Otis Richardson is a fine artist and illustrator residing in Chicago. Born in South Carolina, he is a graduate of South Carolina State University, obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Art Education. On the graduate level, he studied at Northern Illinois University, obtaining a Master of Fine Arts in Media Studies.
Otis’s freelance work as an illustrator has appeared in national and local publications, books, and health organizations. These include Sophisticate Black Hair Care magazine, Out And Proud In Chicago, BlackLines, Windy City Times, Test Positive Aware Network, and Chicago Department of Public Health. His fine art has been exhibited in shows sponsored by Stone Art Supply, The ETA Theater, Echoes of Chicago, Hyde Park Art Center, Stony Island Arts Bank, Arts Incubator, Prairie Avenue Gallery, UBUNTU Center of Chicago, and Black Creativity sponsored by the Museum of Science and Industry.
After co-creating BlackPop Greeting Cards in 1999, with former business partner Hana Anderson, Otis launched Lavenderpop Greeting Cards in 2004. Lavenderpop cards are currently carried in Whole Foods’ Englewood location and are being rolled out in 11 JEWEL/OSCO stores. Full list coming soon!
Otis is a longtime supporter of creative arts and social justice activities. He is a current member of the Soka Gakkai International Buddhists and ADOS, American Descendants of Slavery, Chicago chapter.
GO BANG! Magazine: When and how did you first know that you had talent as an artist?
Otis Richardson: Even as a small child, I had a natural talent for drawing and painting. As long as I can remember, I drew pictures and painted with watercolors and acrylics. My parents and friends of the family noticed this and always gifted me with art supplies.
GO BANG! Magazine: Your artwork has appeared in numerous publications. How would describe your style to our readers who may not be familiar with your art?
Otis Richardson: I think my style is very realistic with a focus on faces. When I’m creating images of Black people, I play close attention to representing our different skin tones, hair textures: natural, fades, braids, locs, etc. I think people appreciate the details.
GO BANG! Magazine: How did you make the transition from being an illustrator to becoming a greeting card creator?
Otis Richardson: I really wanted an outlet for my illustrations. Over the years, I’ve done some freelance work, but it wasn’t consistent. For a long time I’ve done handmade cards for friends, but never really thought about doing it as a business. The more I saw other cards in different retail stores, I said to myself that I can do that and add more diverse images.
GO BANG! Magazine: Prior to launching LavenderPop Greeting Cards, which is your own business, you were co-creator of BlackPop Greeting Cards with Hana Anderson. What did you learn from that business that prepared you to start your own and how did you know it was time to go solo?
Otis Richardson: Hana and I worked well together. She did the writing and I did the art, but we both collaborated on the ideas for the cards. We started off small by approaching local Black bookstores then we expanded by getting into select Walgreen stores. The process of becoming a retail vendor, creating invoices, and servicing so many stores really prepared me for getting into Jewel-Osco. Having to supply to so many stores was a lot of work for two people. We decided to close down BlackPop and focus on other creative endeavors. I enjoyed the process of creating cards and coming up with cool designs so I decided to start again and do the art as well as the writing myself.
GO BANG! Magazine: Your greeting card company is named LavenderPop, quite a unique name. Is there any meaning behind the name or any reason why you chose that name for your business?
Otis Richardson: Well, lavender is my favorite color. It’s also a color of royalty. I kept the POP part of the name because it relates to POP CULTURE. I’m very influenced by pop culture in my designs, so that’s what the name represents.
GO BANG! Magazine: LavenderPop Greeting Cards are a bold collection offering a new option for those looking for eye catching Black greeting cards. Why did you feel the need to launch a greeting card business?
Otis Richardson: To be very honest with you, I didn’t launch the line to make money. I’m a lot better now paying attention to the business side of things like marketing and production cost. But I started the cards because I felt like I could add some diversity to the stationery industry. A couple major companies have Black greeting cards that have been around for years. I thought it was time to put something new on the market, cards with fresher designs and attitude.
GO BANG! Magazine: LavenderPop has partnered with and is now carried in many Chicagoland area Jewel-Osco stores. It becomes the first independent Black-owned card line to be carried in the 121 year history of the popular grocery store chain. Congratulations! Please describe how this business partnership occurred and how it feels to be a trailblazer for minority business owners looking to get their businesses in major commercial stores.
Otis Richardson: This partnership happened by never giving up, which is a concept I embrace in my Nichiren Buddhist practice. You create the script that is your life. I’ve had other grocery stores say no, or at one point they were open to a deal, but then it didn’t happen. If I had stopped because of all the no’s, I would not be here with this accomplishment. Actually, getting a no from one store, gave me the motivation to approach Jewel. I’m like “your store ain’t all that, so I’m gonna go over here.” LOL.
