Sunday, 31 July 2011

The boys have got to go ....

It's your nephew's birthday, he is going to be seven.  He likes dinosaurs, Transformers and mud.  You have already brought his present and you just need to get him a birthday card before your visit for his birthday party.  Now, do you get him a card with a little girl on the front blowing daisy's or one with a picture of a dragon like this one from Orchard Cards?

Of course you get him a 'boy' card. One, he is too young to be bothered with girls and two, you get him a card he can identify with.  And that is the simple motivation behind Strange Fruit.  Greeting cards that visually represent people of colour and which can be identified with. 

I thought about starting a diverse greeting card company for years!  But at our wedding party in October 2009 I was so sad that none of the lovely cards our friends and family had kindly chosen for us actually represented us that I started writing a business plan, in my head, that very night.  It took one year from that day to our first day of trading and in that year I learnt everything takes longer than you think it should.  Even the simplest things like finding a printing company.  It took three months to find a company, based in England who could print quality cards on decent card stock, who were willing to do short print runs at a price that was competitive.  I am starting a business, so no actually I don't want 3000 cards per design.

And the logo, OMG who would have thought a little logo would be such a big job, it's a logo not a contender for a Turner prize!  I knew what I wanted, I could draw it, but I couldn't design it electronically in the right formats.  I also didn't have any friends who were graphic designers with nothing better to do so I either had to pay the going rate or wait for the universe to bring me a nice person who was willing to help me out.  The 'budget' was limited so I chose to wait for Danny, a friend of a friend who spends his days creating comic book characters, to come into my world and be my little (6ft 4) graphically designed star. 

Finally, there was the budget (laugh).  The business plan was fine, I was competent and capable but nothing was happening without a start up budget.  We had just got married so the savings account was down to £0.56p and sadly British Gas and HMRC were not as supportive as I would have liked to my entrepreneurial spirit; they still wanted to be paid?  And as I don't believe in debt unless it is absolutely necessary so there was only one thing for it - the boys had to go.

The boys; Manaolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo, lived in my wardrobe.  We'd had some really fun nights out together but I figured if I can't make a sacrifice how serious I am. Anyway, when I'm making oodles of money I can go straight back to Harvey Nichols and buy all the shoes I like.  

I sold a few other things too to fill my start-up-pot, it's amazing what I had but didn't need or use, and I miss none of them.  And being able to start my business is so much better than knowing some (beautiful) designer shoes are in my wardrobe! The satisfaction of seeing my cards in the shops and the lovely feedback I get from customers who say their Mum loved getting a card with a black woman on it is one of the best feelings there is.

'til next week, Denise xx

Sunday, 24 July 2011

What an awful weekend!

This week I was going to share my work week but the murder of nearly 100 people in Olso, the death of Amy Winehouse, the worsening situation in Somali and the 32 people killed on the Bullet train crash in China seemed to make what I've been up to all just a bit trivial.

As many of you know I am a government press officer by day.  My office is on Victoria Street, just by the House's of Parliament; for many of us working in the civil service this, not the lofty halls of the House of Commons, is the real heart of government.  When I left the building on Friday night the security was immense, the bomb shutters were down and and anti ram raid ramps were up.  I've often thought that attacking this main hub of government was the easiest way of causing incredible harm, little did I know in Oslo a right-wing extremist was thinking the same thing.  For me, and I'm sure for many others, the pictures and news coverage coming out of Olso brought back memories of 7/7, but we, the ones with memories I guess are the lucky ones.  The complete and utter loss of life is tragic and I can't imagine the pain of having to bury your child.  What drove a 32 year old to cause such carnage? Maybe Anders Breivik will tell us his motive in court on Monday.  It doesn't seem like the rest of his group are so keen for the attention. 

Norway is known for being a peaceful and tolerant country, when the shock of Fridays events eventually pass I hope together they resist the urge of becoming a nation paranoid and dominated by fear.

Lots of views on Amy Winehouse this weekend.  Some people think we as a society have idolised a celebrity who set a bad example and brought all her problems on herself and some people are genuinely sad that such a talent has left the building.

I lived in Camden since my teens, we only moved east a couple of years ago when we needed a bigger house.  Camden is one of those places were everyone kind of muddles along together and everyone knows everyone.  You could be buying your vegetables at the Inverness Street market one day with Sade and in the queue at M&S with your frozen peas and Sadie Frost the next.  Amy Winehouse was our Camden-ette.  Before she surcumed to her life of addiction she was one of the locals who muddled along with everyone else and who happened to be a bloody amazing singer and for what its worth I think Amy Winehouse will be remembered in history for being a great vocalist.  Yes I did mostly see her buying booze in Sainsburys at three in the morning, but to be fair at the time so was I and everyone else!

