On 8th March and beyond, this campaign aims to “Celebrate women’s achievement. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality.” I think these points are so important and pride myself in being a female in a male-dominated industry (graphic design), so I often share my journey and achievements on social media to hopefully inspire other women to join this industry.
This year, I was asked to speak to FMM Collective (a Croydon-based marketplace in which my greeting cards are stocked) about my experiences as a female business owner/entrepreneur. We discussed whether I have come across any bias or challenges because of my gender and/or ethnicity.
…as a female, I don’t think we are taken as seriously in entrepreneurial positions as men unfortunately. I’ve had the question “How’s your little business going?” or when I say I design greeting cards and gifts, I’ve had a response of “Awww Bless!” which both come across as really patronising.
I think it’s so important to make female professionals visible and love that days like IWD highlight the work we do in a patriarchal society. If young girls can see the success of women, it can inspire them to enter fields that they might have previously viewed as closed off for them. #representationmatters
My advice for other female entrepreneurs would be to, of course take inspiration from others, but focus on your own journey to avoid comparison.
We should all be proud of who we are, right? But sometimes, straight people take the fact that we can celebrate who we are and who we love freely for granted. For the LGBTQ+ community, it isn’t always that easy with some places in the world still deeming homosexuality and being transgender illegal! Even in the UK, we rarely see this community represented in art and design (specifically the greeting card/stationary industry) in an open and loving way.
In this blog, I will be talking to two people from the LGBTQ+ community about the way they feel they are represented (or not) in creative industries, as well sharing my greeting card deigns that celebrate Black Pride with you all.
Meet the speakers
I’m really excited to be interviewing Nena, a therapeutic counsellor and founder of Crown Mi Ltd from South London and Ashley Conrad, a broadcaster also from South London for this blog. Swipe across to get to know them a bit better…
Nena: “I’m a qualified therapeutic counsellor and am passionate about the wellbeing of those who are often ostracised in society. I’m the founder of the Mental Health initiative Crown Mi Ltd. Crown Mi Ltd is dedicated to creating platforms geared toward the empowerment of Queer Black Womxn who require support with their Mental Health in a safe space free from the stigmatic gaze.”
Ashley: “I am a broadcaster and typically specialise in light entertainment. I host a radio show for Gaydio; one of the UK’s biggest LGBT platforms and am on London radio station, Maritime Radio. I also work as an online reporter and presenter. I create entertainment news bulletins for an an online platform and, before the world broke, I attended many events as a video reporter.”
Let’s get to know Nena and Ashley’s thoughts on the representation of the LGBTQ+ community. They’ve had different experiences growing up which shows that there has been some progress but there is still work to do…
What have been your experiences within the black or asian community surrounding your sexuality?
Nena: I came out quite late in the game. I spent a large part of my dating life as a heterosexual woman but not from fear of what people would say; I genuinely was only interested in men and wasn’t exposed to Queer relationships. I started to work on loving myself which allowed me to love someone’s energy regardless of gender (and haven’t looked back btw).
The older I get, the more I find that acceptance isn’t alway a given. Family/friends from my (Black) community whom I thought saw past my sexuality, showed their true colours. Their acceptance comes with heteronormative beliefs, therefore, it’s important for me to surround myself with humans that love who I am in front of me and behind my back without restrictions.
Ashley: When I was younger, before I was in the media, my sexuality was quietly accepted… maybe even ignored. No one said anything openly negative or nasty to my face. Later, when I started working in media or attending fashion shows for work, I think it was almost encouraged. Everyone loves and needs positive representation in whatever form that comes in.
Which industries do you feel represent the LGBTQ+ the most/least and why?
Nena: If I had to choose I would say the community has had a huge impact on the Fashion industry. However, I find that true or genuine ally-ship is questionable nowadays as Pride and “Queerness” have quickly become pawns for capitalist exploitation in the mainstream.
Ashley: The most – definitely fashion and music and for the least; sport – the stereotypical industries!
Have you seen your sexuality and/or skin tone represented on greeting cards before? If so, in what way?
Nena: There was a black-owned business in Catford that used to sell many black greeting cards (sadly they have closed down during the pandemic), which I spent many times purchasing greeting cards and bookmarks – anything Black really. However, seeing black cards that celebrate same sex couples or celebrate my love is a very new thing and greatly appreciated.
Ashley: Growing up, definitely. When we would go shopping in certain areas as a child, I’d see black people on greetings cards and it was always something of amazement and it felt incredibly special to receive one.
What do you think of the Pride cards designed by Leanne Creative?
