Two new local business owners are making it their mission to bring diverse representation to stationery cards.
Maia Chen and Chanelle Baines launched their business, Sweet Sorrel, less than a year ago at a Black Business Expo in July.
In just six months they have become a highly recommended business for anyone looking for representational stationery cards, notebooks, and more.
“There is a clear void in the market for culturally diverse and culturally relevant stationery geared towards minority populations, especially children,” Baines told Madison365. “We want to fill that void and give children cards that they can identify with.”
The idea started when Chen, a mother of three, wanted culturally representative birthday cards for her own children.
“There really weren’t any birthday cards that were geared toward Black children so we started with our children’s cards,” she said.
From there the two expanded their creations to include cards for culturally-specific and national holidays as well as love, thinking of you, and sympathy cards.
Each card features original artwork by Chen depicting Black women, Black couples, Black families, and Black children. Many of their cards feature silhouette images and some have messaging on the front. Their website also currently features cards depicting Hmong families and imagery.
“We want to support people as well as represent people,” Chen said.
Still the most popular cards are the children’s cards, according to Baines and Chen, who say that they are often used by parents as well as mentors and educators who work with diverse student groups.
“People really love the kids cards, because it gives people cards that their kids can give their friends and be proud of,” said Baines.
Sweet Sorrel is available online, but the cards can be primarily found at local pop-up shops and markets like the Black Business Expo and the Badger Rock Community Market.
Despite the buzz the business has created in the past six months they have also encountered some snags in the road.
“Being a Black woman here in Madison in general is difficult,” said Chen, a Madison native. “We’ve tried to get our products in some shops and I think sometimes people don’t take us seriously.”
The owners say that not everyone sees the value in focussing on specific populations. The biggest challenge has been sticking to their primary mission.
“It’s been difficult because we get exposure and we’re doing markets, but we often get request to do cards that represent them and not our target demographic,” Baines said. “We’ve had to turn people down because our focus is to feature Black kids, Black women, Black families and that’s been kind of a hurdle.”
There are some benefits, though, to having such a specific market.
“In this particular business, since it’s not oversaturated, it gives us a lot of room and not a lot of competition,” Baines said.
For those who understand need for such representation the impact has been huge.
“The whole idea is showing Black kids and people that we’re a diverse people,” Chen said. “My daughter wants to do violin and my son loves soccer, so I want to show them that they can just be them and Black is apart of who they are, but it’s not all of what they are.”
Both Baines and Chen intend to continue to grow their business by adding keychains, stickers, postcards, posters, and other stationery items.
During the off holiday season they also offer services for logos, customized cards, postcards and business cards with at least a two weeks advanced notice.
“We’re not in this for money, obviously we have a business and we’d like to make money, but money is not our main focus,” said Chen. “Our main focus is having that representation for kids and people of color, especially Black people.”