Ever notice how homogeneously white the elves and Santas and fireside families on your gift wrapping paper are? Jasmine Hudson, J’Aaron Merchant and Madia Willis noticed, and they did something about it. Enter Black Paper Party, an Arkansas-based wrapping paper company launched by three Black women to introduce more Black representation in wrapping paper imagery.
“Coming from corporate retail,” Willis said in a press release, “we noticed a deficit of products featuring people of color, especially during the holidays, when a high percentage of money spent on holiday shopping is by Black Americans. We saw creating wrapping paper and holiday ornaments as a necessity.”
Hudson and Merchant, who live in Northwest Arkansas, are co-founders of the JazzyJaeNWA blog, as well as @blackownednwa, a directory of Black-owned businesses in Northwest Arkansas. Hudson, Merchant and Willis worked together in the region at one point, and ideas about representation on the gift wrap shelves began to germinate among the three women.
“I think it was just kind of a perfect storm,” Willis told us over the phone. “J [J’Aaron’] being an illustrator in a space where she illustrates a lot of children’s books and works on projects where her characters are little Black boys and girls, and people are hiring her to illustrate stories for children who don’t see themselves represented in the media and in the books they often read. And then Jasmine and I came from the retail space — I was a textile designer and frequently did graphics and prints for mass market, and a lot of those graphics didn’t include characters of color, when we know that the mass market customer is very diverse.”
Though the trio is hopeful that they’ll make inroads with big box stores in the future, Black Paper Party Goods this year are being manufactured, sold and shipped independently, by the company itself. 2020 fulfillment for Black Paper Party, Willis said, “is going great. The response has been amazing,” Willis said. “A lack of representation — visual imagery where Black families and Black children could see themselves and celebrate themselves — was definitely something that was missing in the market.” And, in a year that’s prompted companies to looking more carefully at equity across their departments, Willis and her colleagues at Black Paper Party are optimistic about the possibility for change.
“We hope that those commitments are not for PR, or to ‘ride the wave,’ but are actually commitments to the customers who buy their products,” Willis said. “On top of that, demographics are changing. Now, children under the age of 18 are majority-minority in this country. It’s only a matter of time before those customers start demanding to see themselves in the products that they spend their money on.”
Find Black Paper Party’s goods at blackpaperparty.com.