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OwlCrate Reverses Decision To Sell Harry Potter Mugs After Community Backlash

Pour a drink to that.

Owlcrate logo next to scales showing the trans community and allies winning over JK Rowling and a mug. (Image: Chip Somodevilla / Getty and Alyssa Shotwell.)

A week ago, book subscription box service OwlCrate announced that after a little over a year of not selling Harry Potter merch or including it in their boxes, they were reversing course by continuing to sell their Harry Potter mug collection.

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The initial pause began in June 2020 after JK Rowling stopped teasing her transphobia (in her fiction and Twitter activity) and instead choose to come out in full force as TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) by publishing a 3600-word manifesto. In the poorly cited essay, she misrepresents the trans community in almost every way. Rowling insists that she (and other TERFs, sorry, they prefer “gender critical”) are oppressed because they cannot express transphobia without critique.

Horrified by Rowling’s stance, communities inspired by her work (such as MuggleNet) and individuals (fans, performers from the films) publicly condemned her hateful rhetoric. Though larger corporations stayed silent, concerned folks pressured many smaller businesses (like OwlCrate) to speak up, and many took their own initiative.

OwlCrate director and founder Korrina Ede responded to the Rowling news by posting that the company would immediately suspend all Harry Potter products. While OwlCrate uses unlicensed fan-made merchandise that would not be directly lining Rowling’s pockets, they understood continuing to engage with her as a business made a statement that trans lives were not valued. At the time, it seemed that OwlCrate understood that showing support to Rowling solidifies her influence and social capital.

Rowling is already unfathomably wealthy between royalties and the continuation of the wizarding world through The Cursed Child and the Fantastic Beasts series, not to mention entire theme parks. A long time ago, Harry Potter and Rowling were once used as a symbol for speaking up against injustice. However, that magical world has since become a symbol of fear and hate for many fans who feel betrayed by Rowling. While our personal feelings about books that meant a lot once can remain complicated, like any symbol, when used in public that changes.

A little over one year later, OwlCrate’s Ede posted an update on the OwlCrate social media and to their email subscribers. They were moving forward in selling (and completing) their Harry Potter mug collection. Despite a year of supposedly reflecting on how they would move forward as a company in light of the confirmation that author JK Rowling is actively crusading against members of the Trans community, they choose profits.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by OwlCrate (@owlcrate)

In the post, Ede said that though she disagrees with Rowling, she couldn’t part with the series as it (like most Harry Potter fans) played a big part in her life. With that excuse in hand, it felt to many that a fictional world was more important to OwlCrate than actual, living trans people.

Some were pleased to see their mug collection to completion. However, there was also a wave of anger and disgust that followed the announcement by trans readers and their allies. Non-binary BookTuber Jesse read through many of the comments from the OwlCrate announcement post in a recent video.

Making matters worse, the “dark academia” themed August OwlCrate box promoted alongside the Harry Potter mug features Victoria Lee’s book A Lesson in Vengeance. At the same time they decided to continue supporting Rowling, they chose to pair the current month with their first openly trans author.

Even among people who showed support of OwlCrates’ decision, commenters noted that their mile-long caption explanations (that continued into the comment section) were a bit much.

The next day after OwlCrate posted their first formal announcement, they doubled down on their decision and attempted to deflect by adding that 20% of profits would go to the charity of the purchasers’ choice. Of the three available charities, only one related directly to the LGBTQ+ community (The Trevor Project.) While the organization does excellent work, it has also become a catch-all for every time the LGBTQ+ community is brought up and doesn’t focus specifically on the trans community that OwlCrate and Rowling turned their backs on. Some OwlCrate subscribers noted that the price of the mugs also increased a few dollars, so the charitable angle wasn’t all that benevolent.

OwlCrate reverses decision

On August 17, in a message from Ede, OwlCrate reversed its decision (hopefully for the final time) to sell the Harry Potter mug collection, writing:

“I realize that privately appreciating the series and acknowledging the good it has brought into my life is very different from promoting it through my business. Although these items were unofficial and not financially benefiting the author directly it is still active promotion of a brand that is hurting many people in the transgender community. While trying to reconcile my own personal relationship with the series, I lost sight of the very real harm continued platforming of the brand causes.”

 

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A post shared by OwlCrate (@owlcrate)

OwlCrate removed the ability to purchase the mugs but agreed to fulfill the pre-orders already submitted. While they did not acknowledge the price markups on the collection, Ede wrote that the other 80% of the profits would go to The Transgender Law Center. The organization is the largest trans-specific and trans-led civil rights organization in the U.S.

Additionally, Ede stated that OwlCrate donated $10,000 to The National Center for Transgender Equality. Focused on community and policy, the center “envisions a society in which transgender people not only survive, but thrive.”

Ede pledged to continue to support the trans community “by featuring trans authors/artists/shops in our boxes.”

Ede acknowledged that many of their partners and team members were caught off guard by her decision. This is the non-ableist translation as the original caption said, “blindsided.” She continued, “Although my original post was written from a loving place, I know now that it came across as though I value a fictional book series over the lives of trans people. This is unequivocally untrue, and I’m so sorry to everyone who I have hurt.”

It will be up to the individual members of the trans community on whether or not to accept Ede’s/OwlCrate’s apology. An apology that sounds like “well you took this wrong” apology at the end there.

Because Ede’s decision was driven by profits when she initially chose to continue the collection, it is unclear how many people will take this course correction as a sign to re-subscribe to OwlCrate’s service. The back and forth mess created has also produced new groups angry at OwlCrate—the people that wanted to buy the mug that refused to accept the harm and transphobes. Some of these are the same people, but they are still two groups.

This was just one comment, but there are hundreds of similar comments under that OwlCrate post. Openly transphobic readers, authors, and book influencers who are not important enough to name are having a field day in the comments.

Assuming that the $10,000 gift to The National Center for Transgender Equality, the 80% mug profits go to The Transgender Law Center, and the apology was genuine, OwlCrate and Ede still have a lot of work to do to earn back the trust of their audience and, more importantly, the trans community. If it isn’t already damaged beyond repair.

(via Instagram, feature image: Alyssa Shotwell and Chip Somodevilla /Getty.)

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Author

Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.

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