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Market for ethnic cards is expanding


Imagine having to settle for a Father's Day card without a father on it. Or birthday greetings minus the birthday boy or girl.

Pat Hatcher had to. Until recently, cards that realistically depicted African Americans were scarce.

"It was really a problem. I'd pick something out with just a picture -- like flowers -- on it, and stay away from the ones with people on them," the Fort Wayne, Ind., resident says.

About four years ago, however, she discovered a wonderful selection of cards for African Americans at a Walgreens store. Now she's covered for all occasions.

Most of those cards are made by Broom Designs, a Detroit company that was founded 21 years ago by an African-American couple.

Without realizing it, Vivian and Edward Broom became pioneers in the ethnic greeting-card field. They started the company in their basement, using verses and art -- mostly photos of Detroit models -- that they purchased from free-lancers. Now their cards are available at many Kmart, Sears, Hudson's and Macy's stores, as well as 400 independent stores around the country.

"We did this mainly for our four children. We wanted them to have esteem and to like themselves. We didn't want them to think the only kinds of cards there were did not include them," Vivian Broom says.

The market for African-American cards is expanding rapidly, as is the number of companies producing them.

The African-American population is the nation's largest ethnic group, and it is growing at twice the rate of the white population, according to the 1990 census. And, while the median age of the white population will continue to grow older, the median age of African-American consumers will hover in the 18-35 age group. Women in this age group are primary purchasers of greeting cards.

American Greetings and Hallmark have been making cards depicting African Americans for a couple of decades. Only recently, however, have they produced cards that truly represent African Americans, Ms. Broom says.

"Hallmark used to offer cards that had white faces colored brown. Naturally, we were completely turned off by that, and we thought it could be done better."

At the International Stationery Show in New York this spring, the Brooms were delighted to see a good selection of African-American cards presented by the major companies and by more than 12 new companies owned by African Americans.

Mahogany, a card line with a distinctly ethnic flavor, was introduced by Hallmark in 1988. It features three designs for Christmas cards and 16 designs for changing friendship and love cards.

American Greetings' Black Impressions line features cards for most holidays and for everyday events such as anniversaries, graduations and birthdays.

Perhaps the best testament to greeting card companies' ethnic awareness, however, is the appearance of cards for an African-American holiday: Kwanzaa.

Cards for the seven-day celebration, which begins on Dec. 26 and honors African heritage, are being produced this year by Hallmark and Broom Designs.

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