Nicola Lespeare on the importance of Black representation in art
We interviewed Nicola Lespeare, founder of Nicola Lespeare Greeting Cards to get her thoughts on the importance of Black representation in everyday art forms such as greeting cards. We also discussed her hopes for the future of the art world.
When did you start your greeting card brand and what were your main motivations to do so?
Nicola Lespeare Greeting Cards launched in 2016. I was unable to find a relatable birthday card of a Black girl flourishing with her afro for my sister's birthday, so I decided to illustrate a unique birthday card as a surprise. My sister loved it and was so excited to receive a memorable card that reflected her deep skin tone and beautiful afro hair.
Seeing her eyes light up with joy made me want to recreate the same uplifting experience for other people. I knew that the lack of relatable celebration cards featuring Black people was a wide spread dilemma, so I chose to take action and a leap of faith by starting my brand!
As an illustrator, have you always had a keen interest in representing black people?
My brand prioritises the representation of Black people because catering to the Black demographic has been continuously overlooked by the prominent retailers and buyers in the greeting card industry. The UK has a multicultural population yet the vast majority of greeting card shelves fail to reflect this. There is a significant lack of diversity in the industry, our aim is to drive lasting change and shape the prominence of Black greeting cards.
Nicola Lespeare Greeting Cards enables our audience to celebrate family, cherish friendships and capture memorable occasions with relatable cards that are worthy of being treasured for years to come.
What do you think the effects of a lack of representation in the art world has had on Black communities?
Black art is an intrinsic link to our history and identity therefore it’s vital that the necessary steps are taken to preserve its existence and value. More action is needed to increase inclusivity within the sector and protect Black artists when their work is copied, discredited or not given the recognition it deserves. Such effective changes will help to eliminate some of the barriers to industry success that Black artists encounter.
Why do you think it is important for Black people to see themselves represented in art?
Representation is key to building self-worth and creates a sense of belonging. Our Customer Insights Survey revealed recipients most appreciate a card that bears a resemblance to their appearance and will choose to keep such cards as a special memento. Our designs aim to amplify positive representation and serve as personal reminders that we’re all special in our own one-of-a-kind way.
How do you think the existence of brands similar to yours would have impacted you growing up?
Receiving an array of Black greeting cards as a child would have increased my confidence and made me feel less alienated. I was always puzzled as to why the girls on the front of most of my birthday cards looked nothing like me - they didn't have brown skin or afro puffs. I wouldn’t have guessed that years later I’d be designing greeting cards to help girls and boys celebrate their born day with birthday cards that look like them! It’s an immense feeling of gratitude to have this opportunity.
What has the feedback been like?
Feedback has been tremendous and we have a great community of brand supporters.
It’s always touching to read positive feedback from customers who let us know that ‘This card looks like me!’ or ‘My friend loved her card, she has the same hairstyle!’ It’s encouraging to hear that we’re meeting our customer’s expectations and getting things right.
What is your clientele like, has any experience particularly stood out to you?
It’s brilliant popping up at live events and meeting our customers in person. Our last appearance at Black Girl Fest in London was a memorable experience - a perfectly coordinated Black shopping experience plus vibes were sky high!
Tell us about your cultural background?
My grandparents are from St Kitts in the West Indies, they came to the UK in the late 1950’s. Despite the adversities that they faced here, they worked incredibly hard to make a new start in the UK and contribute to the rebuilding of post-war Britain.
What challenges did you face when trying to set up your business?
Knowing where to start! It’s a steep learning curve and at times incredibly daunting, especially if you’re a sole founder as you don’t have a business partner to share the day-to-day business activities. I found that connecting with a mentor, scheduling my priorities and reading entrepreneurial books has helped to maintain my momentum and perseverance.
What has been the biggest joy or highlight so far?
Joining Moonpig.com, one of the largest online greeting card stores, is an incredibly exciting highlight for Nicola Lespeare Greeting Cards! Moonpig offers the option to personalise a selection of our cards which is a fabulous touch for our audience.
What advice would you give other Black creatives wanting to set up a business like yours?
Define your goals, stay focused on what you want to achieve and don’t be distracted by what others are doing. Every creative has their own unique journey therefore it’s imperative that you walk in your own light and build certainty within yourself. Seek out opportunities that will amplify your presence and find ways to super-serve your audience to show your appreciation for their support!
In an ideal world, what would you like the future of the art world to look like?
Art that has been looted will have been returned to their countries of origin.
How do you think we can get there?
Measures are implemented whereby museums are required to return illegally taken artefacts back to their countries of origin. Once returned, the country of origin has the option to grant permission for such artifacts to be exhibited in other countries on a loan basis.
What is next for your brand?
The new Spring range has just launched and an exciting ‘must-have’ collection will be coming to the store this Summer!
Explore Nicola’s range of distinctive cards at www.nicolalespeare.com
Follow Nicola on Instagram @nicolalespeare