Ivette Mayo, founder of bilingual greeting card line, Yo Soy Expressions. (Photo/Jeff Chambers Media)

Latina Leaders: Creator of a bilingual greeting card line fills a much-needed gap

Born and raised in Puerto Rico until age eight, Ivette Mayo went to 13 different elementary schools in the U.S., due to her father’s changing posts in the Navy. From a young age, Mayo says she found herself having to educate people about who she was and where she was from.  She loved to celebrate her bicultural identity, but found herself often disappointed at the lack of greeting cards that spoke to her.

So, after spending 25 years in corporate America — working in banking and as a Latin American sales manager for Continental Airlines — Mayo decided to create awareness of her Latin American heritage and start a bilingual card line — Yo Soy Expressions. Since April, the line has been available on GiftChecksOnline.com, Walgreens in Houston, and it should be coming to a national chain by Christmas 2013.

“Every time I bought a card, I would always think, I could do this better,” says Mayo, 50. “Being multilingual and multicultural, I felt they weren’t representative of me. We’re not just maracas and piñatas — we’re not. We say thank you, and we say thank you differently. We speak English and Spanish and Spanglish. All those unique elements are within my cards.”

Mayo says making cards seems to be her calling.  She was always doodling and loved to make cards for her friends.

“As an idea came to me, I’d always draw it out,” says Mayo, who took creative arts classes in college, though she majored in communications at San Diego State University.

After toying around with the idea for 10 years, she finally invested $40,000 starting in 2008 to launch her line.

Although e-cards have become popular, everybody she knows still buys greeting cards, adds Mayo.

“There’s a stigma that Latinos don’t buy cards, and I say, ‘Yes, they do – they just don’t find those that fit them,’” says Mayo. “Sometimes they are very spiritual, very formal. They start out with ‘Estimada amiga,’ who talks like that?”

She started to conduct informal focus groups with different women that proved they also agreed Spanish-language cards were either too spiritual or too formal. That gave her the final push she needed.  Next, came the technical questions like how to get her hand-drawn designs transferred to digital art, and where to buy envelopes. She says it took her about six months to develop a strategy.

“I found a Latina, who was a wonderful designer, who took my art and made them into graphic designs. My first one is the Latina line I hand sketched,” says Mayo. “I found a Latina printer…A couple made my web site.”

The digital version of Mayo's "Latina" card (left), and Mayo's hand drawn sketch (right). (Courtesy Ivette Mayo)

The digital version of Mayo’s “Latina” card (left), and Mayo’s hand drawn sketch (right). (Courtesy Ivette Mayo)

Mayo decided to make her note cards blank inside so people can provide their own personal message. Hallmark’s Spanish-language line, Simplemente, is produced in Mexico, but Mayo says she is committed to doing business locally whenever possible.

She says so far her bilingual cards have really taken off.

“We say thank you differently in Colombia than in the Dominican Republic — as a community we say things differently so I celebrate that in my cards. This is a lot about recognizing the unique elements in our community.”

These days Mayo finds herself going to women’s empowerment conferences to urge other women to follow their hearts.

“Find your purpose and don’t be deterred by a ‘no,’” says Mayo, with polka dots painted on her toes — to match her branding. “Say ‘thank you and get out of my way.’”

Mayo advises to not be afraid. If you don’t have the money to fund your project, figure out a way to get it.

“My grandmother would say, ‘Si tu quieres, tu puedes’ (‘If you want, you can’), and that mindset has given me the fuel for my courage,” says Mayo. “Using that mindset, I try to create empowerment for women…You have to support each other. If the community is good, we are all good. This is not about me, but about us.”

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