Nena: I think the Pride Cards designed by Leanne Creative are amazing. It was lovely receiving the ‘My Queen’ card as a Valentine’s card from my fiancée last year. I felt like our love was important and celebrated.
Ashley: I adore them! It’s about time. Looking at LGBT media, it’s still very very white ,so seeing a card that represents me is amazing. I feel included.
Is there any imagery/wording you’d like to see more on greeting cards?
Nena: Would love to see wording around fiancé/fiancée birthday/Christmas/anniversary. Congratulations to the happy couple wedding cards.
Have you supported or heard of UK Black Pride UK and Stonewall UK?
Nena: Yes, I’ve heard of both UK Black Pride and Stonewall UK. I’ve had the pleasure of attending many events that have been delivered by both organisations.
Ashley: Yes to both!
Tell us about your proudest moment!
Nena: There have been many, but to name a couple, I will say when I arrived at a place of complete acceptance around being gay and letting my mum know was one of them. Also, sharing a written piece at a Queer event regarding my personal experience with Mental Health and having others identify is another.
Ashley: I don’t believe that has come yet; there’s still so much more I want to do!
Last year, I released two greeting cards featuring illustrated portraits of same-sex couples. It was an initiative inspired by ParliREACH and ParliOUT. ParliREACH is a Workplace Equality Network (WEN) established to increase awareness and appreciation of race, ethnicity and cultural heritage issues in Parliament. It aims to provide a platform where under-represented groups can find support and where equality objectives can be progressed. ParliOUT is another WEN in support of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people in Parliament, with the goal of making LGBT role models more visible and accessible.
£1 from the sale of each of these cards goes to the UK Black Pride charity – Europe’s largest celebration for LGBTQI+ people of African, Asian, Caribbean, Latin American and Middle Eastern-descent. UK Black Pride is a safe space to celebrate diverse sexualities, gender identities, cultures, gender expressions and backgrounds and they foster, represent and celebrate Black LGBTQI+ and QTIPOC culture through education, the arts, cultural events and advocacy.
A further 50p from each sale goes to Stonewall UK – a charity aims to let all lesbian, gay, bi and trans people, in the UK and abroad, know they’re not alone. Stonewall UK believes we’re stronger united, so partner with organisations that help create change for the better.
As a designer who prides myself with creating representative greeting cards and gifts, I am committed to expanding my range and shedding light on representation issues. As it’s Pride month coming up (June), please share this post, buy some cards, follow my guest’s Instagram pages and let’s make it the most prideful month ever!
In the Black community in particular, our hair is a huge part of our identity – it is our crown – so the way we choose to wear it often comes with connotations, which can make us feel judged. For example, the Afro was deemed militant and the weave was (and still is) considered by some a signifier of self-hate!
Personally, I have tried it all; I’ve had relaxed hair, weave and extensions. I’ve even had blue highlights at school to match my blue braces – I know, what I was thinking!? Now, I wear my hair in locs and, for me, it’s been the best decision, not only for the health of my hair but also my self-confidence and current idea of beauty, but I was fully aware that I may be judged for it – we all know what that news anchor said about Zendaya!
Don’t touch or judge
Afro hair is indeed beautiful and magical but strangers should know by now, that touching it (and just people in general) without permission is a big no-no! There are many songs, books and hashtags that have warned the world about touching but in an image-conscious world, unfortunately some of us are still being silently (or not so silently) judged.
In this article, I will be exploring how and why this happens through an interview with Cristina – a mother of a young boy with long hair. In the Western world, it is deemed ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’ for boys to have short hair, so I wanted to find out if there are any challenges he and his mum face for having a crown that’s outside the ‘norm’.
Meet Cristina & Joylen
Cristina is a mother of two, journalist and documentary filmmaker, originally from Cape Verde Islands. Her hobbies include reading, watching documentaries, baking, and spending time doing fun activities with her children.
Her son, Joylen, is four years old and he enjoys playing football, dancing to African music, baking delicious cookies, watching cartoons, drawing and playing with his older sister in the garden. Joylen’s favourite superhero is Black Panther, and when he grows up, he wants to be a football player and a famous super hero to save the world!
Tell us about Joylen’s hair story. Has he always had long hair?
Joylen’s hair story started, when he was two years old. He had short hair at the time but after seeing his sister as a character in the book I‘ve Got My Hair, he was inspired and asked “Mummy, can boys have long hair too?”. From that moment, I promised him that I would not cut his hair and explained that Kings can have long hair.
How does he feel most confident wearing his hair and why?
Joylen loves his hair and he became more confident and happy when he realised that he can do a lot of different hairstyles; from ponytails to braids. When I am doing his sister’s hair, he always asks me to do his hair too. Sometimes I ask him if he wants to cut it and he always says no. He truly believes that his hair is beautiful and gives him super hero powers!
