Imagine the scene… It’s your best friend’s baby shower and you are searching the high street for a greeting card featuring an image of a cute little black boy to celebrate their new addition to the family. How many shops can you list that sell suitable cards? Unfortunately, I can imagine the answer is not very many, if any at all!
I’m Leanne; an illustrator and greetings card designer, and this is an issue I’m addressing through the production of items that feature portraits of people of colour. Having diverse representation in our shops (and everywhere else) is so important in helping different ethnicities feel included and celebrated, so I aim to do this one card at a time!
Why I do it…
Recently, I was asked why I only feature Black or Asian people in my designs. My response was; because I’ve found that almost all high street shops only feature cards that have silhouetted or white figures on their cards, so in order to balance this out, I tailor my cards to an audience that is often left out. My brand is all about inclusivity, celebration and positive representation, so I’m passionate about getting images of people of all skin tones, ages, sizes and hair types seen. To do this, I feel the need to focus on those who are less represented or not represented at all. Much like the recent launch of Tesco’s plasters in darker shades; they saw something missing in the market and produced more plasters that match darker skin tones – not favouritism, just including those left out for a very long time.
Why is it important?
We all know that there is a lot of research showing the benefits of people seeing themselves represented positively in the media and I believe this is also true with toys, books, clothing, greeting cards and more. Having figures that look like us help us feel confident and counted and it’s human nature to be drawn to faces that are familiar or similar to our own, so imagine how disheartening it must be to never see yourself represented at all!
Some may think “It’s just a card – it’s not as important as media” but I truly believe cards are more than just accompaniments to gifts. Greeting cards let the recipient know that they are considered and loved on a personal level and what’s more personal than seeing yourself reflected in the artwork? They boost our mood and self-esteem and as many of us keep the greeting cards we receive from loved ones (my recent Instagram poll said 75% of you do), they become part of lasting memories that mean a lot to us. I’ll never forget seeing a child run up to my stall and excitedly say “Mummy look! He looks like me!” – it was a great moment showing how special my cards can make people feel and the fact that #RepresentationMatters. Furthermore, we are part of a racially diverse nation, so why shouldn’t we all represented on as many platforms and mediums as possible.
What can we do?
As entrepreneurs and small business owners, we often feel small in a world of huge brands but we have the power change society and increase the visibility of ethnic minorities. I believe black businesses can do many things, including:
Thinking outside the box. Produce items that feature unique images and patterns. Use little-known languages or dialects in your writing accompanied with portraits of people from the African Diaspora that aren’t always seen in mainstream media. Even within the black community there is a huge amount of diversity, so let’s produce products that show as much of this beauty as possible. We have such a rich culture to share that can’t just fit into one box of ‘blackness’ and I believe that the more diversity we share, the more people will take notice.
Share your business mission with people outside of our race. Involving and educating more communities and races will bring more awareness and understanding of why diverse representation matters. We know, but do they?
Think BIG. Up your social media presence, attend racially diverse events and pitch to large mainstream distributors (without compromising the origins of your brand/business). We are here and need to be heard because not only can we creative lucrative black businesses, we can create lucrative businesses, full stop!
I’m very proud of where we’ve come but I know that we have a lot further to go. It feels great to have comments such as “Wow, I never see cards like yours on the high street” or “I’ve never seen illustrations that look like me until now” but I’d love to get to a place where my customers are not so shocked when they see themselves represented.