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Gift Boxes Featuring Black-Made Products Are Soaring In Popularity

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Gift box sales are up, and that includes a booming market for gift boxes featuring Black-made products, partly because of recent pushes for racial justice. Maayan Silver from member station WUWM in Milwaukee reports.

MAAYAN SILVER, BYLINE: On the second floor of a Milwaukee duplex is the headquarters of Bronze Box, a gift box business.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR KNOCKING)

SILVER: Hey, guys.

MAZIE WELLINGTON: Hi. How are you?

SILVER: It's neat and tidy with organizer drawers, packaging supplies and boxes laid out on immaculate tables. Mazie Wellington runs the business with her husband.

M WELLINGTON: So we've got all the different products - Partake cookies, some lemonade, popcorn. The Chicago French press has some coffee.

SILVER: Bronze Box was set up this past winter with the help of MKE Black, an organization that promotes Black-owned businesses in Milwaukee. Mazie's husband, Paul, says Bronze Box has been busy.

PAUL WELLINGTON: We have a large order to fulfill - 195 boxes to fill, short amount of time.

SILVER: There are no solid figures on the Black gift box business, but they are part of a surge in gift box deliveries and subscriptions as people increasingly shop for gifts online.

P WELLINGTON: Wow, this is so dope.

SILVER: Black creators' gift boxes are also getting hyped up on Instagram and YouTube. Drew Staple, whose Instagram handle is @thedapperrealist, showcases a colorful box someone sent him with Black-owned products.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

DREW STAPLE: Look at this, guys. It's Biggie and Tupac. It's a deck of cards. I may actually, like, never actually use this and just keep it as a keepsake.

SILVER: That box came from bifties.com, and online marketplace where shoppers can curate gift boxes of Black-owned products. Bifties founder Constance Panton says she was finding that people often didn't know where to find Black businesses. And some friends of other races thought buying Black was a call to action for Black people. So last year, she set up Bifties after four years of organizing a gift exchange of Black-made products with friends and family. Then came 2020's eruption of protests for racial justice, which boosted her business beyond her wildest dreams.

CONSTANCE PANTON: But then it was also too, like, finally. This is what I've been trying to say for four years. It doesn't matter what color you are. There is a Black-owned business out there that you can support. And it was just - it was bittersweet in a way because it's like, it took this?

SILVER: So how much good can these gift boxes do?

RON BUSBY JR: No one person or no cohort of people sort of just coming out and saying, hey, I'm going to buy Black is inherently going to solve the problem.

SILVER: That's Ron Busby, Jr. of the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce. He's all for gift boxes and encourages buying Black. But he says there are also larger issues at play, such as Black businesses not having equitable access to loans and Black people not being at the table during economic recovery conversations.

BUSBY: There are still structural inequality that is underpinning the fact that we would have to have that conversation in the first place.

SILVER: Buying with racial equity in mind can make some people feel absolved from doing harder anti-racism work, like attending protests or advocating in their workplaces, says Aziza Jones, an incoming business professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

AZIZA JONES: Other people will see what they've done, this purchase of a product from a Black-owned business, and take that as a signal to themselves as a symbolic signal of how important this cause is to them.

SILVER: She says it can actually then make them more likely to go out and advocate for racial justice.

For NPR News, I'm Maayan Silver in Milwaukee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.