Have you or he ever felt judged (positively or negatively) by the way he wears his hair?
Yes, I receive both positive and negative comments. Unfortunately, there are a lot of negative stereotypes and assumptions made about boys who wear their hair long. When Joylen wears a ponytail some people would say “What a cute little girl?” or ask me why I don’t cut his hair. Others may say that he has a beautiful hair, so it depends.
Do you think black boys and girls are judged more based on their hair?
Definitely. Brown boys and girls are judged based on their hair because it is much more than a style; it’s political. There is more flexibility in accepting girls with long hair than boys, because in society’s eyes, the norm is that boys should have short hair.
What does Joylen say about his hair?
Joylen always says that he wants long hair because he wants to look like mummy and his sister. Furthermore, Joylen loves football and after watching some footballers with long hair, he is much more confident. Sometimes when I am combing his hair and it hurts, I ask him if I can cut it and he starts to cry, saying “No I don’t want to cut my hair!”
Would you cut his hair if he asked?
It depends on the intention. If he wanted to cut his hair because he was tired of it, or for any positive and natural reason, I would cut it. But if he asked to cut his hair because he was being bullied, I would not cut it but teach him that he should be proud of his hair and explain that it is more precious than a crown.
Do you let people you don’t know touch yours or your Joylen’s hair? Why/why not? Why do you think people want to touch afro hair so much?
No, I don’t let people touch mine or my son’s hair because some people look at our children as museum pieces. When they see a mixed-raced child, one of their focusses is the hair and making comparisons between the white and black side. I think people like to touch afro hair so much because they consider it exotic or a trend.
What do you think about the Western social standard of boys having short hair and girls having long hair?
Unfortunately, the Western social standards of beauty doesn’t reflect us (black people). I feel as thought they want to transform people into “ginger bread men”; copying and pasting standards but we should all have the chance to choose our hairstyles. Hair also represents culture, religion and power relations. For example, in certain groups wearing their hair bald is celebrated and in others having long hair is a sense of pride, like in the Rastafarian religion.
Do you see Joylen’s hair texture or length represented in the media?
The media tends to represent a stereotypical image that boys are less sensitive and their short hair is symbol of strength and masculinity. Joylen’s hair is fine and is closer European hair types, so I can see Joylen’s hair texture represented but the length is not.
What do you think of Leanne’s Crown & Story campaign?
I think that Leanne’s Crown & Story campaign is phenomenal because it raises awareness of an important conversation; the need for representation of different hair types and lengths. It is absolutely inspiring to watch the combination of digital art and hair politics and this art is a crucial tool to fight against discrimination.
If you are interesting in my Crown & Story campaign, please read other interview here. I sell a range of greeting cards and gifts featuring men, women and children with different hairstyle and textures, so let’s celebrate them all. Visit my online shop here.
Written by Leanne Armstrong Interveiw with Cristina (@thecriolamum)
The Black Girl Magic social movement began in 2013. Founder CaShawn Thompson gave birth to a concept that gave millions of women and girls around the world ‘permission’ to express their blackness freely and confidently. We started to celebrate our power, beauty and strength louder and the world listened.
Fast forward to 2020 and #BlackGirlMagic continues to trend on social media platforms and marketing campaigns worldwide, with celebrities such as Michelle Obama, Kelly Rowland and Beyonce promoting black female greatness consistently in the mainstream media.
With all of this positive endorsement and (slightly) increasing acceptance of our melanin, it is little wonder black Queens, young and old, are feeling empowered and magical right now… but what about our Kings?
It is a sad statistic that, according to Mind UK, young black boys are far more likely to be diagnosed with severe mental health problems and struggle with self-esteem. It is such a big problem that in March 2019, they launched a specific Young Black Menprogramme to support black males aged 11 to 30. Even more recently, Idris Elba released a song addressing mental health in the black male community. This suggests that we need to do more to empower and uplift black boys too. We need to remove the stigma of mental health problems, break down cultural barriers and highlight, with the goal of completely stopping, systemic discrimination in order to give these boys the support they need. These are all huge steps that will take years to fully address but there are things we can do individually to make a difference in the same way #BlackGirlMagic did.
We see you, we celebrate you
In 2017 I released my first set of greeting cards. They all featured black women and I must admit that it took almost a year for me to produce cards that featured male portraits. Thinking back, I understand why I did this; my largest customer base was women and they tend to buy and receive more cards than men, but I can now see that leaving men and boys out during my mission to empower the BAME community could have made them feel forgotten or unseen…but I promise…I see you!