The Jewel deal did not happen overnight. When you are dealing with a major commercial store, you have the find the category manager for your product. Once I did that, Jewel had to decide if my cards could even be sold there because of prior relationship with American Greetings. Often times, certain companies will have a monopoly that prevents other products from competing.
After some research, Jewel decided my cards could be sold. I think it took a while because apparently no one had asked them before, which is why I turned out to be the first. Once I got the ok, then I had to get business insurance, and proper UPC codes. The Jewel executives were very helpful in getting me through that process. I’m fortunate to have my day job to cover the business expenses. Entrepreneurs should make sure they have savings, investors or family that can help you fund your business until it reaches a point where you can turn a profit.
I would love to do this full-time and the response from the shoppers has been awesome. I’ve only done promotion on Facebook and people have congratulated me, purchased cards at the stores or ordered them online because they really believed in my product.
GO BANG! Magazine: You are well-educated, creative, a track and field athlete, and heavily involved in social justice activities. With all that you do, how do you find the time to, and more importantly, explain to our readers what type of activities you’ve participated in and why you feel the need to be socially active?
Otis Richardson: I feel I can do better with time management. I don’t think I’m busier than anyone else. I don’t have kids, so I’m so impressed with people who juggle their business and raise a family too. I think it’s true you make time for the things that are important.
Several years ago, I trained six months for the Chicago Marathon. Not sure I have that kind of time now, but you have to create your priorities. My Buddhist practice with Soka Gakkai International (SGI) is important in my spiritual growth. I’m also a part of ADOS American Descendants of Slavery which is the leading movement fighting for Reparations. There are ADOS chapters all over the country and a very active ADOS Chicago chapter here.
One of the sharpest women on the internet is Yvette Carnell of BreakingBrown.com. She often says “There is no Black business without Black politics.” Economics for the Black community is tied into our understanding of politics and what we are owed by the government and the country our ancestors built. I want to offer what I can because our survival as Black people depends on us not being taken advantage of by political leaders…and I’m including the Black ones who care more about their position than bringing policies to Black people who help put them in office. Although I’m disappointed by our so-called leaders, the bottom line is I have to look at myself and see what part I’m playing in making thing better.
GO BANG! Magazine: The COVID-19 pandemic has caught the world off guard. How are you dealing with it?
Otis Richardson: I’m fortunate I’m able to work from home. That’s not a reality for many of us. Even being partially furloughed, I’m using my time to get stuff done that I’ve put off. All of the Buddhist gatherings are happening on Zoom. We also have a campaign to reach out to members on the phone. This is what we call member care. It’s difficult not being able to see people face to face, but it’s important to keep in touch with others and by doing so, you keep yourself encouraged.
GO BANG! Magazine: Lastly, on May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, knelt on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down, begging for his life and repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe.” This incident has caused civil unrest and massive protests across the world. How do you feel about this unfortunate situation and call for police reform due to the horrible treatment of minorities by the police?
Otis Richardson: Great question!
I think police reform has its place, but I have to go back to Reparations. Antonio Moore is an attorney and expert in wealth inequality. He along with Yvette Carnell came up with the identity ADOS. He’s done YouTube shows about the lack of economic support in Minneapolis for Black people that led to someone like George Floyd being disrespected racially, but also being unemployed and having Covid19 when he was killed. The lack of wealth for Black America is the reason we are susceptible to being taken advantage of by organizations like the police or not having health care or our own businesses in our communities.
These initiatives sound good like police reform, or investing in jobs and education. But notice when the talk is about investment, it’s usually for ‘people of color.” People assume POC means Black people, but that money could go to everybody except Black Americans if we are not specific. You can’t fund universal programs for everyone, when you have not made us a priority after 400 years.
The time for Reparations is now and I want to be a part of it. Reparations is not just a single check, but let’s be clear, it does include direct financial payments for people whose ancestors endured slavery. Reparations is multigenerational. It’s also about ownership. My goal is for Lavenderpop Greeting Cards to be a part of that ownership movement and to create images that affirm our style, strength and beauty.
YOU CAN FOLLOW OTIS ON SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE WEB:
Websites: https://www.etsy.com/shop/LavenderpopCards & http://lavenderpop.com/
Pierre A. Evans is a freelance writer of Entertainment, Music, Art, Culture, Fashion and Current Events, and previously for SoulTrain.com, NDigo.com, ChicagoDefender.com, EmpireRadioMagazine.com, and UrbanMuseMag.com, an author, singer/songwriter, actor, model, poet, dancer, and DJ. He is also the owner of Pinnacle Entertainment Productions. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and on Instagram