While finding that perfect Valentine for your sweetie this month, you might see some Arkansas-based products in the mix, like mugs featuring signature plush gnomes.
“We call them Gnomies because they’re our homies,” says J’Aaron “Jae” Merchant with a laugh.
Merchant, Jasmine Hudson and Madia Willis are the owners of Bentonville-based Black Paper Party. Since 2020, their Black-owned, woman-owned business has specialized in “Gifting Solutions for the Culture.”
Hudson says, “We realized that there was a need for just representation in everyday holidays and celebrations and occasions.”
And the party hasn’t stopped since.
The owners have appeared on shows from “The Kelly Clarkson Show” to the “Today” show, and the business was featured as one of Bloomberg’s “50 Startups That Rose as America Locked Down.” In addition to their website (blackpaperparty.com), products — including cards, wrapping paper, gift bags, stickers, tags and holiday decorations featuring people of color — have been sold in stores like Family Dollar, T.J. Maxx, HomeGoods, Marshalls and Macy’s. Products are also sold in 1,000 locations of Arkansas-based Walmart, where their Valentine’s Day line will appear exclusively — and where Black Paper Party got the party started.
“Jae, myself and Madia all met in Northwest Arkansas; we all at some point worked at Walmart,” Hudson says. “And we decided that, with our unique skill sets, that we could drive representation in the market in ways that spread Black joy.”
Take their Christmas stockings, for example. Merchant says, “We had representations of Santa, a little boy and a little girl. And those did so well, for the kids just to be able to see themselves, and for the parents and the grandparents to say, ‘That looks just like my baby.’”
This season, the owners of Black Paper Party are not just selling heart-filled cards, notepads, tumblers, etc. They’re also feeling heartfelt love.
Merchant says, “All of the support that the community has shown us is beyond what we could have imagined it to be. … I’m so excited because we’ve been doing this three years now, and for our business to already be profitable, for us to be in as many retailers as we are right now, is a very humbling and grateful moment.”
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Jennifer Christman Cia is the Editor of Arkansas Living.
J’Aaron “Jae” Merchant (chief product designer), Jasmine Hudson (chief merchant) and Madia Willis (CEO) own Bentonville-based Black Paper Party.
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