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A Black-owned holiday decor company wants to make the season bright and inclusive

By Nicquel Terry Ellis, CNN

(CNN) — Madia Willis, Jasmine Hudson and J’Aaron Merchant were all working at the Walmart corporate headquarters in Arkansas in 2019 when they discovered they all had something in common.

All three women loved Christmas. And, as Black women, they all wanted to see more Black representation in holiday decor.

During lunch one day, they discussed business ideas that would allow them to leverage their interests and combine their skills in textile design and merchandising.

They began by designing Christmas-themed wrapping paper and ceramic ornaments featuring Black characters and sold them on the online retailer, Zazzle.

Willis said the feedback from customers was positive and they often asked for more product designs.

“We knew we had something good going,” Merchant added.

The trio continued to work on their business plan, but when the death of George Floyd in 2020 sparked a racial reckoning and renewed support for Black-owned businesses, they knew it was the right time to launch a company.

“We were like, ‘Alright, this is the time for us to put our brains together and see what we can come up with,’” Willis said.

In 2020, they opened the Black Paper Party, which specializes in selling ornaments and wrapping paper with authentic Black characters including “Papa Claus,” “Nana Claus” and “Aunt Holly,” among others.

Hudson said their goal was to design characters that accurately reflected the culture and physical features of Black people. For example, their characters have natural Black hairstyles.

“These are not your average characters painted brown,” Hudson said. “These characters have the nuanced features of the Black diaspora, and they are culturally representative.”

Today, Black Paper Party products are sold at major retailers including Walmart, Target, Macy’s, Dollar General and CVS. In addition to wrapping paper and ornaments, their collection includes holiday cards, gift tags, home decor, and holiday stockings.

Hudson said Black shoppers — particularly women — often thank them for making it easier to find Christmas décor with Black characters.

“A lot of them are saying that this was the first year they don’t have to go hunting for a Black Santa because they can just go in their everyday retailers and pick up items,” Hudson said.

Earlier this month, the three founders appeared on an episode of the TV series, Shark Tank, where they scored a $250,000 investment with a 10% stake from millionaire businesswoman Barbara Corcoran.

Hudson said the investment will allow their company to hire more employees, increase inventory and build a more robust website. Going on Shark Tank also helped increase awareness of their brand, she added.

“You can’t beat that type of exposure,” Hudson said. “We definitely want to make sure we are bringing the message of representation during seasonal celebrations to the masses.”

Willis said in 2022 they created a small inventory of products for Valentine’s Day and Easter that were sold at Walmart. They plan to launch products for Black History Month at Dollar General and Kohl’s in 2024.

The goal, the founders say, is to ensure Black people always see themselves represented on the store shelves during holiday seasons.

“It’s time for the seasonal industry to reflect different perspectives of life,” Willis said. “A lot of retailers were behind the curve.”

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