Since the growth of my business (and seeing my brother grow into a young man), I’ve made a conscious effort to produce more products that feature black males. These include Father’s Day cards, magnets and birthdays cards with illustrations of men and boys of different ages and skin tones. It was also important to me to include some portraits of these men smiling because, as the #BlackBoyJoy movement highlighted, we rarely see black boys happy or expressing a jovial spirit in mainstream media.
A step in the right direction
After doing some research, it was great to find that there are many organisations and charities with specific goals of empowering black men and boys. Groups such as 100 Black Men of London, the Up My Street project and 56 Black Men are doing amazing work with this section of the community and I know they will make a huge difference to many lives.
I am also starting to see black boys represented in more areas such as advertising, theatre and literature which is great to see and I am personally proud to have recently illustrated a book featuring black male characters only. Dylan’s Dilemmaby Richmond Osei-Akoto is a beautiful story of a father and son’s relationship, expressing love, openness and honesty, so it was a pleasure to be involved in this project showing black males in this way.
At the end of the day, our young princes will grow into Kings and we need to nurture them in the same way we do our Queens. We can’t expect them to innately value and empower themselves (the stats say it’s not working), so let’s keep celebrating them and talking to them with the same positive energy we do with our girls.
So to my friends, my brother and all of my male family members; I see you, I celebrate you, I support you and I see your MAGIC!
Some say the greeting card is obsolete or they prefer to send a text or meme, but as an illustrator and designer of greeting cards and gifts, I have a love for traditional greeting cards and here’s why…
For me, physical greeting cards are a more personal way to stay in touch and there’s something about being tactile in a digital world that makes it feel that little bit more special. Selecting, spending money (especially with an independent company) and writing a bespoke message in a card really shows the recipient that you have put thought into how you’d like them to spend and remember their special day. Cards can also be a great way to express how you feel about someone if you’re too shy to tell them in person, helping you to break the ice and connect with them on an emotional level – who need emojis and sliding into the DMs?!
A piece of art with a story… and made with love
My cards in particular, are created with great attention to detail and I pride myself in creating not only something to be given on a special occasion but kept for years to come; some of my customers even frame them.
The majority of my card designs start off as intricate portraits on vivid colourful backgrounds, each adorned with headdresses or hairstyles which give them their own identity and I sometimes even imagine their back story! The colours, diversity and detail really brings them to life and I find that many customers connect with each card more like art than an accompaniment to a gift.
I then hand-finish each card with gems and package them individually, making each one slightly different. They are really made with love and I am genuinely humbled by the fact that I am able to share them world-wide with people on their special days. They really aren’t just card for me; they are an dream, a story, a passion, a talent and a creative piece of art.
I have recently written a blog for JAMMI called Addressing the Balance. This piece is about the need for more diversity in our gift shops (and beyond) and highlights the fact that cards are powerful in helping people feel celebrated and loved and what better way to feel celebrated than with a card that features artwork that looks like you. The representation of minorities and a variety of ethnic backgrounds really does matter and my cards are a small but valid way to help people feel empowered and uplifted, one card at a time. Read the full article here.
Small but mighty
As an small business owner, I am always encouraging people to buy greeting cards and gifts from independent shops. Campaigns like Just a Card encourages people to value and buy from designers that aren’t on the high street because there are real people behind these items who have worked hard to produce them which means that every sale (no matter how small you may think it is) means a great deal to us. It’s not just a card, it’s supporting a dream, vision and a lifestyle and there are benefits to you as a consumer too…
You tend to get a more personal, memorable and ‘hands-on’ service
You have access to more diversity and exclusive items
It creates a sense of community
And you will definitely feel good after pressing ‘purchase’ and knowing that a real person does a happy dance once they receive your order!
In February 2020, The Guardian released an article on how greeting cards are indeed surviving the ‘smartphone era’ which is great news for us card designers. The British in particular have been sending cards since the Victorian times and we send more per head than any other nation! There has been an drop in Valentine’s Day card sales but new born baby, Father’s Day, Easter, empowerment and rude cards are on the up!
According to the Greeting Card Association’s 2019 market report, the British public spent £1.7bn on cards with Generation Z (18 to 24 year olds) buying more than any other age group. The thinking behind this is that Millenials are wanting to empower more and mental health awareness is increasing so cards that make us feel good are becoming more popular.
This is great news so let’s keep spreading love in creative and expressive ways. Visit my online shop to find the perfect card here.
