Per her business card, Erin Teal Littlestar is all about #bossbitches. The 33-year-old just opened the Perlene, a workspace and social club for women in inner Southeast Portland. The only club of its kind in the city*, it launched in January as a place to hustle, organize, and smash the patriarchy—and then sip some bubbly while crafting. Littlestar, born in Texas and raised in Florida, has taken an eclectic path: she worked in food justice nonprofits in Washington, DC, ran the kitchen for Occupy Wall Street in New York City, and landed in Portland in 2014, working as a trained life coach. Regardless of job title, she’s an exuberant, magnetic force—a serial organizer, clad in a caftan and armed with two miniature poodles, Pendleton (pictured above) and Oliver—and she revels in bringing women together. We let her explain it in her own words:
The early part of last year, it was the beginning of the election and it was already terrible. The unbelievable sexism and racism and homophobia hit me hard. Being a Native American queer woman, I was like, what is happening in the world? I got really upset for a long time. I made a commitment to do something with the anger.
The idea of a club for women interested in doing something great in the world and supporting each other—it’s not a new idea. It’s a very old idea, but it fell apart when women started working [outside the home in the mid-20th century]. There was no place left to be social, to be with other women, to create ideas, to organize and be active. Around the time we opened, women’s clubs opened in Manhattan and Brooklyn. This is a thing that’s happening now. Women want and need our own space. I would love to have an elected official come out of the Perlene, to have women here starting more businesses. I want a Perlene in every major city and several in Portland.**
When I was 24, I moved to Washington, DC, and got a job with DC Central Kitchen, this extraordinary nonprofit in the basement of a homeless shelter that pumps out 5,000 meals a day for social service agencies and runs a culinary job training program for people coming out of prison and off the streets. We started buying produce from farmers in the Chesapeake Bay area. At first it was like, if we buy tomatoes from these Mennonite farmers, is it worth it? I ran the numbers and I was like, we could change everything. Volunteers got a better experience. The job-training students got hands-on with superfresh food. We saved about a million dollars in our food budget.
I ended up in New York. But instead of going to my first day of culinary school, I went to Zuccotti Park. Someone handed me a box of purple cauliflower—it was beautiful—and I ended up running the kitchen for Occupy Wall Street. It was a different kind of education...my first experience with activism, organizing, anything like that. I did not grow up in a family that did stuff like that. My family is very Republican—it was hard on them. There was a lot of strife. There was a lot of anger. But it was a great education in how things happen and how they fall apart—the amazing energy that gets generated from something like Occupy, and also the incredible force it took to shut it down. I grew up fairly sheltered, so it was a real wake-up call that this is not a game. People get hurt. People go to prison. People get brutalized.
I went to Spain several years ago with my girlfriend at the time. Jamón ibérico was still not being imported to the US. And they had them everywhere there—like 80 or 100 euros for an entire leg. I cleared out my whole suitcase. The jamón only fit diagonally because it’s an entire leg, with the hoof and everything. I packed clothes around it. Anything that didn’t fit didn’t come back. I think I threw away half my clothes. They opened and searched my bag [at the airport]—there was a note from the TSA, but the ham was still there. I carted that thing around everywhere. I hung it in my closet in New York. All my clothes smelled like ham.
Wednesday evenings are for Crafty Bitches. Tonight we’re doing some meditative coloring and knitting (wine will also be happening). Join us! We've opened this event up to Members and friends;) ... . . . . . . #theperlene #pdxfeminist #feminist #nastywoman #ladysecrets #keeptheconversationgoing #genderequality #pantsuitrevolution #awareness #bossbitch #feminismisforeveryone #femmepeneur #bodypos #ambitchious #feministfortress #womeninpower #stillwithher #strongertogether
I had a trip scheduled to Portland to visit my best friend. I hadn’t even left the airport—I walked out and there was the living wall on the parking garage and the driftwood horses, and I was like, ‘I’m in. I am leaving my whole life.’
It’s important to me for Perlene to be feminist, but also intersectional. It’s really easy in Portland to have a white girls club. Nobody here wants that. For me, I need a space to work outside of my house. I need connection. I need creativity and playtime. That’s something I hear from my members. They’re like, I want to come drink a glass of wine and make a paper flower. I need to let my brain do that. I also need luxury in my life. I need to use the good crystal and have velvet couches. There’s a lot of power in beauty and femininity. We can have sequined pillows and still be leaders.
*Though it shares some similarities with Broad Space, an arts-focused women's collective—read more about it here.
**Recent Perlene events have included Kundalini yoga, "Best Friend Speed Dating," and a call-your-rep party with queer-femme performance group Pink Hanky.