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Meet the Artists: Hello from Huetribe

5 Oct 2021

Meet the Artists: Hello from Huetribe

1. Tell us a bit about yourself….

I’m Tineka, the founder of Huetribe, a greetings card publisher, which promotes social inclusivity and celebrates the beauty and diversity of modern day relationships and people of colour. I’m also part of the GCA (Greeting Card Association) Council and the recent co-author of MIXED UP: Confessions of an Interracial Couple which came out in paperback this year.

The idea for Huetribe came to me after years of scouring shelves and online stores trying to find occasion cards that reflected my relationships and friendships. I have a very diverse and multi-cultural social circle, but when it comes to birthdays, engagements, weddings and other big occasions, I could never find a greetings card that was relevant to my life or my relationships. I perceived a vast market with huge purchasing powers being radically underserviced by an antiquated greetings card industry that only knew how to portray a very traditional and narrow view of modern life, modern love and modern relationships.

2. How did you get into the creative/greeting card industry?

6 or 7 years ago I would have never believed I would be designing cards! I've always had a creative side, which was mostly expressed through writing projects like my recent book Mixed Up: Confessions of an interracial couple. The idea for Huetribe came after years of not finding greeting cards that were relevant to me or the world around me. I struggled to find cards which depicted diverse relationships, let alone people of colour.

One time my husband bought a card with a penguin couple on it to celebrate our anniversary, as it was the only card he could find of a couple that was 'black and white! Of course, we laughed about it, but it was also quite a sad moment of realisation that greeting cards are not diverse. But from then on the idea of Huetribe was born. There still aren't many interracial cards out there, so for our anniversaries and other occasions we still give each other Huetribe cards!

3. What have been your biggest challenges to get to where you are today?

Like many startups, funds for investing in a business can be a challenge. I knew this going in and didn’t want to take out any business loans so I spent a year saving up before launching. It definitely takes a lot of faith to invest hard earned money into a business you don’t know will flourish, but if you’re passionate about what you’re doing and keep pushing even when the results are discouraging, I believe that eventually, it will really pay off.

If you are a woman from a BAME background climbing up the corporate ladder, you will at some point face discrimination in the workplace – however subtle. These are microaggressions. It’s just inevitable. I’ve experienced this in the majority of positions I’ve had. I know that I had to probably work a lot harder than many other colleagues to succeed, particularly in my initial career as a PR where there is an inherent lack of both social and racial diversity within firms, as well as a lack of gender diversity. The main thing is to keep advocating, keep pushing and supporting others going through similar experiences.

4. What has been the proudest moment of your career?

It brings me such joy and pride when I see Huetribe cards in stores such as Tesco, WHSmith, Scribbler and online in top outlets like Moonpig.com. 

But of course it was landing our first high street retailer, Scribbler, a few years ago that was a turning point. I had to work really hard to get to the point where our cards could be carried in a high street retailer – it’s not easy! And at the time diversity wasn’t a mainstream topic in the industry. Another proud moment is our cards will soon be part of an exhibition at The Postal Museum, which is something really special and unique.

5. Do you have anyone or anything in mind when designing your cards?

Real people! I think that because photography has been a large part of our work, I'm definitely inspired by diverse couples, families and people who are living their truth in simple everyday ways. Most photos, which are featured on our cards are actual couples or families. And I think that realness comes across in our photographic designs and is what makes them special. I always want to create designs that I believe reflect what most people see in the real world and I place a particular emphasis on celebrating the beauty of diversity. More recently, Huetribe launched illustration designs, which have received amazing feedback across the UK market so we are exploring where that can go. Our most recent illustrative range, diversity matters, celebrates Black excellence and life and is currently available on Moonpig.

6. Which is your favourite card you ever designed and why?

That's definitely a hard one as I love all of them. There is something special about our Two halves one heart card -- its simple but really shows the original ethos of the company celebrating interracial love and it’s a popular pick. We've had such a great response from the card and will be able to announce the details soon but we have partnered with a major company to bring this design to life in a whole new way. 

7. What is the one message you want to send for Black History Month?

I really want businesses and customers to know and understand that diverse cards shouldn't only be stocked because of the Black Lives Matter movement or just during Black History Month. Truly seeing diversity throughout the industry requires a cultural shift in mindset - and that doesn't have to mean only carrying diverse cards. Hiring more diverse talent, working with a racially diverse set of designers, partnering and supporting charities which promote racial equality and taking the time to learn - are all equally as important. 

When it comes to designing specifically, this matters because greeting cards are something that we all buy for loved ones to commemorate special moments. But if companies do not address the fact that mainstream society should be including all colours and sexualities then these companies are unconsciously reinforcing harmful stereotypes by distributing designs that don't embrace diversity.

8. Do you think the greeting cards industry could be more inclusive? Anything within this space that you would like to see more of, or feel isn’t done enough?

When I first started Huetribe, I looked for research on diversity in the greeting card industry and couldn't believe it had never been done before. I carried out research with 2,000 British people (reflecting the current racial demographic of Britain) with OnePoll in 2017 about diversity in the greeting card industry and it revealed some insightful results. While there's a social responsibility there's also a commercial one. 

So many products today are used as a tool for activism and many consumers really do research if the brands they buy from support social change. I'm still a small company but I feel Huetribe plays a part in a larger movement and conversation at the moment about how our designs can uplift people who are underrepresented at all levels of society while educating others and driving change for the better. I think for all designers creating diverse cards, we're fighting for the chance for a person of colour to be able to walk into a store and feel that people who look like them are 'mainstream' and normal too.

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