As an 8-year-old child, she had an idea and desire. Now as an adult, she has a thriving business that has garnered both national and international attention.
“I started thinking about this when I was 8,” Ardean Miller-Marbley said. “Everyone loves Santa … I loved Santa, but there was a void of Santas who looked like me and there were no beautiful baby dolls or characters who looked like me. As a child growing up and not seeing those kind of images and reflections … it can do damage to a child … it can hurt their self-esteem.”
Miller-Marbley, a New Sarpy native and resident, created her company Mah Melanin with a desire to offer products that beautifully and accurately represent melanated people.
“The company itself was created for inclusion and diversity … to show African Americans and melanated cultures in a positive light so that they can see themselves as worthy and beautiful,” Miller-Marley said.
Her line of products includes home décor, apparel, totes, blankets and more. Her most popular product is her Santa gift wrap, which features an African American Santa named Ken (after several beloved men in her family). She also has a Mrs. Claus character, which was created in honor of her mother Doreen Miller.
“I have received photos from all over the United States from customers of my gift wrap under their Christmas trees …. how cool is that?,” Miller-Marbley said. “I would have never thought this little girl from the hood in New Sarpy would do something so amazing.”
Miller-Marbley said Mah Melanin is a family affair, with her three children and husband all pitching in to help. Her own parents – Kenneth and Doreen Miller – have also been a huge support system, she added.
Miller-Marbley has shipped out international orders, as well as pitched her line of products to QVC and the Home Shopping Network. Her gift wrap is sold many places online, including Lowes and Walmart.
“I have to dedicate everything to this business because of how it’s growing,” she said. “My living room looks like a warehouse most of the time.”
And when Hurricane Ida derailed packaging and shipping operations locally, Miller-Marbley said she and her family had to pivot plans so that Mah Melanin’s holiday wrapping paper would still be a part of so many families’ 2021 Christmases.
“We lost of 95% of our gift wrap in Ida,” she said. “We were fulfilling gift wrap orders from a hotel room in Mississippi.”
Recently Miller-Marbley shared the news that Mah Melanin had been selected for an inaugural grant and services by LegalZoom. Over 10,000 individuals applied for the grant, and there were 1,000 winners. Of those winners, 950 received a $500 grant for LegalZoom services, while 50 were awarded a $500 grant from LegalZoom as well as a $10,000 grant.
“We were one of the 50,” Miller-Marbley said. “The money has to be used to grow your business, so we will use it for marketing and new machinery. I always say I’m just a girl from the hood with a dream that turned it into a reality. Everything you need to be great is already within you … you just have to find it and pull it out and have the confidence to keep going. Trust the process and keep moving.”
Miller-Marbley added that the local community has been nothing but supportive.
“From the bottom of my heart – anything is possible,” she said. “It’s not the situation you’re in, it’s not where you’re living, it’s not where you’re from – anything is possible. You can pull that magic up from out of you and make it work. We all have it.”
To shop Mah Melanin, visit www.mahmelanin.com.