In July 2017, Melanin in America started as a passion project when Donna Hobley, CEO and founder of the brand, graduated from college as a first-generation student. At this time, Hobley saw a heightened sense of negativity, unrest and inaccurate stereotypes about the Black community all around her. She sought to change the narrative. She wanted to tell actual stories of her community, by representing real Black faces on decorative pillows. “My pillows were created as an outlet to break away from the traumatizing narrative and stereotypes that plague those in the community,” said Hobley in an interview with 303 Magazine. She wanted to create a space for positive representation and celebration. “The name itself is a way to capture the stories and experiences of Black people in America. I wanted to share our narrative more openly – especially the different personalities.”
To create the pillow illustrations, Hobley pulls inspiration from just about everywhere. “I’m always perusing Instagram or Pinterest for interior design and makeup looks. I see a bold lipstick, an interesting cluster of freckles or a color combination that speaks to me and I flow from there” she explained.
In addition, much of Hobley’s inspiration comes from notable people in the Black community: SZA, Shuri from Black Panther, her creative family and her surroundings. She strives to be as representative as possible in her designs; replicating the patterns of vitiligo and albinism, recreating eyelashes, eyebrows and facial piercings from photographs. In doing so, Hobley says, “I want my products to make people feel like they are being seen and their stories matter.”
In addition to the pillows, Melanin in America sells cultural apparel and accessories like backpacks, vegan cosmetics and self-care books. “It’s important that my brand goes beyond the home setting. While I create pillows to express representation and healthy conversation, other outlets like clothing are essential as well. I would love my brand to grow and connect with more people,” said Hobley.
With degrees in digital design and cultural diversity from the University of Denver, Hobley was empowered to start Melanin in America and felt inspired by Denver and her surroundings. “There’s this buzz of innovation and constant activity like poetry night at local businesses, kayaking in City Park and the flavors of yummy tea at Whittier Cafe, which is all so stimulating,” said Hobley. Once she set out on the path to build the brand, Hobley attended Denver Startup Week and felt motivated by all of the entrepreneurs around her. Her experience at Denver Startup Week inspired her to continue working with her vision of creating Melanin in America.
While the brand is meant to be a support system for the Black community, anyone is welcome. Melanin in America designs are meant to be conversation pieces. It’s important to Hobley that the brand “isn’t meant to exclude anybody, but rather to show a narrative that is just beginning to be heard in society.”
As for the future of Melanin in America, Hobley seeks to further uplift stories in the Black community through her pillows. She has a vision to see her brand in stores around the US, if not globally. “I would love to see [Melanin in America] expanded into everyday life, at a cafe or library. I would love to shake spaces up and explode them with diversity and vibrant colors.” Describing the brand as “a love letter,” its purpose, according to Hobley, is to give the Black community a voice. “The ability to have a voice and express yourself is something so valuable and necessary. I want people to feel loved by it and appreciated.”
All photography provided by Melanin in America.