In a bid to make Christmas more inclusive, two women have launched a diverse decorations company, producing a range of ornaments with varying skin tones.
Natalie Duvall, 39, and Alison Burton, 50, both from Croydon, co-founded March Muses in 2019, after being inspired by their daughters who couldn't see themselves represented in existing decorations.
Duvall says that it was a thought-provoking question asked by her then seven-year-old daughter while decorating the family Christmas tree that originally prompted the lightbulb moment for the company.
“Can Christmas angels have brown skin?” she asked her mother while they were hanging up white Santas, elves and angels.
Though she responded to say that of course they could have brown skin, Duvall then set about trying to look for Christmas decorations that better represented her family but drew a blank in the UK.
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"I expected to find loads," she says. “But there weren't any [ornaments], except one in America which would have cost around 40 dollars (£33.60), including shipping costs.
"It really upset me," she adds. "And I wanted to make sure that was not the case moving forward.”
So in 2019, March Muses was born, with the name holding particular significance to the duo.
“We are both born in March and we were inspired by our daughters to create this range," Burton explains.
"They were our muses, our inspiration," she adds.
Burton says that many of the company's Christmas figurines have also been inspired by people they consider to be of black excellence.
“We have two tree toppers – one is called Chaka as in singer Chaka Khan, we have Mariah as in Mariah Carey, the queen of Christmas, and figurines named Diana as in Ross, and Aretha."
"They were all born in March too,” she adds.
The tree topper based on the All I Want For Christmas Is You singer, holds a particularly special place in Duvall’s heart.
“That was the one I enjoyed designing the most,” she explains, commenting on the Mariah piece.
“It took quite a few goes to get the dress right so it didn’t look like a toilet brush, but she turned out gorgeous and it only took 10 days.
“I just look at her and think, ‘I love you’. She just sparkles and she is so pretty.”
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The design process of creating the figurines involved a lot of trial and error and initially gave rise to what the duo describe as some “terrible samples”.
“We were lucky enough to find a manufacturer in China who brought our vision to life, but as we were asking them to make something different – non-white Christmas decorations – we had to be careful of the language we used,” Duvall says.
“When we said black initially, we received an angel that was literally black and I thought, we need to change our language, we needed to say African American and we started to get closer to what we wanted."
Eventually the pair were able to “perfect” their finished products, and received "super excited" reactions from both women's children.
“They’ve been part of the process from the very beginning, so when samples were coming over they were really excited to see them," Burton explains.
“‘Oh my God, they look like me’ were some of the things they would say when they saw them."
Now, however, Burton says their children just see the diverse decorations as normal, which is even more encouraging.
“That’s exactly what we want, we want that to be the reaction,” she says.
Since launching the diverse range of products, the business duo say they've also received “brilliant” feedback from customers.
“We have a really diverse customer base because we have figurines in lighter and darker skin tones," Burton continues.
“We cover so many bases, whether you are mixed-race, from the Asian community, a Latina, our figurines can suit anyone who has a little melanin.
“Some people, who may not be from these backgrounds, buy them as gifts because they just want to champion diversity.”
March Muses have also recently branched out to create items including wrap and tag sets, greeting cards and cake toppers.
This April the duo appeared on Dragon’s Den, where they secured investment from Deborah Meaden and Peter Jones.
With the World Cup taking place in Qatar, the team wanted to mark the occasion by including a footballer angel in their range.
“Seeing the racism shown to players in the Euros made us think that we need to do something positive and support the team so that football hopefully comes home this time around,” Duvall adds.
Speaking to Yahoo UK, just after March Muses launched, Burton said they had been "delighted" by the response: “People are beginning to appreciate that representation and inclusivity really does matter – particularly with children and especially within the home."
Duvall added: “We have been delighted by the response, and we are dreaming of an inclusive Christmas this year!"
March Muses’ decorations are available to buy at Selfridges and Liberty London or on its website: https://www.marchmuses.co.uk/.
Additional reporting PA.