We could have made national headlines: “Couple from Texas reverses the trend by moving to California, then starts new business.” Robert and I moved to Long Beach, California from Austin, Texas because we couldn’t take the heat anymore. After living in Central Texas for 21 years, it was time to pack up our van, say goodbye to our loved ones, and head west. We were seeking better weather and a governor we could tolerate. We ended up with a new home and a subscription box business.
Renee Trepagnier and Robert Dugan, co-founders of Here I Am Box
We moved to California with our jobs intact because many companies were still allowing employees to work from home at that point in the pandemic. The funny thing about corporate work is that things aren’t always as secure as you might think. Before long, Robert and I found ourselves without those jobs, and a lot of free time on our hands instead.
At first, I spent most of that time staring at the Pacific Ocean, watching the ships make their way into the port, thinking about how brief and beautiful our lives can be and how much time we, as a nation, waste in petty arguments over who’s right and who’s wrong. I thought about power and control and free will. I thought about how everything is connected and how the universe might be conducting one large-scale, long-running experiment to find the best version of us as a species.
The Early Days
I grew up in an upper-middle-class suburb in Houston, Texas, with a hard-working professional father and a stay-at-home mother. By the time I was a young woman, other women had won important victories that I had benefited from, including the right to vote and a fundamental right to privacy regarding my own body. Without understanding what a significant privilege it is to attend a university, I meandered through my years in college with a carefree weightlessness that few people will ever have a chance to experience. I lived in a bubble and thought the whole world was right there with me.
My auspicious journey continued when I started working for a startup company in the early 1990s as the Big Bang of the World Wide Web saw the birth of Amazon, PayPal, and a global explosion of e-commerce. I worked at companies side by side with engineers and entrepreneurs, and we were wildly successful. I loved it. Everything was better on the Internet. We were changing the world, one online shopping cart at a time. The booming subscription box business model was still decades away.
Cracks in the Facade
It was around this time when the bubble I was living in started to feel small and stinky. I noticed there were far more men than women in leadership roles and very few people of color in high-paying tech jobs. I wondered why. Weren’t we all equal? Didn’t we have the same opportunities?
I didn’t like it but didn’t know how to change it. I continued working in what I realized was a complex power structure that usually denied, but always maintained, the disparity. What could I do? I had been successful, but surely I wasn’t contributing to this disparity, was I? I hadn’t considered walking away, or refusing to play by their rules. It didn’t occur to me that I could start my own thing, with my own rules.
The Wall Came Down
And then here I was, 30 years later, staring at the Pacific Ocean after someone at work with more power than me decided it was time for me to go. I’d changed jobs before. It was no big deal. I could move on. But instead, I stared at the ocean.
Something was different this time. I didn’t want to keep doing things the same way I’d always done them. I couldn’t bring myself to apply for the same jobs. I no longer wanted to work for someone else or start a relationship with a new boss who followed the same rules. I was tired of the status quo. I needed something different.
Now We are In Charge
Robert had experience launching new businesses in the past. He knew we’d be happier if we were in charge of our destiny. We had talked about it before but never had any ideas that seemed plausible. Robert knew that we could do anything we wanted with hard work and determination. I started to come around to this idea. And now, with a lot of time and a little money, what better opportunity would there be? We decided to take the chance. We’d build a subscription box business that worked differently.
So, we started Here I Am Box, where we curate our subscription and gift boxes with art objects, decor, and self-care products. We work with makers and artisans who run small businesses building wealth for themselves while contributing to their local economies. We work with people who respect their environment and one another. Together, we support and participate in a global network of businesses that values uniquely crafted products.
Small is Beautiful
Here I Am Box values community over profits. We believe that as a community, we can change the way business is conducted. We do not strive to drive prices down in order to maximize profits. We seek to pay a fair price to our makers for their crafts and promote them as part of our brand. We work to create a shared value for our businesses while delivering the best products to our patrons.
Why do we focus on makers? We believe in celebrating creativity because it makes our lives richer. It gives bold expression to our emotions and lived experiences. It creates space for thinking about more than ourselves, space to be curious and live freely.
We hope that each Here I Am box piques your imagination, stirs your passions, and satisfies a craving you didn’t know existed. It’s a celebration of beauty and curiosity that honors artists and makers and rewards those who find them. We might not change the world, but we will try to make it a little more beautiful and fair.