference. The store’s intention from the beginning has always been a space for people to come in, to breathe in some fresh freaking air, and to feel at peace. And to feel loved. That’s what I feel whenever I’m around plants and it’s what got me into them. Taking care of plants allowed me to love myself. It gave me calmness; it gave me natural positive energy. That’s what I wanted for people. And that’s why I stayed. And that’s why we’re here.”