It's that wonderful time of year again when voices are singing to be jolly, and we deck the halls with boughs of holly. But how many times have we rocked around the Christmas tree — at the Christmas party hop — and failed to see gift wrapping that featured ethnically-inclusive characters and designs? Too many times to count, if we're being honest.
Following the recent release of DuBiee's Holiday '18 Collection, I had the pleasure to speak with the company's founder, Ashley Thai, to discuss her vision to salute people of color fully embodying Black excellence.
21Ninety: Who is Ashley Thai? Can you give us an inkling into the founder behind this empowering company?
Ashley Thai: I am a creative who loves to give gifts! Actually gifting is one of my love languages and although my background is fashion and film, I’ve pretty much done everything
in-between related to the arts including graphic design. So for some, DuBiee might
seem like a far cry from what I’ve done in the past, but those close to me know it’s a
columniation of my passions and experience.
21N: How do you incorporate your fashion background into the vision for DuBiee? What
fashion school did you go?
AT: When I decided to start DuBiee, I immediately began to think about how I was going
to incorporate my fashion experience and love for styling into the company.
Although I didn’t attend a fashion school, I’ve worked as a wardrobe and prop stylist
for almost 10 years and one of the things I love about the industry is the excitement
and exclusivity centered around seasonal collection releases. Incorporating themed
collections felt like a great fit for the brand and meshed well with the idea to
collaborate with other visual artists, allowing us to really focus on a single
designer with each release.
21N: How did the idea for DuBiee come about?
AT: I was looking for wrapping paper that reflected me and my culture a few years back. I couldn’t find anything that I found as a representative, so I decided to make it myself!
Photo: Mrs. Claws Gift Wrap
21N: What are your long-term goals for the company?
AT: For now, I am focused on bringing imagery to gift wrapping that is reflective of Black
people and Black culture. Eventually, I can see myself expanding to gift bags and
other related product offerings. Honestly, I feel that the sky is the limit when it's gifting
products that incorporate Black art.
21N: Is there a date when the 2018 holiday collection will stop being sold? Or will the
collection be in circulation year-round?
AT: The holiday collection is like Santa. Only here once a year. There’s an excitement
and energy that’s unique to the holiday season, so it feels right to make this
collection a limited release.
Photo: Santa Baby Gift Wrap
21N: Following the holidays, can buyers expect DuBiee to offer luxury gift-wrap for other
occasions? Such as, Valentine’s Day, Birthdays, Graduations, etc.
AT: The luxury giftwrap lines will continue throughout the coming years. DuBiee
launched with a baby shower collection that really set the stage for special-occasion
themed designs. I want people to have a giftwrap for every possible celebration. I
like to keep the lines a surprise, so I will keep our next release under wraps for now.
21N: The graphic designer, Ragni Agarwal, did a beautiful job illustrating the essence of
Black beauty. Who came up with the concept behind “Oh Baby” and “Mrs. Claws”?
AT: I came up with the concept for both designs for our holiday collection and together,
Ragni and I collaborated on how to bring those visions to life. “Santa Baby” was
meant to portray the black men in my life; caring, giving, and happy to provide for
those around them. And with there being a huge beard subculture within the natural
hair movement right now for black men, I also wanted to highlight that in the design.
The 2nd design “Mrs. Claws”, came to me at the nail salon, of course. It celebrates
the spirit of black women lending a hand to friends, family and strangers alike.
Whether it’s Grandma waking up at 5 A.M. to begin cooking Christmas dinner, mom
dropping extra funds in their college students bank account, or a good friend
extending a dinner invitation for a much-needed vent session, I consider it a salute
to the black women in my life that have given tirelessly and in great style.
21N: Can you explain the difference between DuBiee’s collections — which you solely
designed — and the holiday collection?
AT: I came up with the concept and designed DuBiee’s 1st collection “Oh Baby!” in
celebration of several of my friends becoming mothers in the past year. Although it
was a joy to work on, I was very excited to bring Ragni’s creative talent to the
Christmas collection. Her great eye for color and use of negative space was
something I was excited to bring to this season’s designs. One of DuBiee’s focuses
is to bring minority artist and designs to the forefront of celebration culture and
Ragni was the perfect person to start this initiative with.
21N: Can you explain how DuBiee’s representative gift-wrap is apart of a larger narrative
on race and inclusion in this society?
AT: It's easy to lament the lack of representation of diverse characters in all media
forms. Instead of continuing to complain, I launched this business to change a small
part of that issue. Gifts for any occasion have a big impact on the recipient.
Associating those joyous moments with black and brown characters adds another
layer of enjoyment to those that are eager to see themselves reflected in the media
and products they consume.
21N: Will you tell us how DuBiee is helping to expand the reach of minority artists and aid
in making the collection of minority art more accessible?
AT: Each line of luxury giftwraps from Dubiee is designed by a person of color. I’m
excited to continue expanding the company because doing so grants more
opportunities for designers of color to display their artistry and reach wider
audiences that may not seek out their work in a gallery or exhibit. Our gift-wrap is
entering the private space of people homes, and with that, it becomes a personal
introduction of art to young and old alike. I’ve been an artist all my life, so having the opportunity to provide platforms for other artists is a cause that means a lot to
21N: Do you have any advice for aspiring Black female entrepreneurs striving to
AT: The biggest advice I have is to not let fear overtake your desire to chart your own
path. Being an entrepreneur is hard and it can be easy to get wrapped up a world of
advice where there seems to be only 1 or 2 ways to success. Instead, filter the
advice of others, educate yourself on best practices, develop a circle of
accountability partners and learn to trust your gut. Your path is your own and it’s
okay to get there in a way that makes sense for you and not for your “Instagram
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