Dec 6, 2023 - News

The Shift: Black Paper Party faces the Sharks

Madia Willis (from left), Jasmine Hudson and J'Aaron Merchant are scheduled to appear on "Shark Tank" at 7pm Friday. Photo: Christopher Willard/Disney

Inspired by the cultural flashpoints of 2020 that included the COVID-19 pandemic and the murder of George Floyd, three NWA women decided to launch Black Paper Party.

  • The partners' initial concept was to make Christmas wrapping paper with illustrations of Black people — a simple notion that's been largely overlooked by the traditional gift-giving industry.

Driving the news: The trio — Jasmine Hudson, J'Aaron Merchant and Madia Willis — will appear on ABC's "Shark Tank" at 7pm Friday.

  • They weren't permitted to discuss the outcome of the prerecorded "pitch-for-investment" competition until after the broadcast.

The big picture: Black adults made up 12.4% of the U.S. population in 2020, yet just 3% of the nation's businesses were Black-owned.

Details: Since 2020, Black Paper Party has diversified offerings to include ceramics, stockings, clothing and ornaments — about 200 items — all representing Black people.

  • Hudson and Merchant point out their target market is larger than the Black population — that churches, nonprofits and adoptive parents who want to be inclusive also buy their products.
  • They see potential to spread into other special occasions like birthdays, Valentine's Day, etc.

Between the lines: Growth has been dramatic. The three, who met while working at Walmart headquarters, have products in 6,000 retail stores.

  • What's next: Dollar General and Kohl's will carry a Black History Month program designed by the company next year that includes apparel, stationary and coloring books.

The bottom line: Hudson and Merchant still live in NWA. The business has been built on investments from friends and family, out of the partners' back pockets and loans.

  • Yes, but: If one of the Sharks bites on Friday, the company could get an investment to help them to the next level.

Go deeper: Read why Hudson and Merchant started Black-owned NWA on Instagram.

🎁The Shift is a regular feature to catch up quick on what's happening in Arkansas' economy and entrepreneurial ecosystem.


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