Winning $55,000 in a recent national LGBT pitch competition provides Godfrey Riddle the building blocks for a hard pivot — shifting the focus of his lifestyle company Civic Saint from handmade retail goods to earthen bricks used to sustainably create artful, affordable homes.
“Affordable housing is a problem I’ve been pondering since my family lost our first home to foreclosure when I was 12,” said Riddle, founder and president of Kansas City-based social venture Civic Saint. “I couldn’t understand why we live in a society where housing is such a precarious thing, especially as I grew to understand it as a key determinant of individual, familial, and community stability, success, and prosperity.”
“As I thought more about Civic Saint’s founding purpose to build inspiring communities where people reach their full potential alongside my professional and personal background, finding ways to lower the bar to home ownership as a means to create and perpetuate generational wealth in overlooked communities seemed like a natural progression to build an equitable and just world,” he continued.
Civic Saint hit the Kansas City maker scene in 2020 with Riddle debuting a line of apparel and accessories meant to provide affirmation around the ideas of universal humanity and worth.
The new iteration of the brand pioneers a process to use compressed earthen bricks (CEBs), prefab manufacturing, and technology to sustainably produce artful, affordable housing and adaptive communities, Riddle said — introducing a version of Civic Saint that aims to close the racial wealth gap through job creation and revitalize redlined neighborhoods.
“For the first time in human history, it is possible to apply structural design standards to earthen buildings; a material humans have used across societies since 8700 BCE,” said Riddle. “Our business model prioritizes the environment while addressing generational wealth disparities through job creation, homeownership, and their ambient economic impacts.”
The pivot is informed by Riddle’s life as a gay, Black man and cancer survivor whose late parents struggled with homeownership, he said. His experience on Amy Pohler’s originalPeacock TV show “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” also contributed to the social enterprise’s renewed focus because Riddle learned how to lighten his ecological footprint by imbuing his surroundings with purpose, he added.
In August, Civic Saint won both the Inaugural Communities of Color Initiative (CoCi) Biz Pitch and the overall Biz Pitch competitions, bringing in a total of $55,000 from the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce at its 2023 International Business & Leadership Conference in Denver.
Click here to watch Civic Saint’s successful pitch presentation.
Civic Saint plans to prototype and deliver its first demo build in April 2024 at Kansas City’s historically Black 18th & Vine Jazz District during AIA Kansas City’s annual Design Week, which brings together thousands from the architecture, design, and creative industries.
A celebration and community event marking the brand’s third anniversary is planned for Oct. 5 to further introduce Civic Saint’s concept and meet its $100,000 startup capital goal.
Click here for more information on the October event.
“Our ultimate vision is for Civic Saint communities to become the most beautiful, family-friendly neighborhoods where people and communities grow to their full potential,” said Riddle.
As part of the social venture’s pivot, Civic Saint is minimizing its apparel collection back down to the brand’s original statement T-shirts with all proceeds benefiting the launch of the new effort. Riddle’s popular “Human” shirts are expected to ultimately evolve into a “House a Human” shirt to match the shift in direction, he said.
Click here to shop Civic Saint.
An artist, nonprofit executive and serial social entrepreneur, Riddle — who also serves as director of resource development at ArtsKC — was honored in July by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce during its Power of Diversity Breakfast. He was one of three up-and-coming senior level workforce members who were celebrated with Ace Award for advocating and uplifting Diversity, Equity and Inclusive within their business and community.
“When I think about how I would use my leadership to have an impact on DEI efforts in Kansas City, it’s always trying to be vocal about groups that are left out,” Riddle said during the Chamber event. “From my vantage point, it’s understanding that I can’t see everything; but sometimes you have to ask the question or at least make space and time to do that and find the answer.”