During the holiday season last year, Jackie Rodgers went on a mission to find wrapping paper that featured a Black Santa Claus for her two-year-old son Elijah’s Christmas gifts.
After looking high and low in stores and enlisting the help of friends, her search came up empty. The lack of representation inspired Rodgers and her husband Shaun to launch Greentop Gifts, a company that creates diverse holiday products.
Last year wasn’t the first time Rodgers searched for wrapping paper featuring images of an African-American Santa. She usually resorted to buying gift wrapping paper with White Santas and would shade them in with a coloring pencil. This year, she vowed that if she couldn’t find wrapping paper with a Black Santa, she would create her own.
“I was just really discouraged so I came home and told my husband that if I couldn’t find wrapping paper by next year that I was just going to make my own. If I had to go to Kinko’s, get on photoshop, or otherwise, I was going to figure it out,” she told NBCBLK. “And so that’s how we started this process. It was out of a void we were trying to fill for our son.”
The name of the business, Greentop Gifts, was inspired by a North Carolina eatery her grandfather managed back in the 1930s. The restaurant, named Greentop, was a hot spot for Black families in Orange County. Jackie and Shaun, both HBCU graduates, majored in business. Jackie attended Clark Atlanta University and Shaun went to Morehouse. They relied heavily on the HBCU community to get the word out about their new venture.
“We really relied a lot on our HBCU network with finding different vendors, from our attorney, also an HBCU graduate, to finding other black illustrators and graphic design artists, we tried to really make sure that we could support black businesses as much we could,” says Jackie. “Also, with our launch in October we did a marketing dump where we attended different homecomings and passed out promotional items.”
The couple dubbed the Black Santa featured on the gift wrapping paper “Clarence Claus.” They’ve gone beyond wrapping paper and now sell other products that include mugs, t-shirts, hoodies, and pins. Clarence Claus is just the start for Greentop Gifts; Jackie and Shaun plan to introduce more characters over time. “We are going to be doing new items for next year. We’ve gotten lots of feedback from customers about things they’ve been looking for and have been unable to find currently in the market,” says Shaun.
Both Jackie and Shaun believe all of the late hours and money invested into Greentop Gifts was well worth it. “That sacrifice was more than worth it because we knew that we were creating something not just for us, but for all the people like us across the country,” Shaun said.