Gay greeting cards bring pink pound to high street shops

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The Independent Online

When Emma Wells embarked on what she thought would be a brief shopping trip to buy a blessing card for a lesbian couple, she did not realise how difficult it would prove to be.

After scouring the high street, she and a friend, Mimi Broit, realised that there were no mainstream stationers or gift shops that stocked greeting cards for gay couples.

As two gay women who had spent a lifetime receiving cards with amendments made to the front or words changed from "boyfriend" to "girlfriend", they decided to launch the country's first range of gay greeting cards on the high street.

Despite having no experience in the business, Ms Wells, 32, a police officer, and Ms Broit, 45, a plumber, turned their livingrooms into makeshift offices and used their savings to commission models and a photographer for the project.

This month, their Pink Pendulum collection of stylish, black and white photographic images has been introduced by the retailer Clinton Cards in 30 stores nationwide, to celebrate anything from commitment ceremonies and "coming-out parties" to weddings, birthdays, Valentine's Days and togetherness.

Thirty images in the range feature sultry, Audrey Hepburn-style models as well as boyish women with lipstick marks and tiaras, and also tailored images for gay men, with champagne bottles, top hats and bow ties. There is a sexier range available on the internet with scantily dressed women dressed as goddesses with strategically positioned togas and feature boas.

Initial reports from Clinton indicate the cards are a success and the couple have now been inspired to create a third range and to design Christmas cards for gay couples, family members or friends.

"I have had personal experience of not being able to find a card for someone who is gay and I have had to change the wording of cards that I've bought for friends so that they make sense," said Ms Wells.

"I have had cards given to me with words crossed out at the front, which makes for a messy collection of cards."

The women, who both have full-time careers, had not planned on setting up a business together but were desperate to find a decent wedding-style card for their mutual friend.

"When I was going to my friend's gay blessing last year, I trotted off to the high street to by a card for them but couldn't find an adequate one. I couldn't believe it. I met up with Mimi for breakfast and we were discussing how outrageous it was and then we thought to create our own," said Ms Wells.

Ms Broit said feedback from the gay community had been overwhelming. "Everyone we have spoken to has been very thankful to us because there just wasn't anything on the high street for the gay community. I think everyone just accepted things as they were but we couldn't believe there was nothing available for us," she said.

Ms Broit, who has run her own plumbing company for 18 years, created a business plan while Ms Wells, who had made cards for her friends as a hobby, became the art director and commissioned photo shoots. She said the images were inspired by 1950s Hollywood glamour and cabarets.

"They are stylish and subtle - we have put two lipstick kisses on the girls' cards and two bow ties for boys - and the wording is carefully chosen," Ms Wells added.

Mike Bugler, managing director of Clinton Cards, said the cards would be on trial for six weeks in stores in London, Manchester, Brighton, Birmingham, Bristol and Cardiff.

"We help people to celebrate milestone events in their lives and greeting cards are a reflection of the society we live in," he said. "We had picked up on the fact that people wanted same-sex cards but this company came to us and said it was a huge opportunity and that about one in eight pounds is in the pink-pound market."

Clinton Cards announced earlier this month that its range would widen to include greetings which cater for 21st-century lifestyles and changing family relations, with cards thanking child minders and lollipop attendants as well as greetings for parents on their wedding day or step-parents on their birthday.

In December this year, the civil partnership registration scheme, allowing commitment ceremonies for same sex partnerships, becomes law.