‘Mom, this looks like me’

Cruze and Chase Brown started their greeting card business, 2 Brown Boys, when they recognized the industry lacked black representation. (Credit: Courtesy of the Browns)

From an early age, teenage brothers Chase and Cruze Brown noticed a lack of diverse representation when it came to birthday and holiday cards. So New York artists decided to do something about it: they launched 2 Brown Boys, a line of greeting cards that elevates black cheer with a Gen-Z vibe, which brought them enthusiastic support in the form of local media coverage and online shoppers. .

“We have never seen [authentic] versions of ourselves, as black or any other minority,” Chase, 17, tells Yahoo Life about what inspired them to get into the business. And they are not alone.

Hundreds of new card companies are started each year, most by millennials, according to a 2020 study by the Greeting Card Association, an 81-year-old U.S. trade association for the $7.3 billion industry. And as new lines evolve “to meet the needs of the selective consumer,” that means creating products that look like they were “produced just for them or their loved ones,” the GCA website notes.

Since millennials and Gen Z have a “very different approach” to inclusion, says GCA executive director Nora Weiser, they also have high expectations when it comes to seeing diversity reflected. in the products they buy. That’s why the association aims to elevate independent card makers through funding, industry partnerships and other initiatives, such as its Black Pitch program, which has cultivated collections like the Black Joy Papers. .

“Millennials, surprisingly, buy a lot of cards,” Weiser says. In fact, since 2015, people born between 1981 and 1995 have bought more cards than any other demographic group in the country, according to the GCA. And these consumers expect a “more personal experience” with the cards than in past generations.

Step into the next generation of card makers.

to feel seen

Some big brands in the greeting card industry have expanded their collections to be more inclusive, like Hallmark’s Mahogany line, which celebrates black femininity.

Still, some experts say it’s been a slow burn to see the growing diversity reflected on US retail shelves — and there are a variety of reasons for that, starting with the physical size of some.

“They don’t have space for a million different cards…so I think for some stores it can be difficult,” says Ginger McCleskey, sales representative and retail consultant in the industry for over 30 years old, about small shops. While the “traditional” model was to stock stores with generic birthday, graduation, get well or congratulatory cards, McCleskey says the consumer population is changing, and so is the variety of their products.

“It depends on where they are, their neighborhood and their customers. Some of them will definitely know their customer base well enough to say, ‘Hey, I definitely have a market for this,’ and they ‘will accept. ,'” she explains.

Susana Sanchez-Young, artistic director at Los Angeles Timestells Yahoo Life that she had the idea to create more space for Latinx greeting cards when she saw there was nothing for her.

“I haven’t seen anything accessible to someone like me,” she says. “I thought to myself, maybe I should try to do something. That idea eventually grew into Designing Chica, an online store she started 11 years ago while pregnant with her first child, selling greeting cards and other merchandise uplifting the Latinx community.

“The response has been amazing,” Sanchez-Young, who is half Nicaraguan and half Honduran, said of her designs, which feature imagery celebrating holidays like Day of the Dead and other Latinx themes. “When people see my cards, they say, ‘I’m so grateful to have met you because you have cards with things that my abuelita [grandma] says, things that my mother says. You don’t see things like that in big markets or in department stores.

Another card maker, Jesus Ruvalcaba, a graphic designer and son of two Mexican immigrants, remembers seeing a major gap in Latinx representation in 2016, when he went to get a birthday card for his mother.

“They had a pretty good selection of cards in Spanish, but I couldn’t find anything that matched my mom’s personality or her sense of humor,” he told Yahoo Life. A year later, Ruvalcaba launched Paper Tacos, a greeting card company focused on Mexican culture and traditions, now available online and in select stores in the United States.

“We are much more than the [Spanish] language,” he says of the Mexican-American community. “We have our own culture, which incorporates the food, language and music we listen to.”

Personal connection seems to be the key to Paper Tacos’ success. In one drawing, Ruvalcaba was inspired by a song his mother used to sing to him whenever he got sick as a child:Sana sana colita de rana. Si no sanas hoy, sanarás mañana(“Heal, heal little frog tail. If you don’t heal today, you will heal tomorrow”). This recovery card ended up being one of his best sellers.

“Me and all the friends who come from Latin America know this song”, he explains. “So I used it as a get well card and people loved it. They see it and they’re like, ‘Oh my god, I remember my mom telling me that, or my grandma singing that to me. .’ »

He adds, “I literally made people cry when they saw one of my cards, because they remembered what it meant to them.”

Fear of being “too political”

Such cultural specifics can help card recipients “feel less alone,” says Janine Kwoh, owner and designer of Kwohtations, a New York-based inclusive greeting card company.

“It’s a way for me to tell myself the things I think I need to hear,” Kwoh tells Yahoo Life about her thought process behind card design, which she’s been doing full-time since 2018. “In response, I think a lot of people say, ‘Oh, that’s me’ or ‘I’m going through that too’ or ‘I needed to hear that too.'”

Kwoh’s simple and whimsical designs touch on a range of experiences, such as non-traditional parenting, death and other life transitions, often using humor to address a range of related topics, from the cessation of your job to survival in generally difficult times.

“I think there’s still a misconception that cards that feature people of color or race relationships or that celebrate things like gender transitions are ‘too niche’ to have real market demand, which I don’t agree with,” says Kwoh, whose cards are sold in independent shops. in 39 states. “I think there’s also the fear of being, like, ‘too controversial’ or ‘too political’.”

“I don’t really think there’s anything controversial about making cards that celebrate people for who they are,” she adds.

It’s a thought that resonates with UK-based Zimbabwean designer Avila Diana Chidume, who says growing up she was never given a card with authentic depictions of black culture. This inspired her to launch Avila.Diana, offering cards, stationery and other gifts celebrating black beauty and culture, now stocked by retailers across the UK, Germany and Nigeria. .

“It’s amazing to see the widespread support from people finally waking up to the fact that all of these marginalized groups exist — that everyone has a birthday,” Chidume told Yahoo Life. “Why can’t he we have products that are more inclusive and make people feel wanted or special? »

“[People] are so excited when they see a card that looks like them,” she adds. “They have the same hair, they have the same outfit and everything, and they were so excited to go, ‘Mom, that looks like me.’ My heart, to this day, feels like it’s going to explode every time I think about it.

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Mika R. Pyle