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City high-flyer finds her calling card

CARDS UP HER SLEEVE: Entrepreneur Cheryl Johnson hopes to see her business brand grow in the New Year

ANYONE WANTING to find their reflection smiling back at them from the card aisle of a typical high street greetings card store could be left waiting a long time – unless they happen to look just like the blonde princesses and princes who grace the front of most cards.

The difficulty of finding a greetings card with any kind of black or ethnic minority representation was driven home for former city worker Cheryl Johnson, 45, of northeast London, on a recent trip to her local stationary store.

The shop is at the heart of a large multicultural and diverse part of London, but even here, the only cards on offer depicted one type of saccharine, pink and white femininity. There was nothing she would want to buy for her daughter, nieces or friends.

“I looked at what was on offer and I said to my mum, ‘there's a gap in the market. I am going to design my own cards',” she says, reflecting on an issue that had troubled her for years, but one she had never been able to put her finger on.

“I believe there is a huge need for black cards. For birthday cards, graduation cards, congratulations cards that reflect people who look like me and my relatives, but also, there are very few cards that relate to anyone who is a little bit different, people who aren't a size six, for example. Where are they represented and shown positively?”

Up until January this year Johnson worked in the city with an investment bank, but when she was made redundant, she decided to take stock and take her time before diving back into the high pressure, high stress jobs she had worked in for decades.

On top of redundancy she had spent two years battling the rare brain disorder Chorea, a disease that stems from the meningitis bacteria that had infected her central nervous system.

CREATIVE

“I always thought I wasn't creative but I think I just never had the time before,” she explains. “And so when I was made redundant I thought, this is in an opportunity. So I had a break and having this time to think made me realise there is such a gap in the market for these kinds of products.”

Johnson launched her venture Fearless Steps alongside 14 other black business owners as part of a day celebrating black entrepreneurial skills in north London last month. And she is adamant that UK companies need to exploit the spending power of black people more, to see them as valuable a market share as they are seen in the United States.

“We need to start by supporting each other,” she says. “Other communities band together and support each other, and I think people of West Indian heritage could be better at supporting the positive entrepreneurs and businesses within their community.”

Johnson is also angry that in so much of popular culture, young black men wearing hoodies and trainers are depicted as a threat, as existing on the fringes on the edges of society as if constantly primed for violence.

She hopes that her designs will help to change that image.

“I want to have pictures on my cards of boys in hoods reading books”, she said. It’s no suprise that her motto, printed above one of the designs of a young black girl with her head buried in a book, reads: ‘Dream big, reach for the stars.’

Her vision for showcasing the talent and gifts of black youth also extends to the artists she works with who design her range of cards. These include 15-year-old GCSE art student Phoenix Edwards from Winchmore Hill, in north London, whose designs are included among the cards currently in the ten-piece collection.

Johnson hopes the card range and accessories including tote bags will be available to buy in shops throughout London in the 2016.

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