Blended Designs: Bridging the Representation Gap
A Family Business Aims to Build Confidence Among Children of Color Through Design
Online retailer offering school gear, totes and organizational tools that tell an empowering story
2018 FedEx Small Business Grant Contest Bronze Prize Winner
Casey and Harvey Kelley married in 2014. They were a blended family, and that’s how they landed on the name for their small business — Blended Designs.
The concept for Blended Designs developed after a conversation with their eight-year-old son Carter. “He came to me and said he wanted a bag with his picture on it for school,” said Casey. After looking through hundreds of character backpacks, she noticed very few had children of color. “I felt there was a void we could fill,” said Casey.
The Kelleys did just that. They created a line of school and travel gear for kids that features fun characters representing children of color. Their goal is to empower kids by depicting images that represent who they are alongside positive messages that they can do anything. Casey and Harvey’s characters are designed with a broad range of skin tones, hairstyles and characteristics. Each character has a backstory and is based on a real person.
“Even though some characters sell better than others, we feel that it is important to showcase all of the characters, because they are different and can resonate with different people in their communities,” said Casey. “Customers see someone they know within our collection and they are emotionally connected to our backpacks.”
As Blended Designs began its work, Harvey and Casey developed a prototype bag and posted an image of it on social media. Their social network was excited, and they decided their idea was worth a shot. “We took all the money that we had in the bank and bought some product,” said Harvey. “We sold out.”
From there, a family member provided a small loan for the Kelleys to purchase their first 1,000 bags. Orders continued at a steady pace until one day a television reality star shared one of Blended Designs’ social media posts. That one social media post led to a huge spike in purchases. “We had to scramble to make the orders,” said Casey.
They initially expected to sell about 1,000 bags in 2017, but after the surge they sold more than 5,000. This year, they expect to do 2 1/2 times that. “It’s been incredible to see how our products have taken off and that the message is resonating with customers,” said Casey. “It’s really taken off.”
Despite the growth, it hasn’t been all about the bottom line for the Kelleys. They have committed to giving students in less advantaged schools free gear with the help of local community organizations.
They describe this effort as the most important part of their business. “If we can encourage kids who may not be hearing at home that they can go to college, if we can help create more first-generation college students, then we can break the cycle of poverty,” said Casey.
Their biggest surprise has been the positive response they’ve received. “I knew people would like it,” said Casey. “But I was not prepared for the growth. We’ve grown so much faster than I ever could have anticipated. The fact that people really love the story, I never would have thought that they would love it so much. I thought it would be a novelty.”
For the Kelleys, winning the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest impacts more than just their finances. “Having the FedEx validation is bigger than the money,” said Casey. “For this business to resonate on such a large scale outside of the community we try to reach, for me that made it so much more than simply winning.”
Find out more about our yearly contest and our past winners here.