Like most proud new mothers, Deborah Ajaja wanted to document the precious milestones that her baby boy, Noah, now 3, reached when he was born in 2017. Deborah, a management consultant from South East London had been given a gorgeous set of milestone cards as a gift, but as she filled them in, she realised something didn’t quite feel right.
"These were lovely cards but I didn’t feel they represented my son at all," says Deborah, 34, married to Ayo, 36, who works in banking.
"They were full of generic animals and colours but the baby in the pictures was a freckled, blonde haired baby – nothing like the black skin in our family.
"I reached out to the company who made the cards and asked if they had something more representative. When they told me that they didn’t, I thought:
"You know what, there’s no point wasting time, I can’t be the only parent who feels this way. I’m going to do this myself."
It’s how this busy working mum created Colour Celebrations, an award-winning range of cards and gifts to represent more cultures and colours.
"Although I had no experience of anything like this at all, I could see there was a gap in the market and being a Type-A kind of person, I wanted to make it work," says Deborah.
"My job as a management consultant gave me some knowledge. I asked lots of questions and knew that I didn’t have to go full throttle with a major brand, but to start small.
"I found a designer online to do some simple designs and printed off only 200 cards and decided to sell them on Amazon. I knew it would be easier than setting up my own website at first.
"I couldn’t believe the response. They sold out very quickly and the feedback has been amazing. We’re so used to the status quo when it comes to everything from race, to gender. Seeing mixed race or black children or families on greetings cards is not something you realise is missing in the market until it’s pointed out to you.
"It was really important to me that Noah saw babies like him on cards – and other parents clearly felt the same way."
Although Deborah started the business during her maternity leave, she says it was more like a creative hobby than a stressful venture.
"My best ideas would come when I was breastfeeding," she says.
"I’d sit up in bed with the baby on me while my husband Ayo was snoring away next to me and I’d be on my phone doing research or scheduling emails. It was a real outlet for being creative.
"Ayo could not be more supportive. He has done everything from help pick things up from the printer's to sitting on the living room floor and help me package and label up products."
From those initial 200 cards, the business is now printing in the thousands and Deborah has had to rent a nearby warehouse for stock. She says the #blacklivesmatter campaign last year has helped business grow from strength to strength.
"There’s been so much focus on diversity in business and that’s fantastic because it’s really increased our sales," says Deborah.
"We launched a height chart and the first batch sold out in 24 hours. Our toddler t-shirts with slogans such as onederful and threenager – any parent any colour can relate to those – also did really well. Our ranges are not about excluding any race but about being accessible to everyone, no matter what colour."
Not content with giving birth to a baby and a business, Deborah and Ayo also welcomed a baby daughter, Kiki, in January 2020.
"It has been a juggle, especially when I went back to work full-time but I’m enjoying it and learning so much about other cultures – whether it’s black, Jewish or even South American.
"My followers on social media are constantly teaching me about all the different milestones they celebrate.
"This year I’m launching our first ever Christmas shop – I absolutely love Christmas – but wonder why we never see cards with Santa or elves with different skin tones?
"Elves can be black, brown, green or even blue – that’s something I want to change. It’s so important for children of all colours to see themselves represented and to show how we are all so wonderfully different."
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