By Rose French
March 29, 2004 - NY Newsday
When she was growing up in upstate Kingston, Filipino-American Glenda Villajuan rarely saw a soul who looked like her.
"There really weren't that many Asians," said Villajuan, a Manhattan resident who moved to Kingston with her family when she was 13 after emigrating from the Philippines. "I looked at teen magazines, and I thought I needed to be blond and have blue eyes."
Villajuan doesn't want that for her 19-month-old daughter, Victoria; as she was taking pictures of her baby she realized these were just the types of images she wanted to see.
The two ideas converged last October in Great ExpectAsians, a greeting card line showcasing images of Asian-Americans.
"I wanted her to grow up feeling she belongs here," Villajuan said of Victoria. "I think when you go to a lot of greeting card stores, you still don't see a lot of Asian faces."
Great ExpectAsians, which Villajuan runs out of her Midtown home, has about 300 online orders, and her cards are carried at Gifted, a Manhattan card store on Seventh Avenue near Bleeker Street. Villajuan said she's talking to a couple of other stores interested in selling the cards, which feature photographs of Victoria and other Asian-American children.
Villajuan and her husband, Ramon Gil, a graphic designer, and professional photographer Rosa Urmaza photograph the child models, who are found through friends. Then they design the cards on a computer and send the designs out to be printed. Villajuan selects the pictures and writes the greetings.
"I had over 3,000 pictures of her," Villajuan said of her daughter. "The first year they do so many things. Everything is new and novel. You want to capture it all. One day I thought this would be a nice material for a greeting card."
Companies like Great ExpectAsians reflect the growth in demand for niche and specialty cards, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Greeting Card Association. Since 1993 the greeting card industry has seen a nearly 20 percent growth in retail sales, to $7.5 billion annually, according to the association. But with 2,500 greeting card publishers in the United States, from the mom-and-pop shops to major corporations, the greeting card market is tough to enter.
"It usually takes two to three years to break even," said Mila Albertson, an association director. "It takes a while to get a following. "There's so much competition. It's about knowing your region ... who would buy your cards."
Great ExpectAsians cards are tagged at $2.49 apiece. A gift set of 12 in an organza bag goes for $14.99. A set of 10 is $12.99.
Villajuan said her card venture is "sort of a hobby, an interest on the side right now," because she works full-time as a consultant for Early Intervention Program, a nonprofit education organization.
"I can't quit my full-time job," Villajuan said. "But we're getting there. ... Our models work for a minimal amount. A lot of [the children's parents] are doing it out of the kindness of their heart because they're doing it for a cause."
Elmhurst resident Sharon Crame, a Filipino-American who bought Great ExpectAsians Christmas cards, says they will have appeal beyond the Asian- American community. But even that would provide a big market: There are about 787,000 Asians in New York City and 19 million Asians in the United States, according to Census data.
There are cards for African-Americans, Latinos and Caucasians "but nothing specifically geared toward Asian-Americans," Crame said. "That's something I think is needed. You have Asian-themed cards in stores now, but they have the traditional sort of stereotypical images of bamboo and landscapes. They're not the actual faces of Asian-Americans. It's more appealing when you see a familiar face."
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