In the late 90's my sister-in-law, who also lived in Camden, became a heroin addict.  No one had any idea until she was hooked, there was no strange behaviour, no change in her routine and to be honest, she looked fantastic.  She was a singer, she had always been a bit crazy, so no change there.  When it did become clear that her addiction was out of control and she just didn't care anymore there wasn't much anyone could do and trust me we tried.  It didn't stop us from both loving her and being terrified of her. Thankfully my sister in law was a fighter and after being turned away by the NHS, no funds were available for treatment, she locked her self in her flat and threw the key out of the window.  We didn't see her for six weeks, we had no idea if she was OK or not.  When she returned to us she had kicked the habit, true cold turkey stylee.  A good few years have passed since then but our Red knows she is always one hit away from returning to the pain and her darkness.  I don't know what demons Amy Winehouse was hiding from, but I do know that addicts are not just selfish idiots who don't care about anyone but themselves, they are escaping from something they either don't understand or can't come to terms with. The UK has over two million people living with some kind of addiction and one of the highest drug and alcholhol addiction rates in Europe but we have the lowest provision of rehabilitation.  Maybe if we all cared a little more and were not so quick to judge?  I truly hope Amy's friends and a family will find peace now her hurt is over.

Not much news is coming through from China but we do know that at least 32 people have died and more than 100 were hurt after two high-speed trains crashed into each other.  Terrifying, one minute your on your way somewhere and the next you are waiting to be rescued or waiting for news of a loved one.

I am hoping by Monday morning to hear some good news for Somalia.  When I last checked a spokesman for al-Shabab said the famine was 'propaganda and that things we're not that bad!'  Now I am no political mastermind and I really do need to read more, but I'd say parents having to choose between finding food for their starving children or walking through a civil war zone was as bad as it could get.  Aid agencies are leaving the region as personnel are not safe and many cannot return as they have been banned by the ruling party for being political.  10 million people. 10 million people is more than the entire population of Sweden!  Starving to death in a land that was once the garden of the world, and the world from what I can see, is not doing enough to help them.  Sadly I think that if the entire population of Sweden was dying a solution would be found a little more quickly.

I think who ever comes up with a workable plan is definitely in line for the Nobel Peace Prize.  Helpful suggestions to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, United Nations, New York City, New York, USA.

A week of devastation and I hope lots of water under the bridge for families and friends with 'issues' causing conflict.  This horrible weekend is a massive hint to let go of past hurts, after all, we just don't know when our own time will come.  Enjoy what there is to enjoy, suffer what there is to suffer, both are part of life and one cannot exist without the other.

Denise xx

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Strange Fruit Sunday Supplement

So last week I finally got with 2011 and created my blog, before really getting into Strange Fruit I should share a bit about me, you never know, some of it may be interesting!

My life.....  I was born in the quaint village of Maidstone, Kent back in 1970 and grew up in Chislehurst. All I can say is I came to London as soon as I was old enough, I am a city girl and need people not piece and quiet.  My favourite place in London is right outside The Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank; where else will you find a homeless teenager chatting to a city lawyer about the art exhibition they have both just been to?  For me the Southbank is the melting pot of London.

I love..... the smell of verbena, just a whiff of the the shower gel from L'Occitane and I'm happy.  I am also just a little bit obsessed with crackers and jam, I eat them every day.  If I had to pick just one flower - peonies would always be my flower of choice.

My home.....  Our home is best described as eclectic.  I am really proud that we refurbished the house ourselves, fitted the bright shiny blue kitchen and everything.  Now the house is a mix of modern furniture with the odd retro lamp flung in.  One of my favourites is a 1950's black panther lamp.  I covert a "Mad Men" style dining table, but we don't have a dining room so this a dilemma best solved with a retro coffee pot until I convince Cory to build a conservatory!

My inspiration..... All the Cut it Out cards start as a collage which I turn into digital images with a high resolution scanner.  I start with the vintage photograph and imagine what was going on with the people in it, the rest of the collage comes from there.  Sometimes people inspire a card design.  I used to work with a guy who always wore the best suits; he'd trawl charity shops. e-bay and auctions looking for a perfect vintage suit.  When I found a picture of some dashing young men in rather sharp suits I knew I had to use the image for a card.

This picture uses scraps of an old envelope, two vintage photographs brought in America, a piece of ribbon from a birthday present and some images cut from an old magazine.  The bunting is all cut from the pages of Stylist magazine!

So, my first Strange Fruit Sunday is out, hope you come back next week when I'll be getting down to business.  

'Till then, Denise.

Saturday, 9 July 2011


Hello!  After much talk of needing to... I finally joined 2011 and have set up a blog for Strange Fruit!  Here I will record the journey of a start up business which is lovingly compressed between a day job and a family. 

For those that don't know Strange Fruit create and sell greeting cards reflective of black Britain, all of our cards feature a person of colour.  My personal favourite is still the first card I designed which quotes Eleanor Roosevelt and was created using a sample of wallpaper, a brown envelope, a vintage photograph and some pages out of an old magazine.

A beauty I think.