In 1954, the Supreme Court declared that separating children based on skin color is unconstitutional. Despite the groundbreaking federal ruling, it took 6 years for Ruby Nell Bridges to desegregate schools in Louisiana. Black students have been striving to overcome the years of unequal treatment and advantages taken from them before (and after) this landmark case.
Blended Designs was created to inspire students of color. Their goal is to provide gear to students that encourages them to be their best. They do this by producing bags, totes and organizational tools with fun characters representing a broad range of melanin skin tones. Blended Designs products are made to be sturdy so kids can count on them to work. The organization also commits to giving students in less-advantaged schools free gear with the assistance of local community organizations.
I recently caught up with founder, Casey Kelley. Kelley discussed with me her inspirations in starting the brand. Check out the interview below.
Can you tell me and the readers about yourself?
After graduating from college, I spent my career working in insights and analytics. Specifically, I focused on consumer insights. My primary responsibility was using data (reward card, scanned data, etc) to understand buyer behavior.
Who were you inspirations growing up and how did they impact your life? Who are they now?
My greatest inspiration has always been my mother. She always pushed me to excel, but made a point to lead by example.
When did you come up with the great idea to put positive images and quotes on your custom book bags?
In March 2017, my eight-year old son, Carter, asked for a backpack that looked like him to use for school, travel, etc. I could not find one. Options were limited and primarily for females. Using my background, I did research and found that less than 2 percent of all character backpacks included children of color. I knew that we could fill a void so we decided to use Carter’s face and the faces of kids belonging to families and friends. We invested quite a bit to cover the cost of protecting our intellectual property. We filed for trademark and copyright protection in several different classes to prevent duplication. The most important one was, “I CAN DO ANYTHING!”
Did you imagine your idea being such a big success so fast?
As I mentioned, we knew we would fill a void. We had 1, 000 made last year. We were completely unprepared for the amount we ultimately sold in a two month period, which was 6, 300 backpacks.
How many different designs and messages have you made the start of the business?
We have a line of nine characters and four key messages that are currently available to the public. We have others that are in production as part of our growth and expansion.
You were a featured guest on The View not too long ago. How did that make you feel? Did you feel a sense of recognition and achievement?
I think it is important to be able to give back to the community. We always say selling more backpacks puts us in a position to make sure we are reaching the community in different ways.
You recently went to the Essence Festival. What was that experience like? Do you think you made more of a connection with potential customers?
Essence was exhausting and an amazing learning experience. At times, the line to get to our booth made it difficult for attendees to walk down our aisle. We received messags from customers that said they wanted to come see us but the line was too long so they ordered from our website. We realized that we need a lot of help at events that size. There were days that our first time sitting down was while waiting for Uber to take us back to the hotel. It was great connecting with our Instagram followers. I think it helped them identify with us that we are “real” people.
With all this great exposure and marketing, have you received more orders and sales? Have you gained more social media followers and engagements?
We tend to have bumps in orders and sales whenever there are celebrity posts or connection. Because of the seasonality of our products, there is a lift in volume as consumers prepare for back to school. We also get bumps after sharing images of students with our backpacks.
What new products can we expect to see from you next as your company starts to expand?
You will have to follow us on social media as we launch new products. It is under tight wraps right now.
What great words of wisdom and advice can you share with us millennials?
Unfortunately, it is challenging for millennials to be taken seriously. It is unfair because I believe that they are the most innovative and entrepreneurial individuals in our country. Texting, email, DMs have made society lazy with abbreviations, spelling, grammar etc. So, when millennials send emails they tend to write in the same way they text. It causes us to question their professionalism and seriousness. My advice to millennials is to remember that first impressions matter and to always be cognizant of their audience and content. Their voices are often stifled and ignored because of the delivery. They have so much to say and offer, so we have to make sure that there are not roadblocks preventing their voices from being heard.
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Evan Wheeler hails from Camden, NJ. Most know him as Huey X, which is his selected born again name. It was selected by his love of Huey P Newton and Malcolm X who he follows for their beliefs and looks up to as his mentors. Huey is a well educated brother by the standards of college, as well as being a self taught activist and revolutionary through his experiences in life. He also thinks of himself as an entrepreneur being involved in so many different fields that include: poetry, writing, youth advocacy, business development, investing, and production. He is, “Always looking to advance the culture & legacy ".