As a teenager, LaToya Simpson worked at the Carlton Cards store in Dearborn and noticed there were few greeting cards with people on the cover that looked like her.
While the store did carry Hallmark’s African American collection Mahogany Cards, Simpson said they accounted for about 15 cards out of thousands of others in stock.
But as founder of The Candidly Speaking, a greeting card and stationary company that features Black people and culture, Simpson is working to change that.
Her product line, primarily sold at two Detroit marketplaces, has cards for the usual occasions – birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas – and a series of others just because.
One birthday card, titled “Happy birthday sister-friend,” depicts two women sitting at a table clinking their glasses. Another card features a woman with long, black hair with a purple background. The caption reads, “No, you didn’t birth me. But I’m forever grateful.”
“My cards are unapologetically themselves,” said Simpson, 42, of Fraser. “They definitely speak to the audience that I wanted to speak to. It’s really my love letter to my family and friends.
“It’s extremely relatable and that’s with imagery as well as the wording because it kind of extracts those emotions from memories and experiences that we’ve lived,” she added.
Creating cards ‘a blessing’ during early days of the pandemic
Simpson, who also works full-time for a company that creates K-12 curriculum, said the concept for The Candidly Speaking came to her in 2020 during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. After more than 20 years working in corporate jobs, Simpson was ready to factor in a passion project that would allow her to be creative and express her thoughts.
One day, Simpson was looking through the cards in her nightstand and thought she should create her own.
“I thought about it for a little while and then I would put it back down like, ‘No, you can’t do it,’” she said. “Then, around October 2020, I just sat down and drafted seven cards. I really do think the pandemic was a blessing in some ways.”
The next step was finding an illustrator for the cards. That’s when Simpson discovered Atlanta-based artist Destiny Darcel on Instagram.
“We’ve been working together now for almost two years,” she said. “So, I’ll tell her the words that I want in this card, the idea that I have for the imagery and that’s how we get it done.”
Simpson launched The Candidly Speaking in April 2021. Then, through a family member she was introduced to All Things Marketplace founder Jennyfer Crawford, a Corktown marketplace that showcases area small businesses.
Simpson also connected with By Popular Demand: The Collective co-owner Daisha McKenzie, who has a space in the Milwaukee Junction neighborhood. McKenzie said Simpson’s cards are popular at the collective. She said The Candidly Speaking items reflect the people in the community and compliments the other collections in the store.
“I love the illustrations, the vivid colors and the fact that the cards can actually be put in frames. They’re like artwork,” McKenzie said.
Besides the two Detroit marketplaces, Simpson’s cards can be purchased in person at The Sistah Shop in Atlanta.
Simpson said one of the challenges of the past two years in starting her own business is learning to be patient and realizing that things won’t happen overnight.
“Every event isn’t going to sell out, the stores are not going to be knocking down the doors after eight months,” she said. “You just really have to have patience. But if you continue to believe in your product, you’re gonna win.”
‘Something that matters’
Simpson and Darcel have created more than 40 greeting cards so far as well as journals and wrapping paper. The cards cost $8 each, while journals cost $15.
For 2023, Simpson said she hopes to expand her footprint by promoting The Candidly Speaking at events outside of Michigan. Eventually, the goal is to sell cards nationwide in stores, museums and hospitals.
The native Detroiter, who lived on the city’s west side until 2019, said it’s amazing to see the success of her business, especially with those in the Black community. One moment that stands out, she said, occurred in November at All Things Marketplace when a woman bought some “thinking of you” cards titled, “She is with you — missing that special woman.” Simpson said that the customer became emotional and began crying.
“For me, it felt like, ‘You are doing something that matters for people who look like you and sound like you who don’t necessarily feel heard all the time, or don’t necessarily feel like how they feel is captured,’” she said.
“Being an entrepreneur is difficult,” Simpson said. “But moments like that are like ‘You got it, keep going.’”