This is my first post and one that is very important to me…
After my mum was diagnosed with leukaemia and lost her hair to chemotherapy, it dawned on me that all of the women I’d illustrated on my greeting cards had long hair or large billowing afros. My cards are all about beauty, celebration, empowerment and representation, but I had left out a group of women who may not have this typical feminine standard of beautiful long locks… and this bothered me.
For 2020, in celebration of my mum’s recovery as well as the diversity of women’s hair, I’ve launched two new cards featuring women with short hair as part of my Crown & Story collection. As my mum had lost her hair due to leukaemia treatment, I’ve also decided to donate £1 from every sale of a card to the African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust (ACLT).
Below is an interview with my mum, Yvonne, on her journey of hair loss and I hope it inspires you to see beauty in her crown and story...
What was your relationship with your hair?
I had a positive relationship with my hair; I took pride in it. I’d had my locs for 25 years which began as a political stance because there is so much beauty and cultural politics tied up in hair, particularly for women. I had initially shaved off my curly perm in rebellion against the expectation that black women needed to chemicalise their hair in order for it to be beautiful and manageable. I wanted to prove that natural was beautiful and eventually decided to grow locs.
There is so much beauty and cultural politics tied up in hair, particularly for women.
At the time having locs wasn’t something many of my friends and family approved of, however, after seeing how well I looked after them, I would often receive compliments. Having locs for so long meant that they were a visible part of my identity, however, they did not define me and as time went by they became less about politics and more a style choice. I would style them, colour them and trim them, enjoying their increasing versatility as locs became more popular and more specialist salons sprang up.
How did it feel when you lost your hair?
I had reconciled myself to the inevitability of hair loss pretty much as soon as I was told that I would have to have aggressive chemotherapy treatment. On the day when the first clumps started to come away in my fingers and the reality began to kick in however, it was still a bit of a shock. On the day of cutting of my locs I was a bit tearful; firstly because it was symbolic of the gravity of my illness and secondly, much as I was ok with the prospect of not having any hair, the fact that I had no choice in the matter was difficult. After that initial sadness, I was fine.
On the day when the first clumps of hair started to come away in my fingers, the reality began to kick in.
How long did it take you to embrace the change?
I had decided that I would shave my head at the first sign of it falling out as I didn’t want to have to deal with the strange ‘patchy’ look. Unfortunately, I was unable to do this as quickly as I would have liked as my platelets were low but once they were healthy enough my daughter cut off the locs and a few days later my brother shaved off what was left.
I embraced the bald head immediately. It couldn’t have been a better time to have a bald head as a woman. Increasing numbers of black women were shaving their hair off out of choice, so other than the fact that my scalp was completely clean and shiny and my eyebrows were a bit thinned, there was nothing particularly remarkable about my look. For this reason, I chose not to cover my head and wore my bald head with a sense of pride – unless I needed to keep out the cold with a hat!
I chose not to cover my head and wore my bald head with a sense of pride
I suppose for those who were used to knowing me with a full head of locs, it took them some time to get used to my new look but most said that it actually suited me – apparently I have a good shaped head! The Film Black Panther that had not long been released was also instrumental in promoting female shaven heads and empowered many a black woman to adopt this look, so this helped a lot – WAKANDA FOREVER!
Are you now fully accepting of this change?
Yes, and have actually chosen to keep it short for the time being. I’ve trimmed it several times since and am experimenting with different colours. I’m still receiving compliments about my hair so it’s all good and just the other day a work colleague told me that this is my best look.
What advice would you give to women going through this journey?
Each woman’s experience is different and there is a lot of emotion connected with hair. My advice would be that although it is initially upsetting, the consoling fact is that it is only temporary – it will grow back. Your hair does not define you or your beauty. You may look different but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Embrace this time and use the opportunity to try different styles, head wraps, hats, bold make up etc.
Your hair does not define you or your beauty.
Did it affect your self esteem?
Nope – in fact I felt/feel quite empowered. It is the visual of my story of overcoming adversity. A constant reminder of my blessings, that I am still here.
Do you still think about your hair before?
Yes, at times I have to admit to finding myself looking admiringly at people with beautiful locs and reminiscing about the days of my own.
Do you feel different now that you have short hair?
I feel liberated! Swimming in the sea on my Caribbean holiday was a whole new, joyous experience as I didn’t have to concern worry about my hair getting wet and ruining a style!
What you do you think of Leanne’s new cards?
I am so pleased that Leanne has included these images to her collection. It’s lovely to see black women with short hair represented and myself reflected – I don’t think I have come across this before. I love that her range depicts black women in their varied splendour, including different skin tones and hair styles. Well done and thank you Leanne, you are sending a powerful, positive message not only to black women but to wider society about black women’s diverse beauty. I look forward to seeing what comes next!
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