Bianca Lambert is changing the way we communicate with one another. As the founder of stationery line Mae B, she provides consumers with a diverse line of products that celebrate brown skin—a rarity in the world of invitations and greeting cards. Below, we talk with Lambert about the inspiration behind her business and where she plans to go from here.
Why did you initially get involved in design?
I always knew I had what it took to be a designer, but I could never quite figure out where I fit. In college, I was an interior design major for two semesters until my professors told me I wasn't right for the program. My designs were "too fashion-forward and unrealistic" for the profession. I have a great eye for trends and a knack for storytelling, so that's how I developed Mae B into a business. Each design you see on our site has a story. Many of the greeting cards come from my personal triumphs, failures, and relationships. I think that's why people relate to Mae B; they can see themselves in our cards. One of my favorites is our "You Made It" card. My sister was going through a tough time in the last year of her undergrad, and I would tell her, these challenges are temporary. You will see the finish line soon. I took that experience and turned it into a card. It's one of our best-sellers.
How did you find your way into entrepreneurship?
I never dreamed I would be an entrepreneur. Never. But, I was so frustrated with the lack of high-end, fashion-forward options for women of color, I knew I had to do something about it, even if it was for my personal use. I had the idea, but I didn't know how to make it a real business. I was a huge fan of smaller boutiques like Urbanic, Sugar Paper, and Rifle Paper Co., I started to research the founders of those companies. I wanted to know how they got started, how they marketed themselves, and how they told their brand's story. I read tons and tons of their interviews because I knew that there was valuable information there. Having a mentor is a great asset in building a business. Since I didn’t have one I knew directly, I used the world wide web to my advantage.
It's very rare to see any people of color on cards when you go to the drugstore, or even more high-end shops. What motivated you to fill that void and start your own company?
Honestly, I was tired of supporting companies that I felt didn't value my point of view as a black woman. It was so disappointing to walk into a store I loved and walk out empty-handed. What I didn't realize when started Mae B was that there were women out there that were having the same experience.
What are some of the challenges that you have faced so far with the business?
I started Mae B with no business plan, no capital, and no clue about the time commitment it would take to run a successful business. So, of course, I have been met with many challenges I probably could have avoided if I'd planned better. But, I know that if I had waited until the time was "right," Mae B wouldn't exist. I self-fund Mae B, so that has been on of the toughest parts of this journey. I have worked two and three jobs to keep Mae B afloat. So there has been a lot of financial sacrifices, but as I am going into year four, I have a much better grasp on how to work less and continue to invest in Mae B.
The second most challenging part of my journey is defining what success is for me. It is so easy to get caught up in comparing your success to the success of others. Social media is a great place to connect with people, but it can also send you down a self-loathing rabbit hole if you compare your journey to someone else. Everyone has a different metric system that defines their success. I have had to redefine what that looks life for me.
How do you feel about representation in the stationery industry?
It is disappointing to still see such limited options in the marketplace for brown women. A friend of mine in New York was looking for a card with a black couple for a wedding she was attending that same day. She'd visited a few boutiques in New York, and there was nothing available. Living in Atlanta presents the same challenge. I visit quite a few stationery stores monthly to see if any of the well-known companies have expanded their product lines to reach women of color. Unfortunately, they haven't.
You would like to think that in cities with diverse populations you would be able to walk into a stationery boutique and find a card on the shelf that looks like you. For a lot of people that don't have this problem, this idea seems pretty trivial. But, in our reality, this is just as important as seeing yourself represented in film, TV, and in magazines. The only way I think we will see a change in the stationery industry is if people like myself continue to create brands that speak to the void. Wholesale is my priority this year. I love having an online marketplace for Mae B; there is great value in being accessible beyond e-commerce for myself as a business owner and for the customer that doesn't want to plan ahead to purchase a greeting card.
During this difficult period of social injustice, activists are also calling on artists to create. What keeps you inspired to wake up and get up every day?
A lot of people look at Mae B as a destination for pretty stationery which is true, but it is about so much more for me. Mae B is my way of saying to women of color, "I see you. I value you. You are beautiful." Growing up I had a complex about my dark skin tone; I didn't think it was beautiful. I'd hear you're "pretty for a dark-skinned girl" which warped my self-esteem. I didn't learn to love my natural hair until I was 23 years old. We have been told for centuries that our skin, our hair, and our features are not "classically" beautiful; Mae B does the opposite.
My grandmother, Mae, was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen. She had thick black hair like mine, beautiful dark skin like mine, and this ability to make me feel like I was important. The same feeling of pride and beauty my grandma made me feel, I want to give back to our customer. Each time I develop a new product, I do my best to make sure I represent the diversity of black beauty because I want everyone to feel like they see themselves in our products.
What are you hoping to accomplish with Mae B?
My ultimate goal for Mae B is to create a space for women of color on the shelves of stores like Target, Nordstrom, and local boutiques. My plan is to start in Atlanta and grow from there. I love what I have been able to create through e-commerce, but I would like for our customer to be able to walk into their favorite store and purchase a card without planning ahead. Getting Mae B onto store shelves will present a new challenge, but it is one I am ready to take on!
What's next? Are there any upcoming projects or launches that you can discuss?
Right now I am focused on creating a couple of products that speak to what is happening in this country that give back to organizations that help protect women and people of color. I am releasing that collection in March and will donate 50 percent of the proceeds.
To check out Mae B's products, visit its site, here. Currently, Mae B is selling a limited-edition "I AM THE CHANGE" postcard; 20 percent of the proceeds will be donated to an organization of the customer's choosing.