Growing up, I loved art and creating. I loved learning from the world around me but hardly ever saw Black artists being celebrated and creating at the same level as their white counterparts.
The representation was scarce. I found myself drawing Barbie repetitively and obsessing over the Black characters in Bratz and Totally Spies when I was introduced to them. They looked like me, but they were never the main characters of the stories read to me or the cartoons shown. Barbie was.
When I did occasionally see Black characters, there were racist overtones. For example, the mammy character from Tom & Jerry was common in a lot of episodes, and who can forget Mr Popo, the gollywog, from Dragon Ball Z? From a young age, I knew something wasn’t right whenever I saw those characters. The limited representation was disturbing and influenced how I saw myself and others.
I have been obsessed with greeting cards since I was baby. I love receiving them and adore every aspect of them, from the kind messages inside to the creativity used to create them. It wasn’t until I was 21 that I received a birthday card with a Black person on it. It was one of my own designs.
The largest, most popular greeting card companies are notorious for gatekeeping the industry. They exclude black creatives from creating representative cards, and stop inclusion and diversity from accessing retail spaces.
Up until Black Lives Matter protests, whenever you walked into a greeting card shop, the chances of seeing a card with a Black, Asian or even disabled person on it were next to none. Since starting my own greeting card business, to tackle the lack of representation and challenge these large brands, the most common feedback I have received has been: “I didn’t know cards like this existed” – a disturbing statement given just how diverse the UK’s population is alone.
My business introduced me to over 100 talented creative from Black, Asian and other minority groups creating cards similar to mine, who are yet to be given the recognition they deserve, and yet to be given access to the opportunities the large companies gatekeep.
It took the death of a Black man for large corporations to hire 1 or 2 businesses from our community. They have had over 20 years to do this, but chose not to. The bid to be inclusive and diverse is one created from greed and profit, not care for communities who have existed for hundreds of years. Black Lives Matter is not a trend, its not an opportunity to make money. For most of us, it’s our lives at risk, affected by racism both institutional and micro.
When I launched my greeting card business I was lucky to get access to funding from my university, which was followed by PR opportunities and being introduced to the right people. I got lucky, but still have to work extremely hard every day to ensure that my momentum doesn’t stop and I can continue representing the communities I created my brand for.
My goal since launching was to provide opportunities to creatives and businesses similar to mine, to share my successes with them and make a table, instead of waiting for the next 10 years to be invited to take a seat at a table which was never created to accommodate me.
I’m pleased to do that now, I am pleased to introduce to the world Kutenda the World’s First Online Greeting Card Marketplace strictly focused on providing representation for underrepresented groups.
Kutenda means ‘thankful’ in Shona, one of the main languages spoken in Zimbabwe, my motherland.
I’ve been thankful about the opportunities I have received despite being a Black, immigrant woman running a business. This business reflects my roots, optimism despite adversity and the power of community. The logo’s design stems from the Great Zimbabwe ruins, reminiscent of a once great civilisation.
By Avila Diana Chidume