The Story of Emote


Kyler Vollmar.

A staff picture of the people behind Emote.

Jernigan Neighbors, [email protected], Arts and Features Editor

Emote attracts many eyes in Asheville with its dynamic colors and distinct style. What once started out as an Etsy website and vendor booth, is now a West Asheville hotspot.

Bobby Shoe is a nonbinary Asheville local who turned an isolating pandemic into a project that would alter their life forever in the late summer of 2020. 

“At the time, I had recently quit an office job and gone through a challenging break up,” Shoe said. “I was also battling all the big, hard pandemic and social injustice feelings that so many others were, so I started making art and writing to process my feelings.” 

Shoe said the beginning of the pandemic brought a unique set of challenges, emotions and awareness to their life, similar to many other people during this time. 

Shoe said sharing their creations online and making connections during a time of grief and isolation made them feel less alone and aided their mental health. 

“I started vending several outdoor markets a week, and it really lifted my spirits to be around other creatives and to share my art,” the artist said. 

Shoe said they met a friend at one market that told them about available retail space in West Asheville. 

“It got me dreaming of the future for the first time in a long time,” the store owner said. “I was immediately interested, but I was afraid to do it alone.” 

Shoe said after attempting to work with other people failed, they took a risk and tried alone. 

Thanks to the popular video app TikTok, Shoe said the store got picked up by the app’s algorithm, attracted a great deal of attention and shaped the future of Emote overnight. 

“A lot of people came and spread the word so quickly that I had to adapt,” Shoe said. “I met so many new artist friends and other queer people in the community thanks to that video. It really changed my life.” 

The Emote owner said their main goal is to support queer creatives, and create income opportunities for queer people and activists within the community. 

Shoe said they facilitate art submissions, buy artist made inventory for the shop, book keeping, social media and other jobs, and their shop partner named X does event coordination including book markets, pop ups, clothing swaps, fundraisers and other community events for the shop. 

Shoe said an Emote associate, Edie, is in charge of buying previously worn clothing during resell hours, and the rest of the team does a mix of different rolls. 

“When coming onto the team, we try to lean into the individual person’s innate interests and gifts,” Shoe said. “Roles can be somewhat fluid depending on what each team member is expressing interest and talent in.” 

“Like most people, the beginning of the pandemic brought a unique set of challenges, emotions, and awareness to my life,” Shoe said. 

The store owner said they prioritize the mentality of sharing as much as they can within Emote whether that be physical space, virtual space, or financial profit.  

“We have a lot of privilege, opportunity and some strange luck that has put us in a position to share and reduce the scarcity mentality.”

The artist said the store values pouring love into the community, and have shown their love and gratitude in various ways. 

“We have a mutual aid rack that 100% of profits go to Asheville for Justice, some sliding scale options for trans affirming items, a monthly grocery raffle and putting our money and resources back into the people who live here,” Shoe said. 

Shoe said as a queer and trans person, they have so much love for the community and want to provide a space for expression, fashion and connection.

“I think that laughter and connection heals a lot, so we try to lead by not letting the scary and violent parts of the world harden us to the point of defeat.”

The Emote founder said it is a priority to maintain a work environment with mutual respect, support and doesn’t make them run and hide away everyday. 

“In my opinion, everything could always be gayer- which to me means being brave, authentic and willing to fight for ourselves when we have to and hold each other as often as possible,” the Emote owner said. 

Shoe said Emote values supporting and uplifting queer, creative people and space in as many domains of life as possible. 

“We also want to make fun and unique fashion accessible,” Shoe said. “We are a business that does exist under the oppressive system of capitalism, and while that is our reality we want to run a business that does things differently – having a space where we have autonomy, and where the money grind is not the main goal.”

Bobby Shoe and Edie posing for a photo. (Kyler Vollmar.)

Shoe said the store contains a bin with prices ranging from four to eight dollars that stays stocked. Clothing on the mutual aid rack is negotiable, and the prices cap around $150-$200 for unique one of a kind items(artists painted leather jackets for example). 

“There’s so much other than clothing,” Shoe said. “There’s tons of art, accessories, home decor goods, ceramics, books, magazines and other small items like patches, pins, stickers and keychains.” 

Shoe said the average artist-made clothing item retails for around $35 -$40, and vintage items average at $20.00 – $25.00.

The Emote owner said inventory can vary often as they continue to meet new artists, and buy from pop ups, but always keep customers aware of what is available on their social media pages like Instagram. 

The artist said they collaborated with groups and businesses like DIYABLED, Southern Equality Studios, Different Wrld and the Asheville Art Museum. 

“Emote has had the opportunity to connect with a lot of community organizations so far, and we would love to continue doing so,” Shoe said. “We have been a donation drop location for the Asheville Survival Program and the Mountain Area Abortion Doula Collective which means we collect donated items that these groups need and coordinate pick up from the organizations.”

The Asheville local said Emote has supported and coordinated fundraisers for trans affirming surgeries for folks in the community, and other causes.

“We recently started getting involved in the drag community too which is so exciting to me,” Shoe said. “We are sponsoring drag shows at Different Wrld, and helping coordinate and facilitate workshops with our friend Sev, a drag performer that focuses on helping people break into the world of drag for the first time.”

The store owner said Emote is open to receiving ideas from people in the community on what supportive roles they can play in organized plans and movements. 

“I definitely view the shop as a support to the community as opposed to the people who are leading and organizing movements,” Shoe said. “That’s not really my natural lane to fall into but, I will ride for folks who are making efforts to take care of others and do what I can to help carry the weight.”

Two Emote employees, Ava and Spike. (Kyler Vollmar)

Shoe said they want to express their most sincere gratitude for everyone who has helped them grow, and to those who helped navigate towards resources and aided in connection when they first started out with their dream. 

The Emote founder said when they opened the shop they were not plugged into the community due to isolation and the deadly grind of capitalism, but they are so thankful for everyone helping them navigate, grow and to those who make them feel connected. 

“At the end of the day, Emote is just a shop with some cool things in it, and the community is what makes the magic happen,” Shoe said. “Gay people rule the world!”