Thanks to some young, venturesome companies capitalizing on the permutations of modern love, many of those keepsake bridal figurines that grace wedding cakes everywhere this time of year look strikingly different. While love may be blind, these companies’ racially interchangeable wedding toppers show that the opportunistic entrepreneur sees very well.
With their tweak of nuptial tradition, the companies are responding to changes in the complexion of romantic relationships.
Interracial marriages in the United States have been on the rise, from about 310,000 in 1970, to more than 651,000 in 1980, to 1.16 million in 1992, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
A growing trend
Today, there are more than 1.5 million interracial couples in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. While they are only a fraction of the 55 million married couples, their rate of growth has been remarkable — doubling every decade.
And although most gay couples are barred from marriage per se, they are increasingly holding ceremonies with all the trappings of traditional weddings.
‘Something that will reflect you’
All of this is not lost on Rena V. Puebla, a veteran wedding planner and co-founder of Renellie International, based in Costa Mesa, Calif. In 2000, Puebla, who is African American, was engaged to an Asian American man; both wanted a traditional affair, right down to the wedding-cake topper.
“It was very challenging,” she said. “You want something that will reflect you. When we were looking, there wasn't anything out there. We ended up with flowers at the top of our cake — we got figurines, but they were doves, at the base of the cake. What do you do?”
For Puebla, the issue became just this side of an obsession. “I was thinking about it on my honeymoon, in the south of France — ‘something's gotta be done,’ ” she said.
That 'DIY' moment
One morning, Puebla and her business partner, Ellie Genuardi, met for breakfast to kick around business concepts. “I talked to her about my idea and she talked about her idea and she said, ‘let’s go with your idea.’ We knew there was a niche out there that needed to be filled.”
The result was a classic expression of the Do It Yourself philosophy: After two years of planning, and with what Puebla said was close to $100,000 in seed money, Renellie, whose name combines the founders' first names, was launched in January.
Both founders say the Renellie line of wedding-cake toppers — interchangeable, hand-painted porcelain bride and groom figurines with African-American, Asian, white and Latino ethnic facial features — was an immediate hit.
“One of our customers said it was the first one he’d seen that didn’t look like a white man painted black,” Genuardi said.
“Mostly what we get is, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s about time, there’s such a great need for this,’” Puebla said.
Same-sex cake toppers are also offered in both genders, in a nod to the latest controversial expression of love. Renellie's 7-inch figurines sell in pairs for about $70.
Another figurine maker heard from
But Renellie doesn't have the playing field to itself. Melting Pot Gifts, a company based in Trenton, N.J., was started in 2002 to sell multiracial greeting cards.
The company has since expanded to include its own line of mix-and-match cake toppers and other figurines, as well as books, videos and other products celebrating the diversity of romance.
“The wedding-cake topper market is definitely a big market for us,” said Michelle Emerson, who started Melting Pot with husband Dan Dodson. “Now is a really busy time of year for us."
Melting Pot's cake toppers and figurines, made of what Emerson called “a poly-resin,” stand between 5 1/2 and 7 inches high, and are priced at $11 each.
Even as the Melting Pot product line grows — “our next venture is to expand into wedding invitations,” Emerson said — challenges remain.
“We know the market is there, but sometimes it's hard to get people to find us,” she said. “Either interracial couples don’t think about it or they don’t realize the product is available.”
‘It’s a beautiful thing’
Puebla is well aware of the competition and, in the spirit of a businesswoman, insists Renellie’s is the better mousetrap: “Ours are made of durable porcelain, and they’re not hollow, it's completely solid,” she said. “We spent so much time in details; we looked at every set to make sure they were all different. We didn't want ours to look like all the others.”
But for her, the competition is all in the spirit of observing forms of love that, until too recently in American history, dared not speak the name.
“It says we're getting to the point where we'll all get along, and it's a beautiful thing,” Puebla said. “We have a new generation that’s growing up. We're moving slowly, but we're getting there.”
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