My friend Angelina sent me a text message last Friday about her experience in Papyrus. She went to purchase a birthday card and was not able to find a single card with a non-white face.
If you aren’t familiar with Papyrus, they are known for their beautiful stationery. I have been a long time admirer and was a customer for many years. When Lina told me what happened, I was not surprised. I had the exact same experience almost four years ago. That experience at Papyrus is what prompted me to start Mae B.
While their staff was kind, courteous, and they never made feel unwelcome in their store, the products they did not carry made me feel that way. And four years later, the same issue exist. The business case for embracing diversity has been consistently proven in the last few years, yet major companies are still behind.
I went back and forth on whether to write this blog. When I started my journey with Mae B, I found myself exhausted explaining why I started this company. Not because I didn’t enjoy sharing my story but because I did not understand why I had to explain the lack of diversity on the shelves in specialty stationery and big box stores. I didn’t understand why no one else could see that we are reduced to one, tiny section of cards that had brown faces, when there are rows and rows of cards for our white counterparts.
Very recently, a young white business owner laugh at my mission and say, “I don’t get it. Why do you just have a company for women of color”? My blood began to boil and I had to compose myself before I answered that question. I said to him “Next time you walk into a grocery store or Target just take a glance at the greeting card section. Then you will see why my business is important.” Silence. What he said next was a nice surprise. He said, “I guess my response makes me part of the problem”. There was nothing else for me to say.
To some, this blog post may seem trivial because we’re talking about stationery. But, it is about more than that. It is about representation. It is about companies understanding that our buying power matters and that having diversity represented in their offerings is necessary. I am not talking about one product here and there, I am talking about a full line that fully represents what it means to be a person of color. We are diverse in our fashion, our hair, our skin tone, and perspective on the world. That should be reflected in the stores we patronize.
While my mission is to create a beautiful space for brown girls, I also want this to be a priority for other businesses too. We should have options. It has been a wonderful experience building this online brand but we should have the choice to pick up a card at our favorite store without planning ahead.
My hope is that in another 4 years, I won’t feel disappointed when I walk into my favorite stationery shop or big retailer because I don’t see options for brown faces. In my opinion, there is a simple solution to this ongoing problem. Make brown girls a priority and stop making excuses for why items won’t sell.