Products celebrate diverse relationships
Sunday, May 22, 2005
By Michele M. Melendez
Newhouse News Service
Courtney Morrison’s birthday card from her parents last year had a cartoon drawing of a white couple on the front, but her mom shaded the man’s skin with a brown pencil and curled his hair with a black pen.
Dad is black. Mom is white. Morrison and her sister, Tiffany, are a blend of the two.
Their mother’s alteration inspired the sisters to design their own greeting cards, showing a more nuanced American family.
Frustration among biracial and multiracial consumers, who crave products that reflect their cultures and skin tones, has bred a home-grown market in goods from cards to clothes.
“There are all of these children of interracial marriages,” said Tiffany Morrison, 37, who, with her sister, 36, launched Mix It Up in Los Angeles in January. “There are things that we need, and now we’re creating them.”
On the sisters’ Web site, www.mix-it-up.net, are a host of black-and-white and color photographs on cards that are blank inside. The selections show the hands of interracial couples wearing wedding rings, holding a rose, clinking champagne flutes, wrapping around a baby with caramel skin.
The 2000 Census was the first to let respondents identify themselves by more than one race, recognizing intermarriage. About 7 million people described themselves as biracial or multiracial, 2.4 percent of the population. And about 6 percent of married couples characterized themselves as interracial.
By many accounts, the mixing is likely to continue.
Billy No, 28, sensed that vibe early. With a Korean-Mexican-French background, he was only a high school sophomore when he began to refer to himself as “blend.” Not blended. Just blend.
He soon started making T-shirts and caps with “Blend America” in graffiti style. Eventually, the venture turned into a Web-based company, www.blendamerica.com, selling T-shirts and hooded sweatshirts.
“It’s all about community, unifying cultures,” said No, of Tempe, Ariz.
Saren Sakurai, 37, of Los Angeles opened his online store to support his Web site, www.halvsie.com, a membership forum for people who are half Japanese. His father is Japanese and his mother is Caucasian, of French and Welsh ancestry.
Sakurai said he activated the site in 2002, after a two-year stay in Japan helping to teach English to schoolchildren. He said the Japanese didn’t embrace him as Japanese, as he had expected. Back in the States, he stood between two worlds.
His store sells T-shirts, tote bags, mugs and baby clothes with logos and phrases that point to the multicultural, including: “kiss me; I’m half Japanese,” “multiracial,” “multiethnic,” “blackanese” and “Got rice?” written in Japanese.
The trend has its roots in the ethnic revival of the 1970s, a visible and vocal pride in culture, said Marilyn Halter, history professor at Boston University and author of “Shopping for Identity: The Marketing of Ethnicity.”
“Here it is, 30 years later, and there’s still so much attention paid to celebrating distinctive heritage,” Halter said.
Halter said mainstream companies have fed the multiethnic market, broadening the range of models and actors in advertising. Various goods, including Crayola crayons and Cover Girl cosmetics, have undergone changes in marketing in response to the country’s kaleidoscopic skin tone.
Individuals — and children, in particular, building their sense of identity — seek reflections of themselves in everyday life, said Nancy McFall Jean, president of the Interracial Family Circle, a nonprofit membership organization in Washington.
“These objects . . . are reaffirming in a lot of ways,” Jean said.
And they are created by folks who have yearned for multicultural merchandise.
Mahisha Dellinger, 29, whose father is Creole and mother is black, remembers experimenting in the kitchen, mixing coconut oil and shea butter with store-bought hair conditioners and styling products.
“I couldn’t find the right line of product for my hair,” she said.
Based in Sacramento, Calif., she started Curls online at www.curls.biz in 2003, and now the products, including a children’s line called Curly Q’s, are available at selected salons.
Yvette Walker, 43, of Kansas City, Mo., took a longer road to her store. She recalls not being able to find a wedding cake topper with bride and groom figurines that looked like her and her fiancé. She had one custom painted.
That was 1989. Now, interracial couples have options, including www.meltingpotgifts.com, started by an interracial husband-wife team in Trenton, N.J.
Walker’s exasperation led her to create New People magazine in 1990, exploring blended culture.
The magazine, online at www.newpeoplemagazine.com, gave rise to an online store in February. Cards, T-shirts, mouse pads and other gift items display different shades of skin together: the interlaced fingers of a black woman and white man, an illustration of a heart-shaped pendant split in half, its two sides representing racially distinct facial features.
Even though Walker and her husband are no longer together, she carries on the New People message: “My sensibilities haven’t changed. You should be with whomever you want to be with.”