Zivah (a name that comes from the Hebrew word for “light of God”) sells high-end sunglasses with names like “Glisten” and “Dazzle.” Each one bears a scripture on the inside of the temple. “In a world that seems so polarized, you see the world through a different lens,” Zivah’s website reads.
“Our target consumer really is someone who supports American values, who does not want to support a company that’s gone woke, who does not want to support a company that’s supporting abortions,” Schneider told The Washington Post. (Amazon has joined other large companies in offering to cover employees’ travel expenses for abortion and other non-life-threatening medical treatment if they don’t have access at home.) Since Zivah joined PublicSq. last year, the platform “has definitely become our biggest source of new customers,” Schneider said.
Zivah and PublicSq. are part of a growing contingent of companies promoting “anti-woke capitalism,” a business model that is gaining traction amid broader cultural battles over abortion, guns, transgender rights and American exceptionalism. As big companies and brands such as Target, North Face and Bud Light have drawn fire from some consumers for celebrating the LGBTQ community, PublicSq. is building a customer base on the other side of the ideological spectrum.
The platform has swelled to host more than 55,000 small businesses since it launched on July 4, 2022 — with major growth coming in recent months as consumers reacted to Bud Light’s partnership with transgender comedian and activist Dylan Mulvaney and Target’s Pride merchandise. In the last week of May, as tensions around corporate Pride campaigns crescendoed, PublicSq. said it added more than 300,000 users, bringing its customer base to over 1.1 million.
Americus Reed, professor of marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, said the past decade has seen a profound rise in companies branding themselves as “purpose-driven.” As competition for customers gets tougher, tethering corporate identity to a particular ideology has become a “powerful way” for companies to differentiate themselves and build brand loyalty, Reed said.
“Anyone who takes a position on something is able to capture more market share,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of analytics company GlobalData, noting that the downside for such companies is they open themselves up to “fire from all sides.”
PublicSq. recently went public, aiming to catapult its “pro-American marketplace” onto the main stage. The company began trading on the New York Stock Exchange on July 20, under the ticker PSQH. CEO Michael Seifert rang the opening bell at the NYSE to the tune of loud chants of “U-S-A” from the floor.
Its market capitalization has since grown to around $353 million, according to MarketWatch — less than 1 percent the size of Target.
PublicSq. faces an uphill battle in its bid to rival giants like Amazon and Walmart, given the dominance of those companies and the fact that most consumers “can’t be bothered to change where they shop,” Saunders said.
But PublicSq. executives say demand is strong in an era when many consumers have shown a desire to give their money to companies that align with their values. By offering an alternative, the company is a “direct beneficiary” anytime a large corporation alienates conservative consumers, said Omeed Malik, chairman and CEO of Colombier Acquisition Corp., a special purpose acquisition company that took PublicSq. public through a merger.
“People were hungry for this option,” said Malik, a former managing director of Bank of America Merrill Lynch, who said he believes PublicSq. can be a cornerstone of a “parallel economy” comprising conservative businesses and shoppers.
PublicSq. isn’t the first company to try to capitalize on consumer appetite for “anti-woke” products. In 2022, Jeremy Boreing, co-founder of the Daily Wire, a conservative news site, started a company that sells shaving products after Harry’s Razors pulled its ads from the site due to “values misalignment.”
Since then, Jeremy’s Razors has rolled out other products to compete with companies that have faced right-wing backlash. After Hershey faced blowback for including a transgender activist on packaging in Canada as part of a promotion celebrating International Women’s Day, the site began selling chocolate bars. The ones with nuts are called “HeHim” and the ones without are called “SheHer” — available in both regular and “microaggression size.”
A year ago, Harry’s Razors advertised on our shows. But then, they pulled their ads due to “values misalignment”. Introducing Jeremy’s Razors. Stop giving your money to woke corporations that hate you. Give it to the god-king: https://t.co/DLWEe8hraR pic.twitter.com/yt5gVG8pl0
— Daily Wire (@realDailyWire) March 22, 2022
“Stop giving your money to woke corporations that hate you,” Boreing says in an elaborate online commercial. “Give it to me instead.”
Jeremy’s Razors, Harry’s Razors and Hershey did not respond to requests for comment.
Felix Starkatcher, a substitute teacher in Tulsa, said he was thrilled when he learned about PublicSq. The 31-year-old military veteran saw it as “a surefire investment,” snapping up a few shares of the company’s stock.
“They promote all the traditional American values I grew up loving,” Starkatcher said.
In the past, Starkatcher has shopped at Amazon, Target and Walmart. But he gave up on Target after the company marketed Pride merchandise for kids. He said he’s also had some bad experiences with Amazon lately. All of which made him eager for another option.
Starkatcher said he’s been telling his friends and family about PublicSq., hoping they’ll change their shopping habits, too. “Them being a proper competitor [to Amazon] that actually follows American values and traditions is a godsend for this country,” he said.
