‘Mummy, can Christmas angels be Black?’
My lifelong friend and business partner Natalie was thrown by the question her then seven-year-old daughter asked as they decorated their Christmas tree.
She reassured her that of course they could, but when she looked around at the decorations they’d just put up, she realised that actually, there were none that looked like her or her daughter.
White angels dangled from the tree, there was a white Elf on the Shelf posing and white Santas were everywhere – without a Black Christmas character in sight.
The next time we caught up, Natalie and I went on a mission to find Christmas decorations that had Black skin.
Natalie did a search online, where she couldn’t find any in the UK, and we were looking at $40 for a figurine, including the shipping costs, to get products from a supplier we’d found in the USA.
Determined, I took to the high street and went to all the big stores known for stocking incredible Christmas decor – but there was nothing, not a single decoration that our children could relate to.
I found one in a tiny Black-owned shop close to me in South Norwood, Treasures, but the shop owner explained to me that it was in fact a white figurine that she had painted Black because she could never find any. She’d been in business herself for 25 years and had never seen one in the UK.
Natalie and I decided that we were not going to have another Christmas with our children decorating our homes with no ornaments that looked like them.
We’d make them ourselves – and not just for us – for all the families and members of the community who’d found themselves missing from festive celebrations.
We are both single mums and working full-time and we had absolutely zero experience, as we aren’t designers – but we are creative.
We have backgrounds in recruitment sales and marketing but we persisted and came up with a few ideas of what these decorations could look like. It took a few months with manufacturers and a whole lot of back and forth but finally we had a small range of products that we were really proud of – our vision was brought to life.
We had six products to start out with; a Black Santa, an afro angel, a choir boy and girl, and two little babies on the moon – one of each sex.
We launched March Muses for Christmas 2019 and we were super apprehensive. Our friends, family and children loved them, but what about everyone else?
It turns out, we had absolutely nothing to worry about. The units that we had of each of the six products sold out within 10 days.
The feedback and response was just insane – like us, there were families all over the UK who hadn’t been able to find these types of decorations. Our customers were not only people in the Black community, also people who champion diversity, and had been waiting for something like this.
Luckily, our suppliers were able to ship over more products so we could fulfil even more orders before the Christmas period ended in 2019.
Natalie and I did all of the picking and packing of orders in our own homes as we juggled full time work and parenting – but it felt absolutely amazing to be giving people a chance to see themselves and the world we live in represented.
It was incredible watching our small business take off and it felt like everyone was sharing our posts online; we literally built our business on Instagram and it got so much traction so quickly.
In 2020 we decided to design even more products, and amongst BLM and lockdown, our business grew even more. That Christmas we took in six times more in sales than we did in our first year.
It became clear that we needed help if we were going to keep growing at this wild rate and we were getting absolutely nowhere with larger retailers – no one we tried was interested in discussing wholesale opportunities, despite the obvious demand for Black Christmas decorations.
We were either being told ‘yeah we’ll get back to you’ or we never got a look in in the first place – we needed someone or something to get our foot in the door.
After two years of trading, we could be even bigger with the right guidance – and so I persuaded Natalie that we should apply to the Dragons’ Den.
We were over the moon when we were invited to do an audition – and then suddenly we were invited to pitch to the Dragons in June 2021 (our episode aired in April 2022).
It was so nerve-wracking going up in front of the five Dragons; we arrived at the studio at midday and our pitch wasn’t actually until 5.50pm. With that much time to play with, we went through cycles of confidence, total panic and imposter syndrome.
Throughout that excruciating wait, the crew, make-up artists and researchers were getting behind us and reassuring us, saying stuff like, ‘Oh my God, your products are amazing, you’ll definitely get investment.’
The pitch started to play out and despite the 13 minutes you see on the TV, we were up in front of the Dragons for two hours without a break – you seriously need nerves of steel.
The ‘no’s started to roll in and each one was a knock in confidence – we were sweating and standing in high heels and not allowed to refer to any notes or have a break but we just kept going.
You literally have to pitch your heart out because you want this investment and we knew that what we’re doing could really make a difference. After the third no, we really dug deep and decided, ‘We are not leaving without investment today’.
In what felt like a miracle, Deborah Meaden and Peter Jones invested in us – £50k, in return for a 15% stake each in our business.
Since that day, our feet haven’t touched the ground – and we still have our full time jobs as well. We want to grow the business to a point it becomes full time for us and at the moment everything we do goes back into the business.
The investment helped us level up – we’ve now got a full team around us and we’ve got a fulfilment centre processing our orders – so no more packing orders in our kitchens!
We’ve never really been able to reflect on how quickly we’ve grown. This all started with an innocent question from one of our children back in 2018 and it’s been non-stop and full throttle since we started.
We’re looking at how we can grow our business even further. Once we looked past Christmas we realised that almost every holiday – and the decorations that come with it – all depict white people.
Our tagline is ‘celebrating diversity by diversifying celebrations’ and we’re covering as many occasions as we can with products outside of Christmas.
This year we launched for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and we also added wedding cake toppers to our range.
Diversifying these types of decorations is just something these big brands have completely overlooked and it’s easy to see that when you look at how diverse our customer base is.
Our products come in both a lighter and darker skin tone – we want everyone to have something that looks like them to hang on their tree and for other celebrations.
No one should ever have to ask ‘why don’t they look like me?’ again.
You can find out more about March Muses here
As told to Dayna McAlpine
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