Businesses that recently joined the platform say they have benefited from a surge in interest. Before PublicSq., Tanner and Bonnie Blain mostly sold their Fit Dog Bakery treats to customers in their local area in Southern Alabama.
Fit Dog used to get about 60 monthly visitors to its website. After a few months on PublicSq. — during which a growing chorus of conservatives voiced frustration with “woke” values of major corporations — Fit Dog is now averaging 1,500 monthly visitors, and its sales are up 1,000 percent, Tanner said. Knowing that the growth is presumably coming from consumers aligned with the Blains’ Christian values makes the success sweeter.
“Being around like-minded people, that’s always an amazing thing,” Tanner said.
To join PublicSq., a company must be a small or medium-size business that affirms the platform’s core values as stated on its website, including belief in “the greatness of this Nation,” that small businesses are “the backbone of the economy,” that the sanctity of the family unit must be protected and that the government “isn’t the source of our rights, so it can’t take them away.” The platform also prioritizes businesses whose products are made in America.
Seifert has described the platform as being “principled” rather than political, pointing out that the word “Republican” appears nowhere on its website. But the company has drawn support from conservative power-players such as Donald Trump Jr. Former Georgia senator Kelly Loeffler (R) was recently appointed to PublicSq.’s board of directors, and the company recently inked an ad deal with Tucker Carlson’s new Twitter show, according to CNBC.
In an interview with Breitbart News, Seifert said PublicSq. is against corporations’ diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, as well as their environmental, social and governance goals and policies. “The only way that we are going to topple those corrupt philosophies that are destroying our economy is by shifting consumer spending,” he said.
After Bud Light laid off roughly 350 employees last week in the wake of the backlash to its partnership with Mulvaney, PublicSq. invited ex-Bud Light employees to submit resumes, saying it would distribute them to its network of “tens of thousands of Pro-America businesses.”
“We’re sorry that Anheuser-Busch leadership prioritized left-wing ideology over sound business practices,” the letter reads.
Bud Light parent company Anheuser-Busch announced yesterday that they are laying off 350 employees.
Losing a job is never easy and it’s unfortunate their company decided to prioritize woke ideology over doing what was best for the brand.
So we want to help.
If any laid off Bud… pic.twitter.com/BvB9ksN7zq
— Michael Seifert (@realmichaelseif) July 27, 2023
Some vendors on PublicSq. lean into their political views: Patriot Mobile bills itself as “America’s only Christian, conservative wireless provider” and BRAVE Books casts itself as “the antidote to woke culture’s attack on our children.” But others appear to be apolitical, like family-owned chocolatier Fortunato and Carnivore SNAX (which says on its website that it is Joe Rogan’s “favorite snack.”)
With their organic ingredients, sustainable manufacturing practices and artisan craftsmanship, Many of PublicSq.’s offerings would fit right in on Etsy. They can also be on the pricey side.
Janet Wischnia’s family business, American Blossom Linens, makes bedsheets, blankets and towels entirely in the United States. But that requires the products to sell at a higher price. A classic queen-size set of the brand’s eco-friendly cotton sheets retails for $299; Target’s all-cotton Threshold sheet sets are available in the same size for $55.
Wischnia sees her audience as primarily mothers and grandmothers with money to spend on a high-end product, but in the past she’s struggled to reach them. When she learned about PublicSq., she sensed it would be a good fit.
So far, the audience is responding well to her products — and she’s enjoyed shopping on the site, too (she recently bought a straw beach hat).
“I try to live my own life the way I conduct my business,” Wischnia said.
Although PublicSq. is positioning itself as an alternative to Amazon, some of the businesses involved are open to both platforms. GloriLight, a Christian night light that projects Bible verses on the ceiling, recently joined PublicSq., but also advertises in traditional social media channels like Facebook and Instagram. The company is planning to sell its wares on Amazon soon, too, and estimates that sales through the e-commerce giant will represent about a third of its business, according to CEO Clay Banks.
Many of the brands on PublicSq. describe themselves as “purpose-driven.” Coffee brand Promised Grounds bills itself as “the only coffee made to serve.” The company built its business by providing high-quality coffee beans for churches and faith-based organizations. Now it’s also selling directly to consumers through PublicSq.
Orders have grown considerably over the past six months, according to the company’s head of marketing Brian Santa Maria, but he wasn’t able to directly tie that uptick to a rise in anti-woke or anti-corporate sentiment among consumers. Still, the brand has been resonating with PublicSq.’s audience.
For Santa Maria, who spent years as senior creative director at Best Buy before joining Promised Grounds, the concept behind PublicSq. doesn’t seem all that different from “Vans or PacSun or any companies that serve a specific identity.”
“That’s how all of us make our purchase decisions, or even life decisions, when it comes down to it,” Santa Maria said. “Whether it’s who we’re dating or who we’re voting for, or what we’re buying in the grocery store, we think with our head but we ultimately make that decision with our emotions.”